A dark tweak in the tale of spinners

A dark tweak in the tale of spinners

The 2015 World Cup was always expected to be one big struggle for the spinners unless you had the guile and gumption to overcome the conditions that are heavily stacked up against the slower bowlers.

With the tournament going to be played in Australia-New Zealand, it was a given that spinners of all kinds had a limited role to play. Unlike in the sub-continent where the pitches generally tend to offer some slow and low turn where even the part-time spinners come into play, the trans-Tasman nations were not going to be kind to them. India had made the best use of their myriad itsy-bitsy spinners -- Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina – through the 2011 event to emerge champions.

The one disadvantage for them in 2011 was the smaller boundaries that could be cleared with minimum fuss whereas the only factor that weighs in their favour now is the longer fences in Australia. It’s, however, not only the change in conditions that has undermined the spinners in this World Cup, especially the part-time ones, but also the change in ODI rules that came into effect after the last event.

The two new balls per innings and five-fielders inside the 30-yard circle at all times except during power plays, when it actually becomes nine (mandatory power play) and eight (batting power play), have greatly reduced their relevance in these conditions. While the relative freshness of the ball curtails turn, the batsmen have become bolder in playing cheeky strokes in the absence of an extra fielder in the deep.

A comparison of spinners in the last tournament with the ones in the current bash provides ample proof about the dip in their performances. Shahid Afridi, with 21 wickets, led the charge wherein five of the top seven wicket-takers were the spinners. Taking a minimum of 20 overs bowled as the criterion, eight spinners occupied the top-10 spots when it came to economy rate while they occupied the top three places in terms of most number of wickets (four or more) taken in an innings.         

Cut to this World Cup, though, the medium pacers have taken four or more wickets in an innings on 18 occasions with spinners achieving four or more on four times. Daniel Vettori and R Ashwin, seventh and 10th respectively, are the only two spinners among the top-10 wicket-takers, and it’s again the veteran Kiwi left-arm spinner who is the only spinner with an economy of under four (minimum of 20 overs).   

It’s evident from these samples that spinners with an attacking mind-set, knowledge of conditions and no less skill have managed to hold their own with pacers hogging most of the limelight. Where Dhoni had his part-time spinners bowl 81 overs through the tournament in 2011 with Yuvraj bowling 75 of them, he has utilised Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma combined for just 15 overs in the six matches so far.       

“A lot of times, you may question, there has not been a single dropped catch, and still, there have been instances where batsmen have scored 150 or 180 runs,” Dhoni pointed out while dwelling on the new rules. “What's important is that one fielder when he's outside, you may mistime one in the whole innings and that may be at the start of your innings. That's a deep point fielder who takes that catch, but now with him not being there, a few mistimes, the drop here and there, and all of a sudden you see the batsmen timing a lot of deliveries. With two new balls it doesn't really get too old to get reverse swing going. These are all the difficulties that the bowlers are facing,” he analysed.
The batsmen, too, have begun to play risk-free game until almost the 35th over after which it virtually becomes a 15-over slog, assuming the teams take batting power play from the 36th over. With only four fielders in the deep, and mostly on one side of the wicket, it has bred a numerous batsmen who go for innovative strokes -- the reverse-sweep, the switch hit, the scoop over wicketkeeper’s head and so on… Dhoni’s dislike for four-fielder rule doesn’t come as a surprise then. Firstly, he can’t use his part-time spinners more and secondly, he is not a big fan of these innovative shots.        

“That's one of the reasons why I always keep saying, we need to have that extra fielder outside,” Dhoni said when his attention was pointed to tall scores in this World Cup. “A lot of innovations have come into the game, and you need to credit the players who play those shots, but also you need to push the players who have that power game, and that was a key ingredient in the last World Cup; to have people who can clear the big boundaries,” he stressed.

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