10 talking points that will dominate the Cricket World Cup

Osman Samiuddin offers up the 10 things that will course through and shape the feel of the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
A view of Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the 2015 Cricket World Cup final will be contested. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images
A view of Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the 2015 Cricket World Cup final will be contested. Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

New balls

Since being introduced in 2011, the worry has been what kind of impact two new balls may have on any number of aspects of the game. How are spinners affected by having a harder-to-hold ball through an innings? Will it kill reverse swing?

Some Australian pitches have been good for the rule, but the answer could lie in history. The 1992 World Cup, also co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, also had a new ball at each end. Some sides, including Pakistan, initially struggled with the amount of swing, but their fast bowlers forsook accuracy for attack and utilising the new-ball swing. They also managed to reverse it, on the way to winning the championship.

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The Decision Review System

Despite the BCCI’s wishes, the DRS remains a part of all ICC events. Even India’s stance is changing. They were on the receiving end of some obviously incorrect rulings when they played Australia before the tournament. Those decisions appear to have forced them into a partial rethink. But the sense is that any future concession may depend on how DRS performs through the tournament. Obvious errors of technology are extremely rare, though they do still occur. But if DRS can avoid major controversy and run through the tournament without glitches, we may be about to enter a new era for it.

Chucking

In some ways the deed on this has already been done. Saeed Ajmal is out of the World Cup, as is Sunil Narine, who has not been reported in international cricket but clearly felt as if he might. A couple of bowlers who have been suspended have since returned with modified actions but umpires will be out in force, scanning through each one of the world’s best bowlers.

Processes have been sped up, too. If a bowler is reported during a World Cup game, he will be tested as soon as possible at a lab in Brisbane with results of the tests out within six to seven days, down from the usual three weeks.

Player behaviour

Like chucking, impolite language is an issue that cyclically gives cricket convulsions. In the aftermath of the death of Phillip Hughes, we are in another of those moments.

Ordinary, everyday sledging is prompting renewed waves of angst. The ICC has said it will clamp down on players who behave badly. Martin Crowe wants yellow and red cards introduced. Ian Chappell believes there could be a physical bust-up.

The thing is, it is a problem mainly confined to and between the players of India, England and Australia; that is, players from the three boards who now run the game. It should not be that hard, then, to control it, right?

Associates

At the moment, no one can say whether or not we will see associate nations playing in World Cups after this one. The 2019 World Cup will be contested by 10 teams and there is a good chance there may not be an associate among them.

So we should enjoy watching the likes of Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and the UAE while we can at the highest stage of the game.

Realistically, only Ireland could be said to have a shot at getting to the quarter-finals. The way the West Indies and Pakistan are shaping up, in fact, they probably stand more than a reasonable chance. An Afghanistan upset in the other group, meanwhile, cannot be ruled out.

Boundary sizes

The balance of the game, it is no secret, has swung steeply in favour of batsmen over the past two decades. Limited-overs cricket runs on the unproven assumption that more boundaries and sixes are good for the game.

One of the many ways in which bowlers have been emasculated is through the shortening of boundary sizes. With more powerful bats than ever, smaller boundaries have meant even mis-hits go for six: a minor victory for bowler turned into defeat.

Not so in this World Cup. The ICC promised last October that they would ensure all grounds use maximum boundary sizes. Given the bigger sizes we could see a reduction in the number of fours and sixes.

The ridicu-catch

Twenty-three year ago, people were blown away when they saw Jonty Rhodes fly through the air to run out Inzamam-ul-Haq or, generally, as he flung himself around the field.

Acrobatics of that sort are standard now. New Zealand and South Africa have a team of XI who could do that in their sleep. Fielding has evolved swiftest of the three disciplines, since then.

What best captures that progress is the two-step boundary catch, where the fielder first prevents the ball from sailing over the rope. Sometimes he falls over the rope himself, or steadies himself and then jumps back to complete the catch. It is an awesome display of athleticism and we will see more of them at this World Cup. Get the cameras ready.

Umpires

Since the retirement of Simon Taufel at the 2011 World Cup umpiring has lost a little of its lustre. Aleem Dar was outstanding for a year or so thereafter, but has since slipped away from the limelight.

That has ushered in an era of fairly ordinary and superstar-free umpiring. Kumar Dharmasena’s ascension to the top was a comment as much on the lack of competition as on his own abilities. Billy Bowden’s return to the elite panel was an indication of how stretched the panel is with top-quality umpiring.

Since then Richard Kettleborough has been impressive but there is much of a muchness about the rest. Cricket could really do with a Paul Reiffel or a Rod Tucker stepping up.

Spinners

The 2011 World Cup was not thoroughly dominated by spinners. Of the top 10 wicket-takers, five were spinners and five fast bowlers. But in the control spinners provided on run-scoring, on helpful pitches, they were a decisive influence.

It is unlikely to be the case now. Australian pitches are not as slanted to pace as they once were, but there are other reasons. For a start, the best spinners are out: Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine’s actions have ruled them out. Graeme Swann has retired. There just is not a stand-out in the other squads.

Current fielding regulations, with fewer men outside the circle, also hurt all but the very best.

Farewells

World Cups tend to mark a natural endpoint to many careers and this one could well provide a bumper crop of goodbyes. Several players already have announced this will be their last fling in the format. Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi, for instance, will not play ODIs after this.

Younis Khan should have retired from the format long ago but may finally do so after the tournament. Sri Lanka will lose a couple of pillars with the farewells of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The former is leaving the game altogether, the latter just the format, for now.

Michael Clarke is fighting to get fit for the tournament, but even if he does play some part in it, he will be more than happy to give his battered body a break from this format. Daniel Vettori will want to gift New Zealand a World Cup as he goes. Most intriguingly, perhaps, this could be the end of the international career of one of the game’s great finishers, MS Dhoni, who has already retired from Test cricket.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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Published: February 12, 2015 04:00 AM

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