World Twenty20 in a spin

Turn and trickery, rather than raw pace, are proving match-winners at the World Twenty20 as slow bowlers put the brakes on the game's big hitters.

updated: June 10, 2009 12:34 IST
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Turn and trickery, rather than raw pace, are proving match-winners at the World Twenty20 as slow bowlers put the brakes on the game's big hitters.

It was feared by some that cricket's shortest and newest format would be a nail in the spinner's coffin, with a combination of short boundaries and aggressive shot-making stacking the odds against them.

But the evidence at this tournament is that sides really can win with spin.

It is not always easy for batsmen to 'tee-off' when there is no pace on the ball and the fact that matches are being played on the same pitches leads to worn surfaces which aid turn.

Yet at the same time the generally flat nature of the wickets means batsmen can hit through the line with confidence against pace bowlers who, if they are off target and not doing that much with the ball in the air, can struggle.

Take Australia's six-wicket tournament-ending loss to Sri Lanka on Monday where the unorthodox Ajantha Mendis, one of several Lankan spinners, took three wickets for 20 runs in his four overs.

A bowler who 'flicks' the ball off his fingers and turns it both ways, Mendis is not easy to read.

The Australians clearly struggled to work him out and with bowlers restricted to a maximum of four overs each they had hardly any time to get a handle on Mendis.

"We knew that it would be a huge challenge against their spinners," said Australia captain Ricky Ponting. "We knew we had to play them well. We didn't do that."

By contrast fast bowler Brett Lee, hammered during a blistering innings by West Indies captain Chris Gayle in Australia's opening match defeat, saw his four overs against Sri Lanka cost 39 runs while fellow quick Nathan Bracken went for 33.

Pakistan were on the brink of exiting the World Twenty20 after their first round defeat by England - a match where the hosts, unusually, played two spinners in Graeme Swann and Adil Rashid.

But leg-spinner Shahid Afridi and off-spinner Saaed Ajmal took seven wickets between for a mere 31 runs as Pakistan coasted home to an 82-run victory over the Netherlands, shock winners over England in the tournament opener, at Lord's on Tuesday.

Afridi's figures were the fourth best in the history of Twenty20 Internationals and his bowling exploits are now threatening to overshadow his reputation as a hard-hitting batsman.

"I don't worry about his batting," said Pakistan captain Younus Khan. "Everybody knows if he bowls well, we will get quick wickets."

But it's not just the Asian nations, with World Twenty20 champions India fielding Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, where spin has traditionally played a key role, who are fans of slow bowling in this format.

For a long time South Africa got by without a specialist slow bowler.

But they weren't winning any major limited overs tournaments either and, after losing their one-day series in England last year, coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graeme Smith knew they had to change their approach.

"We realised pace off the ball was going to be a major issue for us," Arthur said. "We realised we needed to grow our spin bowling department."

The fruits of that change were on show on Tuesday when, despite defending a meagre total of 128 for seven, South Africa beat New Zealand by one run off the last ball at Lord's.

Off-spinner Johan Botha bowled three tight overs for 17 runs but it was left-armer Roelof van der Merwe, with two for 14, who turned the match the Proteas' way.

Neither is a 'mystery' spinner but they were certainly effective against a New Zealand side without injured captain Daniel Vettori, arguably the world's leading left-arm spinner.

"At the end of the day I am not too worried about getting wickets," said van der Merwe, somewhat surprisingly. "I am more of a 'container'."

But as former Australia captain and leg-spinner Richie Benaud has often said there is no better way of 'containing' than getting batsmen out - and that still remains true in any form of cricket.