Spin in demand at World Cup on sub-continental dust bowl

Saturday, 19 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

(Reuters) - Teams at the World Cup appear to have reached a broad consensus that the best way to dismantle a rival batting order is to tie them in tangles, rather than subjecting them to a battery of bouncers.

Martin Crowe, captaining New Zealand in the 1992 World Cup, pulled off a masterstroke when he opened bowling with off-spinner Dipak Patel for what turned out to be a potent antidote to the prevailing tactic of hitting over the in-field in the first 15 overs.

Nearly two decades since that sensational improvisation, at least one team, Zimbabwe, has already decided to follow suit.

"For us, definitely it will be an option," Zimbabwe coach Alan Butcher said in Chennai where off-spinner Prosper Utseya opened the bowling with paceman Chris Mpofu in the warm-up match against South Africa.

"That has been part of our strategy last year or so, or probably before that. This is something we are used to. I will be surprised if before the end of the tournament other sides are not doing it," Butcher added.

"It has been used before in previous World Cups. The conditions would be suitable for that.

"I’m not discounting the fact that we might open with two seamers and try and take advantage of the new ball. But our strategy has been to use at least one spinner with the new ball for some time. At the moment the conditions suggest, I probably won’t change that."

Besides, Zimbabwe do not have a pace attack that can give opponent batsmen sleepless nights, the burly coach argued.

"Over the last year, our spinners have been our best bowlers and I have seen they are improving. In any conditions, your best bowlers are your best options," he said.

Like Zimbabwe, Bangladesh will also bank on their army of spinners to pull off upsets and see if that can take them to the knockout stage.

But it is not only the minnows who appear to prefer the guile of spin over the glamour of pace in subcontinental dustbowls.

India picked a third frontline spinner in Piyush Chawla, preferring the baby-faced leg-spinner to a second wicketkeeper in Parthiv Patel.

Even South Africa, which always looked at spin bowling with some amount of suspicion, have flown in three specialist tweakers -- Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and the Pakistan-born leg-spinner Imran Tahir.

Unleashing the uncapped Tahir at one-day cricket’s greatest stage might seem like a huge gamble but South Africa skipper Graeme Smith is confident the strategy will pay off.

"For me, it was his opportunity and he handled it well. He gave himself a great platform to hold on to," Smith said after the warm-up match against Zimbabwe in which Tahir claimed three wickets.

"In fact, all our spinners bowled well. It’s a very good thing, it’s a very good competition in the squad. It must be seen as a positive.

"Tactically we have got a lot of options available for us, especially in spinning front."

The remaining doubts have also been erased by the Indian spinners who exposed Australia and New Zealand’s feet of clay against turning deliveries in the warm-up matches.

Against Australia, the Indian spinners claimed all but one wicket, while removing seven of the 10 New Zealand batsmen in the second warm-up match.