I do not expect spin to play a major role in this ICC Cricket World Cup (ICC CWC) as a combination of two new balls, fielding restrictions and the pitches will all count against them.
But that does not mean spinners will be redundant and they will still have a part – maybe even a crucial part – to play.
History shows spinners can be very effective in an ICC CWC in Australian and New Zealand conditions and the last time it was held there, in 1992, Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed grabbed 16 wickets, a mark bettered only by fellow countryman Wasim Akram.
True, Mushy was an outstanding spinner but it highlights the fact there will still be opportunities for the very best slow bowlers to perform key roles and even become match-winners.
So, who are those spinners who have the potential to be key men for their teams in this tournament? I thought it would be fun to select 11 to keep an eye out for during the action.
The conditions mean there is no guarantee some will play very much at all, and other slow bowlers like off-spinners Moeen Ali of England and Ireland’s Paul Stirling or left-armers such as Australia’s Xavier Doherty and Sri Lanka’s own Rangana Herath may well feature at some point, but looking into my crystal ball, these are spinners who may figure prominently.
Shakib Al Hasan (Bangladesh) – Not a big spinner of the ball but a smart bowler and the fact he has been playing in the Big Bash League just before the tournament means he has got recent and relevant first-hand experience of conditions. The downside may be that he will have to be both a stock bowler, keeping it quiet, as well as a wicket-taker, so for him to be very effective it will need other members of the Tigers attack to step up and take wickets too. If they do not then opponents will be content to just play out Shakib’s overs knowing they can score off the other bowlers.
Ravichandran Ashwin (India) – Another bowler with recent experience of Australian conditions and although he has not had an especially successful time, that experience will stand him in good stead. Has clever variations and will also revel in the extra bounce he is likely to find. Ashwin is also an excellent performer in the powerplay overs and when batsmen are looking to attack him, which could count in his favour.
Ravindra Jadeja (India) – A key figure in India’s victory in the ICC Champions Trophy in England and Wales in 2013. Not a big spinner of the ball but, like Ashwin, his experience of batsmen attacking him and how to deal with that situation thanks to the Pepsi Indian Premier League will be invaluable in this tournament. Will skid the ball on and, if he can be accurate and consistent, then batsmen may well perish trying to take liberties against him.
Daniel Vettori (New Zealand) – He has it all: experience, temperament and knowledge of conditions. He may not be the same bowler he was in his prime, not quite able any more to drive through his action, but his accuracy and subtle variations in pace and flight mean he will be very dangerous. This tournament has been the driving force keeping him going and he will be desperate to go out on a high.
Yasir Shah (Pakistan) – Has the potential to do what Mushtaq did in 1992. Quality leg-spinners are rare enough in this tournament and he definitely has the talent to succeed. He spins the ball, will relish the extra bounce of the Australasian pitches and with Saeed Ajmal banned there is the chance for him to play a pivotal role in his side’s attack.
Shahid Afridi (Pakistan) – Knows conditions, has good variation and his ability to skid the ball on means he represents a real threat to batsmen not getting their bats out in front of the pad. He and Yasir Shah both need the Pakistan seam bowlers to be effective as, if they are not and leak runs instead, it will allow batsmen to simply milk them. Has already made it clear this is his last ICC CWC so after captaining the side to the semi-finals last time and losing in the final in 1999 he has one final shot at the title, which is the perfect incentive to produce the goods.
Sachithra Senanayake (Sri Lanka) – Conditions will suit his style of bowling with the over-spin he puts on the ball helping to generate bounce. His ability to keep things tight as well as his athleticism in the field and his handy lower-order batting will probably mean he will get the nod ahead of Rangana Herath as Sri Lanka’s frontline spinner.
Imran Tahir (South Africa) – Benefits from the high quality of South Africa’s seam attack because when they keep things tight he tends to pick up wickets as batsmen look to attack him. Difficult to rate him in the top rank of spinners but his strike-rate demands attention. As his batting and fielding are modest, he faces a challenge from left-armer Aaron Phangiso for a place in the starting eleven.
Mohammad Nabi and Samiullah Shenwari (Afghanistan) – The focus will be on Afghanistan’s fast bowling stocks but these two play a key role in tying down sides in the middle orders and also picking up handy wickets. Captain Nabi is a tall wicket-to-wicket off-spinner who generates decent bounce, while Shenwari is a skiddy leg-spinner who averages a wicket every 40 balls in One-Day Internationals. Neither can be underestimated.
George Dockrell (Ireland) – Although he is only 22, the left-armer already has a vast amount of experience, having played in his first ICC World Twenty20 at 18, back in 2010, and the ICC Cricket World Cup a year later. His seven wickets with an economy rate of just 4.43 runs per over in that latter tournament was impressive, as was his command of line and length. Among bowlers from Associate countries, only Ryan ten Doeschate has reached 50 ODI wickets in fewer matches and he will be one of Ireland’s go-to men with the ball. Courtesy ICC