It’s a batsman’s game, but bowlers win matches

Wasim Akram’s three for 49 in the final against England in Melbourne in 1992 was crucial to Pakistan’s title triumph.In the 1999 World Cup semifinalagainst Hansie Cronje’s men, Shane Warne (left) bagged four for 29 and helped Australia defend a paltry 213.-V. V. KRISHNAN Wasim Akram’s three for 49 in the final against England in Melbourne in 1992 was crucial to Pakistan’s title triumph.In the 1999 World Cup semifinalagainst Hansie Cronje’s men, Shane Warne (left) bagged four for 29 and helped Australia defend a paltry 213.

The 50-over game may be excessively skewed in favour of batsmen but that doesn’t necessarily mean that bowlers can’t have a good day in the office. Cricket needs a sense of balance and bowlers need to rise even if broadcasters hinge their TRP ratings on marauding batsmen, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Limited overs cricket is often associated with towering sixes, massive totals and hurricane knocks. “It’s a batsman’s game, isn’t it?,” goes the refrain. Yes, the ingredients mentioned in the first line gets bums on the seats, eyeballs for live telecast and leads to the most desired outcome — a huge financial spin-off as brands ride piggyback.

And once you tread into World Cup territory, the words ‘grandeur’ and ‘larger than life’ seep in and again the men, who wield a fiery willow, seem to be the favoured sons. However, cricket is never one-dimensional, it is in fact a collision between bat and ball and by extension bowlers do have a significant role to play.

Remember when India won the World Cup in 1983 it was the bowlers who set up an improbable win over the West Indies. Balwinder Singh Sandhu drew first blood and castled Gordon Greenidge, while Mohinder Amarnath’s gentle seamers proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

The age-old adage that says bowlers win matches still holds true and the World Cup in its 30-year history has witnessed many a game-changing spell. In the very first edition in England in 1975, left-arm seamer Gary Gilmour helped the Aussies put it past the old enemy. In the match in Leeds, Gilmour scythed through the England innings, grabbing its first six wickets.

Gilmour’s six for 14 even put in the shade his illustrious pace partner Dennis Lillee’s efforts and that was a rare sight back then in the 1970s. England was shot out for 93 and Australia registered a four-wicket victory.

As the years went by, more bowlers added their shine to the tournament and none can forget Wasim Akram’s three for 49 in the final against England in Melbourne in 1992. Pakistan won the cup and Imran Khan’s mercurial band was on top of the world. Akram’s performance proved that great bowlers can rise above the context of batting-friendly rules and conditions.

If Akram could conjure magic, can the ‘Sultan of spin’ be far behind? Shane Warne has turned matches upside-down through his chequered career and he added a World Cup tale to it in the 1999 edition. Blinded by his high beam of brilliance were the hapless South Africans.

Ashish Nehra's six for 23 against England in the 2003 edition remains an Indian best in the World Cup and none will forget the manner in which he bamboozled the Englishmen or his exaggerated arms spreadout celebration after every wicket.-AP

In the semifinal against Hansie Cronje’s men, Warne bagged four for 29 and helped Australia defend a paltry 213. The game ended in a tie and the Aussies advanced to the final on the basis of a better Super-Six stage record. The leg-spinner sparkled and his first spell broke South Africa’s back.

Gideon Haigh in his acclaimed book On Warne writes: “There were seventeen consecutive scoreless deliveries, building almost Hitchcockian suspense. Eight overs, four maidens, three for 12: very seldom can the word ‘spell’ in cricket have lived up so fully to its dual meanings.”

Closer home, memories will glimmer when the mind leaps to Durban in 2003. In a key game against England, Ashish Nehra, who struggled with a swollen ankle on match-eve, forgot his discomfort and ransacked the rival. The left-arm seamer’s six for 23 remains an Indian best in the World Cup and none will forget the manner in which he bamboozled the Englishmen or his exaggerated arms spread-out celebration after every wicket. Nehra bowled an unchanged 10-over spell and prised out England’s heart.

During the event in South Africa, England surely was in a generous mood. Just like it bolstered Nehra’s ego, it also massaged Andy Bichel’s self-esteem. Never a terrifying bowler, Bichel seemed to sprout fangs as he had a seven for 20 and drew circles around Nasser Hussain’s troops. In an attack that featured Glenn McGrath, Bichel tore through the hierarchy and proved that bowlers of all kinds can strike even in an ODI.

The 50-over game may be excessively skewed in favour of batsmen but that doesn’t necessarily mean that bowlers can’t have a good day in the office.

The World Cup tops up the pressure quotient and an astute bowler can amplify it bit by bit until the batsman cracks, almost like the Chinese torture approach where water is allowed to fall on a convict’s head, drip by drip leading to disorientation.

The Gilmours, the Bichels and the Nehras precisely proved this and hopefully the 2015 World Cup will also find its bowling heroes.

Cricket needs a sense of balance and bowlers need to rise even if broadcasters hinge their TRP ratings on marauding batsmen!