What fun it was to see England and South Africa playing in conditions alien to both last Sunday, the batsmen groping around on a good old Bunsen. The ball spun as much as it did when I played my last Test in India on Brian Lara International Cricket 2005.
Spin is proving a little useful in the subcontinent. No surprise there. But increasingly it is being used at the start of an innings (remember Robin Peterson’s four overs for four runs and three wickets?).
The tactic is commonplace in Twenty20. In ODIs, Zimbabwe’s Ray Price (third in the ICC one-day rankings) has been the pioneer. England better be ready for it tomorrow against Bangladesh’s conveyor belt of left-armers; spin is likely from (at least) one end during the crucial first 15 overs and beyond. Against Ireland, 14 of the first 15 overs were bowled by Bangladeshi spinners.
Spin has opened the bowling on 13 occasions in this World Cup and the figures look pretty: 60 overs for 189 runs and 12 wickets. Put down the calculator – an economy rate of 3.15 and an average of 15.75 runs an over. At any point of the innings this is a good return. Coming in the Powerplay overs they are, if you’ll forgive me, Priceless.
It must be a nuisance to opening batsmen. Out you come, hoping to use the pace of the ball for early runs and to have a good while between deliveries to adjust to the light, loosen your limbs and steady your focus. Instead you are immediately drawn into a hand-to-hand combat which hardly allows a breath between deliveries and requires you to apply force to the ball to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. Get one wrong and the mandatory close fielders are waiting for a catch.
Come to think of it, the surprise is that this tactic has not been used more often in the World Cup. Perhaps tomorrow Bangladesh will be the first to have two spinners opening the bowling. Kevin Pietersen’s departure could not have been better timed.
Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer magazine