After three editions in conditions that favoured seamers, the Cricket World Cup is back in the subcontinent where spinners are expected to play a major role. The last edition of the Cricket World Cup in the subcontinent in 1996 saw Muttiah Muralitharan make a serious mark on the world stage. And this time around, there are some contenders as well who could make this their cup.
In 1996, there were 6 spinners in the top 10 bowlers of the tournament. Anil Kumble took the most wickets (15) followed by two seamers Waqar Younis and Damien Fleming. Of the 116 wickets taken by the top 10, 73 fell to spinners at an average of just 18.95 runs. Their economy rate was 4.16 rpo and their strike rate, a stunning 28.5!
Compare this with the seamers: Average of 20, economy rate of 4.26 and strike rate, 29.35. Not too much difference, but what it means is that a team without good spinners will struggle to make a mark.
India, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even New Zealand have enough full-time and part time spinners to make an impact. England have Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen while West Indies has Suleiman Benn. South Africa, with Johan Botha and Robin Petersen would seem to be the worst equipped, but they also have Graeme Smith and JP Duminy if required to fall back on.
In the 1999, 2003 and 2007 editions, only two spinners have featured in the top 10: Brad Hogg and of course, M Muralitharan. The other 8 spots have been eaten by the quicks. This makes the comparison more stark. Only 80 of the 349 wickets by the top 10 are to spinners. Yes, it's that disparate.
That spin would play a major role has already been established through the warm-up matches in the past week. It won't be a surprise if teams have to rework their strategies to adjust to the minor expectation changes.
Of the major spinners each team will field, the ones to watch out for will be Graeme Swann, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, M Muralitharan, Daniel Vettori and some of the lesser known ones from other countries. That Australia doesn't have one in that list is in itself a reason for alarm for them.
While the World Cup hasn't yet begun, we're willing to stick our neck out a bit and say that there would be at least 6 spinners in the top 10 wicket takers at the end of this World Cup. Who? That's still up for discussion! Even Yuvraj Singh could make it to the top 10! Or maybe the occasional spin of Michael Clarke if he has a big day out! It's just that sort of tournament.
Pundits have said this is the most open World Cup in a long time. And they are right on the money. Seamers will not be made redundant, but they will have a supporting role to play. Of course, there are the express quicks like Dale Steyn, Shoaib Akhtar, Shaun Tait and even Kemar Roach who could win matches on their own, but those wouldn't be as frequent as the ones spinners win.
Frontline spinners plus the part time spinners. That's a winning combination.
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