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Batting sensibly is the trick

The WC so far has been a test of skill and not a statistician's delight, writes Peter Roebuck

So far the World Cup has not been the anticipated batting bonanza. Admittedly the weaker sides have been bashed but overall the battle between bat and ball has been even. Fast bowlers and spinners have taken wickets and batsmen have been forced to work for their runs. Overall it has been a test of skill not a statistician's delight.

Partly the pitches have held the batsmen in check. Most have been as slow as rush hour traffic and bounce has been a rarity. Accordingly batsmen have been cautious and reluctant to play lofted or back foot shots.

Sharper game

By and large it has made for sharper cricket. Few things are more tedious that the sight of a front foot bully belting the ball around on a pitch as scary as an Enid Blyton story. At least these slightly unreliable surfaces have forced batsmen to think. Shot election and placements have been important, and these count amongst the game's hidden delights

Conditions have favoured spinners sufficiently to give them a significant role. As expected they have bowled lots of overs — South Africa fielded three specialist tweakers in its opening match thereby confirming that adventure has been restored in that once woebegone land. However tweakers have been used not so much as wicket takers on dusty decks but as ways of exploiting weaknesses in opposing batsmen.

Spinners' day out

To that end Johan Botha was given the new ball against Chris Gayle whilst Daniel Vettori took up arms against Brad Haddin. Leg-spin has also flourished, with Imran Tahir, Steve Smith and Graeme Cremer impressing for their various sides.

Short boundaries, shorter matches and brutal bats were supposed to wipe out spin. Instead it has defied extinction. Cricket is infinitely richer for its survival.

Another reason for the unspectacular scoring has been the inability of teams to build an innings. Of late it has been customary to throw the bat in the first fifteen overs and then consolidate till the power play is taken towards the end of the innings.

But this stuttering approach has not been working all that well. Wickets have been lost in the opening onslaught and the slow surfaces make it harder for batsmen to restore the position.

Mixed blessing

Likewise the batting power play remains a mixed blessing. Experts talk about it regularly and often urge captains to take it mid innings. However they have been reluctant and the reason is simple.

Captains are constantly worried that a flurry of wickets will disrupt their team's progress. When a partnership develops they leave well alone. When wickets are falling they don't want to take it anyhow.

Even the prospect of the power play can disrupt an innings. Attempting to keep wickets intact, teams often go along slower than previously. And the risk remains that a wicket falls as soon as the power play is taken. Accordingly captains usually delay the power play till near the end. Arguably they'd be better off without it.

Instructive Power Plays

But power plays are also instructive. Over the years fielding captains have been quick to send the field back thereby reducing the chance of taking wickets. Obligatory or otherwise, tight fields encourage batsmen to loft the ball and against good sides wickets often fall. Arguably tactics have become too defensive and predictable.

Meanwhile batting sides are rapidly concluding that the best way to construct a strong score is to lay solid foundations with a view to attacking towards the end. Building momentum is coming back into fashion.

Even the scorned single is back in business. As not the team that take the most singles prevails. Batsmen have lost the habit of scoring off almost every delivery.

Clearly the 2011 WC is becoming a battle of wits. All the evidence suggests that the team that bats most intelligently as opposed to belligerently will take the spoils.

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