Chin music, despite the present-day restrictions on bouncers, has dominated discourse at the ICC World Cup of 2019, now being played in England and Wales. What has also been surprising in this edition of the World Cup is the courage displayed by most batsmen to confront the pace demons head on and come up trumps on tracks that are anything but predictable.
Intimidation – and arrogance, if you may prefer to call it that – from fiercely quick bowlers like Jofra Archer, Mitchell Starc, Mark Wood, Lockie Ferguson, Oshane Thomas and others have not affected the composure of batsmen like Shakib Al Hasan, Aaron Finch, Joe Root, Rohit Sharma, David Warner etc, who have regularly been amongst the runs, this World Cup. In spite of the protection that modern day cricket provides, it isn’t easy facing up to fast bowlers bowling at around 150 kph. It becomes all the more difficult when the pitch is two-paced or has unpredictable bounce.
There’s this story of Frank Tyson bowling quick in a Gentlemen versus Players’ game, on a dicey pitch at Lord’s, in the late 1950s. As each batsman, shaken by Tyson’s thunderbolts returned to the hut, John Warr – a lower order batsman – had a wisecrack ready for him. However, when he was due to bat next and one of Tyson’s bouncers had crashed one bounce into the sight-screen, Warr, his knees knocking against each other, said, “I don’t know whether to mediate, emigrate or defecate.” That’s exactly what fast bowling does to batsmen.
When Afghanistan’s Hashmatullah Shahidi, just 24, was hit on the head by a Mark Wood bouncer in the match at Old Trafford against England, he got up and continued batting. He said later that he decided to stay at the crease, despite fears of concussion and against medical advice, so that his mother, who was watching the match on TV, wouldn’t be worried about him. He stayed on to contribute a valuable 76 to his team’s total.
When Shahidi had fallen in a heap at the crease earlier, after Wood’s bouncer thudded into his helmet and split it, the bowler and a few England fielders looked distraught. Memories of the Phil Hughes incident usually come flooding back when this happens. When the young Afghan batsman – shaken and dazed — decided to bat on though, Wood ran in and bowled him another bouncer, this time at his ribs. That is international sport at its best; no favours asked for and none given!
Despite a rasping hit on his thumb from a Pat Cummins bouncer, early in his innings, India opener, Shikhar Dhawan showed tremendous mental fortitude to carry on and score a hundred against the Australians at the Oval. That epic knock had helped India defeat the Australians by 36 runs. Dhawan, ‘Gabbar Singh’ to his teammates, was however ruled out from taking any further part in India’s 2019 World Cup campaign after it was discovered that he had carried on batting despite a fractured thumb.
Fast bowlers’ domination of World Cup 2019 began in the inaugural match itself. In the South Africa – England match at the Oval, one of Archer’s bouncers hit Hashim Amla on the forehead as he shaped to pull and was beaten by Archer’s pace. The veteran Proteas’ opener was taken for a cautionary scan and then returned to bat later. Amla had to sit out one match but made a gutsy comeback, with useful knocks against Afghanistan and New Zealand.
The West Indies fast bowlers made short work of Pakistan at Nottingham on 31 May. The Sarfaraz Ahmed led squad was shot out for 105 and the West Indies won by seven wickets. How? You guessed it right; accurate, short-pitched bowling!
In Bangladesh’s seven-wicket win against the West Indies, at Taunton, Liton Das had scored a brilliant 94 off 69 deliveries. In the match against Australia on 20 June at Nottingham however, he was hit on the head by a Starc bouncer. Though he stayed on at the crease after receiving some attention from the physio, he looked confused and dazed through his short innings of 20 afterwards. With Bangladesh needing to win a few matches to qualify for the playoffs, it is hoped that Das will regain his composure at the earliest.
Usman Khawaja, who bats at number three for Australia in one-day games, has been subjected to a barrage of bumpers in recent times. Thanks to video-analysts, perhaps, he has been found wanting against the rising ball. He has even been hit a few times in attempting to hook or pull but he has carried on gamely. That’s true courage in the face of adversity.
Even Rashid Khan has been hit and numbers nine, ten and jack in the batting order haven’t been spared either. This World Cup has been about winning at all costs and intimidation is one weapon that has been used generously.
Curiously, while Archer, Starc, Mohd Amir, Ferguson and Cummins have bowled impressively in this World Cup, talented quickies like Kagiso Rabada, Thomas, Lungi Ngidi and a few others haven’t been as effective. Jasprit Bumrah, of course, has had the opportunity to bowl only in three matches and will probably be among the wickets very soon. What separates the first set of bowlers from the second? The line that they bowl! Starc and company are always at the batsman’s throat. They hardly ever give batsmen the opportunity to free their arms; they have them literally tucked up.
Great fast bowling does not only create a flutter out there in the middle; it engenders the fear factor back in the dressing room too. Tony Lewis, former England skipper recalls the mood in the Glamorgan dressing room, when as a rookie he faced Wes Hall for the first time, in 1963. “Third ball of the match, Hall spread-eagles the opener’s stumps. I am in next. I pick up my bat and look around the dressing room to get a nod of encouragement from Gilbert Parkhouse – Test batsman and a great player against pace,” says Lewis. “What do I see? Parkhouse busy wrapping his false teeth in a handkerchief!”
This World Cup will probably be won by the team that has the most efficient and the most ferocious set of fast bowlers. These teams may, however, need quality spinners too to back up their quickies. Take your pick, therefore, from amongst India, England, Australia and New Zealand!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler and coach, he believes in calling a spade a spade.
Updated Date: Jun 22, 2019 12:35:15 IST