This tournament may be billed as the showpiece of world cricket, but it is a battle of the fastest bowlers on deadpan wickets with just about every possible concession given in the batman’s favour.
The 2015 World Cup is exciting and compulsive viewing because it is all about big hitting, big scores and big money. Nobody wants to see low scores and in much the same way as Twenty20 cricket has captured the imagination and interest of a wider public audience, the ODIs are now played on wickets that are tailor-made for the batsmen to ensure a similar appeal. In former times 200 was a decent score in 50 overs, then 300 became the target, but in the opening couple of weeks 400 has been passed several times and already some pundits are taking about a batsman reaching 300 on his own and a possible team score of 500. The most likely victims will be the Associate countries hence the ICC’s determination to force a smaller tournament next time.
Chris Gayle has already scored 215 against Zimbabwe, one of the few highlights the West Indies squad has produced, and it seems the bar could be raised even higher if the organizers persist with perfect batting tracks and short boundaries. It’s certainly not cricket if the dice is so heavily packed in favour of the batsmen, but it is compulsive viewing and in the modern world money talks and TV channels call the shots because they have more of it. All the grounds have been prepared with almost perfect batting tracks and medium pace bowlers have been slaughtered. This is a no contest when the mighty take on pace-less attacks as Ireland found out to their cost against South Africa and there was more than a touch of irony when commentator Mike Atherton said the Associate countries like Ireland need to come up with faster bowlers and then quickly qualified his comment by saying “of course when they do, as in the case of Boyd Rankin, England takes them!”
Fast bowlers will win this World Cup and top test countries like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka have the best in the business. After all, when do the Ireland batsmen get the chance to face the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Abbott in competition, so little wonder the fiery South Africans opened up our batting like a knife going through butter. Unfortunately these wickets are perfect for batting and as far as the slow bowlers are concerned they have been very average, but who cares defending huge scores as long as you hold your catches?
Not everyone feels the tracks have killed off the bowlers. West Indian all-rounder Franklyn Stephenson feels the bar has been raised and bowlers have to rise up to it-
“Everything evolves in sport and records are made to be broken. If the batsmen have raised their game and can regularly score over 400 then the bowlers have got to raise their game to restrict them. This raises the standard and is good for cricket.”
The big Barbadian would have loved to be batting or bowling in these conditions given his prowess in both disciplines, but he was a rarity in world cricket. Nowadays the fast bowlers are bred for fast bowling only and they bowl more short balls than ever. Harold Larwood was probably the best fast bowler of his era and certainly ahead of his time in 1932 with bodyline bowling. He must be rolling in his grave laughing at how history has come back to prove him right!