In a format designed to be unfair to bowlers, pitches are playing the great leveller. They are bringing back the sense of balance into the game of cricket and reviving its original beauty. This is a sweeping generalisation but if you are getting the feel of real cricket in this version of the ICC World T20, then the credit has to go to how the pitches have behaved. The India-Bangladesh cliff-hanger at Bangalore on Wednesday is a case in point.
India set a target of 146 and Bangladesh gave a spirited chase, losing the match by one run. The last six balls packed all the drama and suspense that any cricket match can offer. The visitors required 11 runs off the 20th over and the game swung perilously either way with every delivery of that Hardik Pandya over. Ultimately, the opponents fell short by a whisker to the collective relief of all Indian cricket fans. However, the last over was not all to the great contest. It was a tense, captivating see-saw battle all although the 40-over stretch.
If one needed proof that thrill in cricket need not come from hits, creative stroke-making and total domination of the bat over the ball, this match provided it amply. At the core of this game, like any other team sport, is the contest of skill of several kinds and that of grit, courage and of teamwork. If you allow only one aspect – batting in the case of T20 – to overwhelm other aspects you end up distorting the soul of the game. This World T20 has brought back the balance. It may not be permanent but it serves a timely reminder that cricket can be enthralling in its purest form too.
All through this World Cup, barring a few exceptions, matches have not been about lusty hitting. Chris Gayle and other explosive players of his genre have displayed their destructive ability but for the most part, bowlers, particularly spinners, have dictated the course of the game.
In a format which was expected to sound the death knell for spinners it is an amazing turnaround indeed. That the likes of R Ashwin, Adam Zampa, Shakib Al Hasan, Samuel Badree or Imran Tahir would emerge as impact players – well, nobody has called them that so far, but that’s what they are proving to be – is the real big takeaway from this competition.
Who gets the credit for this remarkable shift? Well, it’s not the bowlers. They have been around for long doing what they are good at but the real game changer is the pitches.
For whatever reason – some say pitches become slower and conducive to spin at the end of a season – the tracks are assisting spinners, allowing them to express themselves and indulge in their brain games with batsmen. They need not be defensive in a slam-bang format. They have turned out to be the aggressors, not the men wielding those pieces of willow.
Fast bowlers have become another tormented species in this format. That someone like Dale Steyn could be poked fun at by Mohammad Shahzad of Afghanistan reveals a lot about how this lot has gone down in general esteem. They still run in hard and hurl the cricket ball at amazing speed but batsmen, aided by new fielding rules and equipped with advanced protective gear, have found many ways to negotiate them without fuss. Flat pitches soak up whatever venom they have in their bowling and conditions not allowing the ball to swing in the air have rendered them ineffective. One hopes the pitches conspire again to restore them their due place in the game.
Batsmen can still have the licence to kill and thrill, but it cricket surely can do with more equal equations within. It need not be a one-way affair to be interesting.