The first week of the ICC World T20 tournament has resembled a couple of young lovers on a getting-to-know-you date; a lot of foreplay but not much action.
Despite this, two points have been clearly made; the ICC has to re-think it’s “minnow match” strategy and the fast bowlers are going to play a bigger part in deciding the champion than was originally thought.
The ICC regularly works on clearing the minnows early but it makes for a slow start to any tournament. It doesn’t send the message to the viewing public that this tournament is a vibrant and competitive affair. It’s okay to open the tournament with the hosts playing a minnow – the last thing you want is the locals feeling their team is on the way to a quick exit – but the ICC need to program at least a couple of marquee match-ups in the first half a dozen games.
It’s taken a few days for the tournament to gain a feel of anything but a series of lop-sided match-ups.
On the second point, the pitches at the Premadasa and in Pallakele have shown some life and bounce which tend to suggest this won’t just become a battle of the teams that bowl and play spin best. The good spinners will definitely play a role but it’s more likely to be complementary rather than starring.
This is not necessarily good news for India who is struggling to unearth quality quick bowlers.
They still have an explosive batting line-up that can destroy anything less than the best bowling but how they cope with short-pitched deliveries is more likely to determine their progress in the tournament. The former top-class West Indies fast bowler Andy Roberts once summed up the destructive powers of their four quicks by saying; “Whatever the opposition bowl us out for, we’ll bowl them out for less.”
India might have to adopt the opposite approach in this T 20 tournament; “No matter how many runs the opposition make, we’ll score more.” For South Africa, who have retained two prongs of their menacing three-headed Test pace attack, the sight of bouncy pitches must be as welcome as the first glint of gold in a Transvaal mining shaft. Add Jacques Kallis, another pace option and the cagey spin of Johann Botha and Robin Petersen, plus an aggressive batting line-up and you have the recipe for attaining precious silverware.
But this is South Africa; the team that misread a Duckworth – Lewis target sheet, the team that forgot to run, when a simple single would’ve got them into a Cup final, the team that seems to lose any match where the word final closely follows either quarter or semi. South Africa now has big chance to erase all those forlorn memories. However, they’ll have to do it in a country where the tourist attraction of Leopard sightings hasn’t yet unearthed one without the familiar spots.
England is another side that will have welcomed the sight of bounce in the pitches. They have some quality pace bowlers and a high-class spinner and it’s just a matter of whether they score enough runs post-Kevin Petersen, to stretch the other contenders. Australia will also have heaved a sigh of relief after an outing at the Premadasa. Their struggles when facing deceptive spin bowling have been well documented but these are less likely to be exposed in the prevailing conditions. Nevertheless, they’re handicapping themselves as long as they don’t include the ultra- aggressive David Hussey in the batting line-up.
The West Indies are a highly dangerous combination. Their batting is as explosive as a triggered land mine and Sunil Narine’s spin bowling provides wicket-taking opportunities. In the end they may rue not including the pace bowling aggression of Kemar Roach on these pitches. And Pakistan can’t be discounted with the destructive pace-spin combination of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal but their batting is probably too inconsistent to constantly provide enough runs. It’s shaping as one of the most open and intriguing prestige tournaments the ICC has held. It’s just a pity it took so long to reach anything resembling a climax.