We were promised a World Cup of runs. Glittering and charismatic batsmen showing the full array of their shots on docile wickets where 350-400 totals were to be the norm. The bowlers just mere sheep to be reared; going in through one end and coming out empty; without lustre.
Things turned out to be very different indeed once the tournament started. It was time for the true catalysts of excitement to take over. They took over and how. From Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Starc, Jofra Archer to the likes of Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson; we witnessed a different level of domination in an era where bowlers had previously been reduced to bowling machines.
The spinners? It was said that leg spinners would get purchase on these English wickets. That spinners would talk the talk when fast bowlers were being hit all over the park. How perceptions changed. While spinners added necessary variations, it was the fast bowlers who decided proceedings when it mattered most.
There is no sight better in world cricket than a fast bowler running in; chest heaving, about to bowl a delivery that is meant to change the fortunes of his team. The batsmen feeling the might and presence of a cannon ball coming in; full and lethal; targeting the stumps.
Fast bowling is exciting. It draws people towards the game but in recent years the bat has dominated to such an extent that we almost forgot the charm and excitement of seeing that pace and aggression make a whole hearted impact. Not anymore.
The English conditions are generally conducive to seamers but recent series before the World Cup suggested that while true bounce will prevail, the pitches generally will not provide affection to the fast men. However the summer rain brought a glitch to the proceedings at England. It is being argued whether the grounds men had enough time to prepare the solid batting pitches the ICC wanted. That is where the best among the crop rose up and what we are seeing now is the adventure that these bowlers are taking us on.
Mitchell Starc, the ‘Grand old Duke of yorker’ a writer from Cricinfo called him. Currently the leading wicket-taker at this World Cup, the 2015 edition’s player of the series is having another outstanding tournament. Australia are an attacking side but Starc spearheads that Australian mentality of what attacking cricket has to be. He picks up wickets, early, then in the middle overs and the death overs. That white ball, old or new, is lethal in Starc’s hand and he bowls them at a decent pace of 152kmph. The yorkers are a sight to behold. Swinging in from a very full length and tailing in; late and going through the batmen’s defences. That has been the trademark of Starc’s World Cup so far. His delivery to knock back the off stump of Ben Stokes might have been the ball of the tournament.
Jofra Archer, the ‘Barbadian traitor’, induced much excitement ahead of the World Cup and he has lived up to the billing. Born in West Indies, Archer did not even feature in the initial England squad for the World Cup. His pace and bounce have worried batsmen to say the least. In the opening match, he hit Proteas opener Hashim Amla with a bouncer that rose viciously like a pouncing Tiger from a length and led to the batsman being retired hurt. Against Bangladesh, he went through the defences of Soumya Sarkar with a delivery that nipped back in and the ball went for six after clipping the off stump. Raw pace and scrambled seam at work.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir came into this World Cup looking very uncertain about form and flow. He had been out of the Pakistan lineup for a while and perhaps looked to bowl within himself. His crazy talent though was exposed. Another exponent of the scrambled seam and the slower cutters, Amir’s knowledge of the white ball has seen him become the most feared bowler in the World Cup. He dismantled Australia at Taunton; singlehandedly he thwarted the Aussies from getting to a 350-plus total with his wily movement and seam position. On his day, Amir is the one to watch out for.
Lasith Malinga is the old horse of this tournament. His former pace has passed him by and his pot belly now precedes him by a fraction as he runs onto the crease but what remains are the subtle variations and aggression. The importance of that aggression cannot be overly stated and England’s formidable batting lineup wilted under it at Leeds as the Lankans caused an upset.
India’s Jasprit Bumrah is not to be denied his place. Not known for either pace or vicious movement, the very nature of his deception is his most potent weapon. His arm often comes in at such an angle, that it would appear that there is a certain disability to target the stumps. But that is what he does. The yorkers are inch perfect and has troubled the best in the business. If you want to take him for runs, you better have some shots in your hand that others have not imagined yet.
The likes of Lockie Ferguson, Pat Cummins, Wahab Riaz and Mark Wood or Boult are not lagging behind. Together they have put on a fascinating show of fast bowling. We have not been treated to the excitement that was induced by a Shoaib Akhter or a Brett Lee but the likes of Starc is now taking wickets at an average of 25.4, rivalling some of the best that have come before him. The fast bowlers have decided matches even amongst the run fests as we witness a short ‘era’ where they simply did not get erased. The spirit of the fast bowler lives on.