With less than a week to go until the World Cup, cricket pundits and fans turn up with their expert hat as to how England, Australia, India or any other team will win World Cup because they have a strong batting line-up.
If the series between Pakistan and England is anything to go by, this World Cup will be absolute run-feast with flurries of boundaries. Justin Langer, in fact, has conveyed a message to his bowler to develop flat skin to counter flat pitches, fast outfield, and square boundaries.
So if 350 isn’t safe to defend anymore, will a team notch 500 runs this World Cup? Or, as Virat Kohli puts it, England will inevitably cross 500 runs this World Cup?
Given the ten strong teams, the pressure of the playing in the World Cup and even weather, that looks out of reach in the multi-country tournament. South Africa, who scored 400 twice in 2015, achieved that feat against Ireland and young West Indian bowling unit.
This time around, with no minnows and even West Indies looking strong on paper, even 400 will be a big ask.
But micro-analysis shows a more significant factor: wrist spinners.
Since the 2017 Champions Trophy, here is a list of top five bowlers in international cricket.
Most ODI wickets since 2017 Champions Trophy
As you can see, the majority of them are wrist spinners. Jasprit Bumrah is an exceptional bowler with unique action, so there’s a bit of mystery around there as well.
With the advent of T20s and so much of limited overs, cricket is played these days on a flat track with shorter boundaries and, of course, big meaty bats. The team is looking to have a go at the bowlers right from the word go.
Even a mis-hit is enough to fetch a six nowadays; gone are the days of taking time to read the bowler and then going for exquisite cover drives or using the feet to the spinner to hit it over the boundary rope.
Batsmen find it much easier to sweep nowadays as they get help from the lifeless pitch.
This is where wrist spinners come in. The extra bounce from over spin makes batsmen susceptible to hitting the ball in the air against the spin or missing out a sweep to become an LBW candidate, or even dragging the balls to be well left outside the off-stump to the leg side.
All these shots have a percentage of risks associated with them. If the pitch offers something for spinners, they could be a dangerous opponent to face.
The flat trajectory also makes it difficult to get under the ball to get the required elevation.
In the last few years, this is how bowlers have done in the middle over when spinners are likely to come in after the powerplay.
Most ODI wickets since 2017 Champions Trophy – Overs 21-40
The middle phase in the 50-over format was long considered a tedious phase with easy singles on offer as batsman looked to milk the ball around with occasional boundaries. But wrist spinners have transformed how a team can control play in the middle overs. India over the last two years have had tremendous success using Kuldeep and Chahal.
In India’s 2018 ODI tour of South Africa, the wrist spin twins bowled 102.2 overs, conceding 467 runs and picking up 32 wickets at an average of 14.5 runs per wicket – helping India secure their first ODI series win on South African soil. Mind you, that was on the South African wickets, where spinners have no significant role to play as a wicket-taker.
Last year, England used the Merlyn spin-bowling machine in the nets to counter Kuldeep Yadav – 13 years after they used the same to counter Shane Warne is Ashes 2005. The Merlyn spin bowling machine can bowl any delivery known to man, according to its founder.
They did turn the tables in the ODI series when Root countered the spin twins with his backfoot play, helping England win the series 2-1.
With a total of 11 leg spinners this World Cup, teams will no doubt unleash the weapon of mass destruction in the middle overs. But England playing on its home ground, gives them the ability to adapt quickly, and they can take a big heart from their performance against India last year. This is another reason England should be one of the clear finalists.
To Lord’s, where cricket’s fiercest rivalry that doesn’t involve India and Pakistan resumed. Victory for Australia would ensure them a semi-final spot, while defeat to England would open the door for a comical crashing out of the tournament. A tough game for neutrals, to be sure.