Cricket World Cup: Looks like a batsman’s track, I'm afraid
Cricket’s batting über alles dictum - and Kookaburra balls - means pace will suffer and spin might prosper
Twenty years is a long time in cricket, but how much about the game has changed since the World Cup was last played in England? It’s a pertinent question considering the tournament will be back in cricket’s former home next month.
The game now lives in Asia, a key factor in the way cricket is evolving. One-day internationals were the game’s cutting edge when the World Cup came to England in 1999 – nine years before the Indian Premier League rewrote everything we thought we knew about the way bat meets ball and what happens next.
What’s different now compared to the 1999 World Cup in England? And particularly for bowlers in an era that celebrates batting above all else? For instance, are seamers or spinners likely to be more effective this time?
Among bowlers who played at least five games in the 1999 World Cup, eight of the top 10 wicket-takers were seamers.
And at the 2017 Champions Trophy, which was also in England? Of those who played at least three games, only two of the leading 10 wicket-takers were slow bowlers.
In 1999, nine of those who had the best 10 economy rates bowled seam up. Eighteen years on, three of the most miserly 10 were spinners.
Hence there is reason to believe spinners will garner a little more of the spotlight this time than 20 years ago.
Especially as the 2019 World Cup will be played from May 30 to July 14, which will coincide with the June 1 to 18 slot that covered the Champions Trophy two years ago. The 1999 World Cup was earlier in the season: from May 14 to June 20, when pitches should have been more lively.
The most marked difference is that, at the 1999 World Cup, the 10 most economical bowlers conceded between Courtney Walsh’s 2.29 and Mark Ealham’s 3.82 runs an over. By 2017 that was up to Hasan Ali’s 4.29 and Chris Morris’ 4.70.So batters are evolving faster than bowlers, which they should do considering all the help they get from the playing regulations. “Batting has been taken to a new level,” Ryan McLaren said on Monday. “Batting sides at the World Cup are going to try and put bowlers under pressure for as long as possible.”He didn’t buy the theory that the gap between batters and bowlers would be narrowed by England’s purportedly more seam friendly pitches. “You only have to look at the scores in the [county] One-Day Cup scores to see that’s not the case,” McLaren said, and he’s not not wrong.Three totals of more than 400 and seven higher than 350 have been recorded in the 45 matches played in the competition so far.
“The World Cup is an ICC [International Cricket Council] event so you’re going to get good wickets, and teams bat down to No 8 or 9.”
But the most important consideration, McLaren said, was stitched and round and weighed between 155.9 and 165 grams: “In 1999 they used Dukes balls and they swung and seamed a lot more than the Kookaburra.”
The latter, which behaves more consistently and thus follows cricket’s batting über alles dictum, was used at the 2017 Champions Trophy and will be at the World Cup. That’s bad news for fast bowlers and anyone who wants to see a fairer contest.
Spinners, the Kookaburra is in your court.