T20 World Cup: Spin holds key to success on slow pitches in the UAE

Updated on Oct 19, 2021 08:03 AM IST

India have selected a strong set of spinners, but skipper Virat Kohli must assess form while finalising the playing combination

Spin holds key to success on slow pitches in the UAE.(AP)
Spin holds key to success on slow pitches in the UAE.(AP)
By, Mumbai

As expected, the Bangladesh versus Scotland game provided proof of how spin is going to play a big part in the T20 World Cup. In the opening day’s match played in Muscat, Chris Greaves played the starring role for Scotland with his quickish leg-spin. He removed the seasoned Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim just when Bangladesh had started to cover ground in their chase. He was well supported by left-arm spinner Mark Watt with figures of 4-0-19-1. Spinners dominated Scotland’s innings as well, picking up five of the first six wickets.

Bangladesh off-spinner Mahedi Hasan took 3/19 in his four overs. Shakib produced a double-wicket over, which took him to the top of T20I’s wicket-taking chart. The left-arm spinner’s tally now is 108, one more than former Sri Lanka pacer Lasith Malinga.

Because of the heat factor and the dry nature of the surfaces in the UAE and Oman, experts foresee spinners ruling at the tournament. Expecting just this kind of script on slow pitches, India have also gone in with a spin-heavy attack comprising of the experienced Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin, the exciting Varun Chakaravarthy and leg-spinner Rahul Chahar.

In their original squad, they had picked as many as five spinners. Even though Axar Patel has since been replaced by fast-bowling all-rounder Shardul Thakur, it still gives captain Virat Kohli enough options.

On paper, the spin attack looks really strong but the India captain will have to look at the form of his players to pick up the ideal combination depending on different opponents. They start their campaign with the big clash against Pakistan on October 24. Though international cricket will be a different ball game, IPL can be a good indicator of the form of the players. Everyone got to see the rhythm of the players at the T20 league.

In his column for ICC, Suresh Raina, who played for CSK in the just concluded season, picked Chakaravarthy as the bowler to watch out for. “My experience in the IPL was that the wickets in UAE and Oman will be very, very challenging when it comes to the mystery spinners,” Raina wrote. “That makes Varun Chakaravarthy the main guy in the India bowling attack. He has showed he can exploit the pace of the pitches. Varun has only played three T20Is but I’m not concerned by lack of experience.”

Over the last two seasons, Chakaravarthy has picked up plenty of experience at the IPL, where he was a revelation in 2020 for KKR, claiming 17 wickets in 13 matches while keeping his economy at 6.58. He continued in the same vein in 2021, with KKR reaching the final.

Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh was also happy with the bowling of Chakaravarthy, along with Jadeja, but is less sure of how Ashwin or Chahar will fit into the picture.

“We have two finger spinners and two wrist spinners. The way Ashwin has bowled I have got my doubts they will play him,” Singh said. “(Then) we have one leg-spinner who didn’t even play for his franchise (Chahar). We are just left with two who are really bowling their overs who I think are going to play for India to start with, Jadeja and Varun.”

Without the in-form Yuzvendra Chahal, India’s attack is not evoking the same confidence their spin unit usually does. Jadeja is crafty but not really an attacking option, but at this World Cup he may be called upon to play an attacking role.

“Actually, he has done well for his franchise this year, probably the best I have seen him bowl for the franchise for a long time. I am sure he is going to carry that confidence into the World Cup,” said Singh.

Chakravarthy has shown he can bowl at different stages of the match, but Kohli will have to use Jadeja in very specific contexts, like at Chennai Super Kings. “This is where the captain’s intelligence will come into play, this is where Dhoni’s role as a mentor will be important as he used Jadeja really well in the IPL,” said Singh.

Attacker Varun

The main attacking spinner’s mantle may fall upon Chakaravarthy, who has shown great game awareness as well as aggression and fearlessness in that role for KKR.

“I am very impressed with him,” Singh said. “Whatever I have seen of him in the last two years, I have liked it because he has got a fantastic attitude. He stays calm in all kinds of situations. If he gets a wicket or he gets hit for a six, the expression is the same. That gives him the extra edge, that he doesn’t get edgy at any stage. I am only worried about his fitness. I only hope he doesn’t collapse in the middle of the season.”

The 30-year-old spinner worked as an architect till 2015 and has not been part of the usual cricketing eco-system in India.

India play their group league matches at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. During the IPL, the pitch did not offer the same help as in Sharjah, but the bigger dimension of the ground means the spinners can attack with heart.

“If you see the IPL record, the faster bowlers have had the most success at Dubai. (But) If you the bigger ground, the same shot which would clear the ground at the Sharjah Stadium, will be a catch in Dubai. The spinners will be a little more comfortable at the larger ground,” Singh said.

Both Jadeja and Chakaravarthy played the IPL final at the same venue. The left-arm spinner had a good game, picking up two wickets, while Chakaravarthy couldn’t make his usual impact.

Ashwin in the mix

The difference between an IPL and an international team is that the IPL team can pick players as per the match-up. Yet, between Ashwin, Jadeja, Chakaravarthy and Chahar, India have the option of four bowlers as different in their skills from each other as it gets, affording the captain more options for match-ups.

Ashwin may have not had a great IPL season and was an unlikely pick having not played T20s for India for four years now, but his vast experience could make a big difference. He played the last three T20 World Cups. His Economy Rate at the 2012 World Cup was six (five wickets).

In the 2014 tournament he was sensational, picking up 11 wickets for an economy of just 5.35. The 2016 edition was not kind to him and he found himself out of the Indian white-ball set up after that.

Virat Kohli though, after a period where he only played wrist spinners, has started using finger spinners like Ashwin more.

“Wrist spinners were the ones in demand, mostly through that middle period, but now the finger spinners with that accuracy have come back into the game again, so we also have to evolve as a team with the evolving trend of the game. With Ash and the likes of Ravindra Jadeja as well performing beautifully. These guys can be very consistent,” Kohli said.

The others

While India go into this tournament with a strong and varied spin attack, what about other teams?

Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi stand out, though they will not have the batting to back their efforts. Australia can bowl leggie Adam Zampa and left-arm orthodox Ashton Agar in tandem. South Africa have the ICC’s No I ranked T20 bowler, Tabraiz Shamsi. The left-arm wrist spinner, a rarity in the game, he is difficult to handle with his ability to turn the ball both ways.

The New Zealand duo of left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner and leg-spinner Ish Sodhi engineered India’s collapse in Nagpur at the 2016 World Cup, picking up seven wickets between them in that match.

Defending champions West Indies have chosen to go into the event without their star bowler Sunil Narine and will be banking on rookie leg-spinner Hayden Walsh.

In one of the biggest games of the tournament, the India-Pakistan tie that will kick off the tournament for both teams, Pakistan will be expected to field Shadab Khan, a loopy leg-spinner with a terrific wrong ‘un, and seasoned left-arm spinner Imad Wasim.

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