World Cup Comment - In the absence of seam and swing, bowlers resort to the good old bouncer
On the first three days of the World Cup, 23 of the total 54 wickets have been to balls pitched short or short of a length by fast bowlers.
Pacers have bowled 454 balls short or short of a length in the first four matches. They have been been on the expensive side, going for 469 runs, but have struck every 19 balls. Fuller deliveries have yielded a much better economy rate of 5.64, but a wicket only every 25 balls.
What further adds to the effectiveness of short pitch bowling in England is that the square boundaries are generally bigger as compared to the shorter straight boundaries. Hence, it becomes much more difficult to pull or hook as compared to tonking the ball over the bowler's head.
It was a huge point of concern as to how the bowlers will pick up wickets in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup. In the previous ODI series played in England, scores of 350 had almost become par and many feared that the World Cup might just be reduced to the battle of the batsmen.
In the lead up to the tournament, the bowlers seemed to have a continuously shrinking say in the match. They appeared no different than a bowling machine, trying to pitch the ball at different places, yielding similar results.
Archer, Russell and Thomas lead the way
However, bang in the inaugural match of the tournament, Jofra Archer sent Hashim Amla off the ground after rattling him with a bouncer and then dismissed Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen in the same fashion. This gave other bowlers around the world a cue.
We saw in the very second match between West Indies and Pakistan that the Pakistani batters had to face a slew of short pitch deliveries. Fakhar Zaman had started on a good note and looked threatening with a couple of shots he played, but Andre Russell hit him on the head with a steeply rising delivery that went on to dislodge the bails. These are the type of balls which not only take a wicket on the field, but uproot a couple of batsmen in the dressing room as well.
You could clearly see the fear that ball instilled in in other Pakistani batsmen and the game just changed from there on. The likes of Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim got out fending to the short ball in an ugly manner, almost as if they were not prepared or equipped enough to face it at such pace. Neither did they show the guts to fight or take a couple of them on the body.
Jofra Archer showed the way, but it was actually that three over spell from Andre Russell in which he picked up two crucial wickets and gave away just four runs, bowling 22 out of 24 deliveries short of length, that caught the eye of the cricketing word. It was followed by Oshane Thomas and has now become the template for this World Cup.
New Zealand employed a similar strategy against Sri Lanka and bowled them out for just 136, within 30 overrs. Australia also took a leaf out of the book of West Indies bowlers and rolled Afghanistan over for 203. It was a late blitz from Rashid Khan which allowed the team to cross the 200 mark, otherwise they would have been bundled out even more cheaply.
Batsmen are advised to 'gear up'
Australian captain Aaron Finch seemed to be in complete agreement with the short ball gamble. "Everyone will be using that no doubt, with quite a few of the grounds being such short straight boundaries. And in England, with such long, square boundaries at times, depending on where you play, it will be a huge asset," said the Aussie skipper.
After a couple of balls, if the bowlers find that the full or good length is not helping them or the conditions are not conducive enough for swing bowling, they will fall back very quickly on their Plan B of bowling short. Especially, subcontinental teams who are traditionally not considered good hookers and pullers will have to face a serious barrage of short pitch bowling, at least in the first half of the tournament.
Batsmen from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even India should be prepared to not get balls in their half of the pitch. Or as the men from the Caribbean used to say, the only drive you get is from the hotel room to the ground, nothing on the driving length.
©Cricket World 2019