ICC World Cup 2019: Wrist spin at death could change games
Of the six most prolific ODI bowlers since the last World Cup, four are wrist-spinners. As the age of two new white balls reduces the role of reverse-swing, the primary threat for bowling sides in the middle overs are unpredictable, unreadable, unorthodox spin bowlers.Updated: May 21, 2019 09:34 IST
Wrist-spinners are the weapon of the moment in white-ball cricket. Their almost unique gift of being able to spin the ball in both directions, combined with outlier-levels of dip, makes them notoriously tough to consistently hit for big runs.
It shows in how the numbers stack up. Of the six most prolific ODI bowlers since the last World Cup, four are wrist-spinners. As the age of two new white balls reduces the role of reverse-swing, the primary threat for bowling sides in the middle overs are unpredictable, unreadable, unorthodox spin bowlers. It is a strong likelihood that every side at the upcoming World Cup will have a wrist-spinner in their ranks, and it’s no surprise that joint-favourites India are blessed with two world-class ones. (Complete coverage of ICC Cricket World Cup 2019)
In ODI cricket at the moment there are six elite wrist-spinners: Imran Tahir, Kuldeep Yadav, Rashid Khan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Adil Rashid and Shadab Khan. They are the six men to take 30+ wickets since the last global tournament, the 2017 Champions Trophy in England.
Among this crop, the one with the outstanding recent record is Rashid Khan—he holds the lowest economy and strike rate over the last few years. However, these figures are undoubtedly boosted by Afghanistan largely playing against lower-quality opposition. The others all vary in their relative ability to conserve runs, and take wickets.
Since the 2015 World Cup, 11% of deliveries at the death (overs 41-50) have been from wrist-spinners. This is a drop from 19% in the middle overs, where as we have observed, they perform extremely well.
There is clearly some sound reasoning behind this reluctance of captains to use wrist-spin at the death; the benefit of wrist-spin is that it generally takes wickets more effectively than other bowling types, and wickets are less valuable at the death than they are at other stages of the innings. But dismissing Jos Buttler in the 41st over is a pretty valuable moment, right?
English pitches have, by and large, been remarkably flat in the past four years. Where possible, ground-staff have prepared very batting-friendly surfaces to aid the strengths of this batting-stacked England side.
It is likely that the group-stages (particularly the first five or six matches for each team) are going to be high-scoring games on flat tracks. If batsmen are allowed to get set, and bat through the innings, then massive scores could well be on the cards. As such, the increased use of wrist-spinners at the death—particularly in overs 41-45—makes complete sense.
Yet the role wrist-spinners play in ODIs has stayed rigid. For every one of the last five years, 23% of leg-spinners deliveries have come in Powerplay 1; 63-64% have come in Powerplay 2; 13-14% have come in Powerplay 3.
The most obvious candidate for wrist spin in death overs is Shadab Khan. Pakistan are blessed with arguably the best middle overs seamer in the world in Hasan Ali, and so can afford to hold Shadab back until the end.
One of the joys of ODI cricket in the last two World Cup cycles has been that rule changes have prompted unexpected reactions from players and teams, and the game has altered in peculiar ways. Leg-spin may well be used as an aggressive option in Powerplay 1, more so than at the death, but it seems likely that there will be some change in its use—we’ll just have to wait and see what that change will be.