As pitches wear, spin may come to bear

The broadcasters have emphasised on the use of pitches in the middle of the square for all televised matches, but the wear and tear on those strips could lead to the ball keeping low and slow, as the players enter the business end of the tournament.

Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have a major role to play in India’s campaign.   -  K. V. S. Giri

The cloud of uncertainty looming large over a batsman as he pokes at a delivery leaving the off-stump, is a familiar trope in England. Many Test bowlers have used the pace and seam movement under nippy conditions to bag five or more wickets and emboss their names on the prestigious Lord’s Honours board. In the last nine years, out of the 12 bowlers of visiting sides to make the cut, 10 were seamers. The tweakers were far and few, with Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah (2016) and New Zealand left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori (2008) being the only two representatives from the spin department.

In the last edition of the Champions Trophy in England, when the host wilted under the guile of Ravichandran Ashwin and accuracy of Ravindra Jadeja, the Edgbaston pitch instantly came under the scanner. It was a dry, bare wicket where India literally spun its way to the title. England was left clueless.

Since then, England has turned its fortunes on pitches that suit its new-found aggression in the 50-over format. The batsmen are able to hit through the ball instead of mulling whether to play or shoulder arms. With the marquee trophy being held once more in England, the focus will again be on the pitches.

The broadcasters have emphasised on the use of pitches in the middle of the square for all televised matches, but the wear and tear on those strips could lead to the ball keeping low and slow, as the players enter the business end of the tournament.

For the defending champion, this is good news as its premier spinner Ashwin is all set to make a comeback after an injury kept him out of this year’s IPL. Although his 12 wickets from nine ODI matches at 5.55 in the last two years may belie his prowess, he will be Kohli’s bowling lynchpin in India’s title defence.

The Men in Blue are scheduled to play Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa in the group stages and each of these teams has five, four and seven left-handed batsmen in the respective squads. With Ashwin’s conventional spin taking the ball away from the left-handers, he could be a handy weapon against these sides.

Another key bowler, who troubled the opposition batsmen in 2013, is left-arm spinner Jadeja. India’s victory in the previous edition was built around Jadeja’s 12 wickets. After an average IPL with Gujarat Lions this year, where he took five wickets from 12 matches at 9.18, the 28-year-old would be hoping to up the ante in national colours.

The all-rounder, who has played 10 ODI matches in two years, has eight wickets at 5.26. If variation is Ashwin’s ally, then discipline and change of pace are Jadeja’s preferred weapons. Another key feature of his bowling is the ability to land the ball in the bowler’s footmarks to many left-handed batsmen, which should hold India in good stead going into the tournament opener.

Among the England bowlers, the presence of leggie Adil Rashid, along with right-arm off-spinner Moeen Ali, should boost the spirits of the host side. Rashid has bagged an impressive 60 wickets from his last 39 ODIs at 5.68 whereas Moeen Ali has 26 scalps from 32 matches at 5.24.

Australia, though, has opted for a pace heavy attack but leg-spinner Adam Zampa could add value to the unit should the conditions be conducive. The 24-year-old New South Wales spinner has represented Australia 22 times in the last two years, with 34 wickets at 5.46 to show for his efforts. He had a decent outing with the Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 10, where his impressive control and variety earned him seven wickets at 8.21.

South Africa, on the other hand, would be banking on its experienced leg-spinner Imran Tahir to come good during the tournament. Tahir’s figures of 57 wickets at 4.98 from his last 37 outings will inspire confidence within the team think tank. But it is the 37-year-old’s stint with the Rising Pune Supergiant in IPL 10, during which he scalped 18 wickets at 7.85 that will raise hopes of the AB de Villiers-led team.

For Pakistan, all eyes will be on young leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who burst into the scene with the 2016/17 Pakistan Super League. His wrong ’un and a good economy rate make him a force to reckon with. In his three appearances for Pakistan, the 18-year-old has five wickets at 5.51. All-rounder Imad Wasim (24 wickets) will be another challenge that the opposition team will have to negotiate.

Even Seekkuge Prasanna (30 wickets) and Lakshan Sandakan (5 wickets) for Sri Lanka; Jeetan Patel (49 wickets) and Mitchell Santner (43 wickets) for New Zealand and Shakib-Al-Hasan (224 wickets) and Mahmudullah (70 wickets) for Bangladesh, will cause headaches for rival teams during the Champions Trophy.

Gone are the days when only the outswinger or the bouncer troubled a batsman. With a change in bowling mindset and the quality of wickets, spin could well play a vital role in this year’s Champions Trophy.

  Dugout videos