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|June 2, 1999||
Playing by the conditions
If some of the cricket from this Word Cup was unrecognisable from that of previous two editions, then simply blame it on England and English conditions. The 1999 World Cup and its previous edition have been so very different.
The major point of difference is that the current event has been dominated by seam bowlers, while the last two events saw the top order batsmen flourish. Coaches and teams have been in a great hurry to change direction from the early slogging tactics of '92 and '96 to a more orthodox approach if only because the new white ball was swinging around so much, particularly in the first fortnight of the cup.
It is easy to see why the Indian batsmen were the first to establish a dominance. Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly are so technically correct that they were able to profit from their basic orthodoxy. So splendidly did they adjust to the conditions that Indian batsmen were the only ones to score centuries in the preliminary league.
It can be said that attaining the personal landmark has not been of great use because India is one of the two teams, the other being Australia, that go into the Super Six with nil points. And yet the Indian batsmen shone thanks to putting their faith in faimiliar strokes ahead of innovation and that was what gave the team the confidence to break through to the second stage.
Seeing the likes of Dravid, Ganguly and Sachin bat brought a tear to the eyes of old English cricketers. ''This is how cricket should be played,'' some leading players of the past said. Save the orthodoxy of the Indians and the form that a few young Pakistani batsmen displayed, and the robust batting of Klusener, the current World Cup has not been a batting spectacle like the previous two in which the run riot was staged so early.
But the batsmen have not had a choice expect to switch down to the orthodox and the familiar. Teams recognised quickly the importance of a more settled approach in which the early overs were played out and the end overs were retained for slogging. One-day cricket is not about creating a spectacle for the viewer as much as about winnings.
India were quick to recognise the importance of the switch in approach for which some of the credit should go to Bob Simpson, the consultant coach. They also sent Sachin Tendulkar down to number four not because he needs any protection but because he has the greater chance of succeeding there and the team will also not have its psyche shattered by his early fall.
Sachin was the highest run maker in the 1996 World Cup, but the honour could well go to Dravid or Ganguly this time since both of them are meeting the ball so well. Pakistan's thundering run came far more from the power of pace allied to swing than batting strength. It is, however, become apparent that batsmen have been learning quickly which means the cricket in the elite group will produce a more even contest between bat and ball.
The Pakistanis are bowling the best because they can reverse swing the old ball which is a gift that others do not have. The South Africans are making up with their intensity, their more successful bowlers being Allan Donald and Lance Klusener rather than the pacer Shaun Pollock or the swing bowler Jacques Kallis. Those who want to succeed do so and at this level it is clearly a matter of intensity.
Apart from the huge innings the Indians compiled in matches against Kenya and the moderate Sri Lanka, the league stage was dominated by pace and seam bowlers. Glenn McGrath himself got going in time to put Australia in the Super Six. His attacking line and lift might be the qualities that should get more prominent as the World Cup swings into warmer weather in June.
The spinners are the forgotten men. The last event was so different. Ranatunga used 37 overs of spin in the final when he realised his pace bowlers were getting nowhere. And Shane Warne was the spinner who put Australia in the last final in a fine spell at the finish against the West Indies at Chandigarh. The tactic of bowling spin at the finish may not be commonly seen in this World Cup, in which the reverse swinging seamer is more likely to be given the ball at the business end of all matches.
Late order hitters have proved more successful. The most successful batsmen in terms of runs still are the top order players. Of the big hitters in the old fashioned slog overs that come at the end rather than at the beginning, Lance Klusener struck such fine form that he will be right up there in contention when it comes to picking performer of the World Cup as Jayasuriya was in 1996.
Wasim Akram is another who did his bit with the bat to rescue his side from early disasters that struck batsmen who were not finding their feet in these conditions. But once specialists like Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam-ul-Haq settled, there was not so much to do for the likes of Akram and Moin Khan, who still has the best strike rate. Along with Klusener, he is about the best late order batsman a team can hope to have.
The catching is getting spectacular. When fielders are too busy rubbing their hands for warmth in early summer, they can hardly catch the ball. But in view of the weather staying mainly dry, the ball has started sticking. The Zimbabwean catching was the clear highlight as the second best team from Africa landed a big punch on the tournament favourite.
The rules have become uniform after they were first changed for the 1992 edition, by which nine men have to be in the ring for the first 15 overs. All the tactics in two World Cups have had to do with handling the early overs in an unusual way. What we are seeing in 1999 is the more orthodox World Cup like the ones that were played between 1975 and 1983, all in England.
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