Phase one of the Champions Trophy is over. The first four matches involving each team have been decided and what a thriller they all have turned out to be. More importantly, they have shown you don't need 300+ scores to be truly entertaining.
Total runs scored in these four matches have been only 1520, just about 190 per innings. And that is nearly 80-90 less than what one has come to expect on Indian pitches. Bowlers of all hues have stolen the show, something that subcontinent spectators are not really accustomed to. The much-maligned pitches have not prevented some really terrific cricket all round.
Run-feast may not have been there, but just the pitches can't be blamed for that. The likes of Fleming, Glichrist, Morton and Lara, and to some extent Tendulkar and Smith have shown that if you apply yourself, runs are always there for the taking. Strike-rates may not be astronomical, but they will not be abysmally low either.
Pitches, with their slow paced nature, may have prevented some stroke-making but then the batting sides have also be stifled by some great bowling performances notably from Mills, Taylor, Razzaq and Powar - two specialists pacers, and two all rounders.
If the first match saw India toying with England initially, and dangerously flirting with luck before coming trumps, the second witnessed some brilliant fight back by Fleming and then New Zealand's bowling troika of Mills, Oram and Patel to ensure that South Africa -- a team which has climbed the Everest of 400 runs twice this year -- barely managed to reach 100 mark.
In fact, Fleming's knock was a perfect demonstration of what all can be done on these pitches. Playing every ball on its merit, the New Zealand captain still was so dominant that he scored more runs than all batsmen in his side combined together. Fittingly, he turned out to be virtually a one-man demolition squad against South Africa.
Fleming v other batsmen
Even the match involving Sri Lanka and Pakistan was low scoring in the sense that Sri Lanka, who at one stage were cruising well over six runs per over and looked in sight of a total in excess of 300, were restricted to a modest 253 by an anything but demoralized Pakistani side.
And then, thanks to some late night dew and a brilliant counter assault by Razzak and Shoaib Malik, Pakistan just about managed to romp home. It was sheer resolve that enhanced their performance, taking them to a new high!
How Sri Lankan were restricted by Pakistan slow bowlers
Economy of Pakistan pacers and Spinners
Now, McGrath may have been the only bowler unhappy in the present scenario. The lanky Australian had commented before Australia's match that ''It is never a happy sight to see a bowler dominate game on a ground where you are up next''.
The reason is not difficult to fathom. Probably the Australian bowlers fancy their chances as much on a flat strip, which, on the other hand, allows their batsmen to prosper as well. However, low and slow strips one is getting for Champions Trophy puts other teams on even keel with the World Champions.
It was more than evident in the Wednesday's match against Australia when West Indies looked down and out with Gilchrist on rampage. After his dismissal, ever-reliable Clarke attempted to stabilize the innings and Australia still had a good chance with five wickets in hand, needing 29 off 24 balls.
But a slower one from Bravo, and even slower response from pitch saw the kind of classic caught and bowled dismissal, which changed the complexion of the match. It was sheer intelligence, and not some give from the heaven. Slow delivery was the weapon the West Indian pacers very effectively used on the rest of the Australian batsmen to emerge winner by 10 runs.
Considering such absorbing battles, may be one should also give up the fetish for high scoring matches where bowlers are forever at the mercy of the rampaging batsmen.
May be strips can be little better, but even now they are good enough for most good batsmen. They are in fact transporting us to the era where scores of 230-240 were the standard norm, and at most times, a recipe for success.
Another reason for the failure of some teams is that they are losing too many wickets in power play period. In the first match, England had lost as many as five wickets while Australia, South Africa and West Indies managed to lose four in this period in subsequent encounters. While the teams have been scoring runs at good pace initially, but losing wickets so often is stealing away the momentum.
If conditions remain same, grafters are going to benefit tremendously. And that will only benefit the game, which generally thrives on slam-bang approach.