Wednesday, March 14, 2007

First clues to the pitches

The big imponderables in this World Cup are the pitches. In 2003, we knew the South African pitches would be hard and bouncy, and the only exception was Port Elizabeth where the Australians squeaked past Sri Lanka in the semi-finals on a slow turner. This time, in the run-up to the matches, most people predicted slow and low stuff because that's been the trend in the Caribbean. Queering matters, however, are two factors: most of the pitches have been relaid for the World Cup, and nobody is sure if they will behave quite the same as before; secondly, the matches have an early 9:30 a.m. start, which means overnight moisture will assist the seam bowlers until the sun has time to dry out the pitch.
The opening game in Jamaica would therefore have been the object of close scrutiny by all the teams searching for clues to how the pitches will play. For one thing, Umar Gul of Pakistan and then Taylor and Powell for the West Indies got more than the expected bounce, and both teams lost early wickets before stabilising in the middle. Now the pitches are new, and we don't know if the bounce will die down as the tournament wears on. But if it remains as bouncy as this, tough luck for Sourav.
Another point to note in the game was the contrasting fortunes of the two Pakistan spinners Danesh Kaneria and Mohammad Hafeez. Samuels and Lara got stuck into Kaneria, who was supposed to be the main threat. It was the part-timer Hafeez, though, who came in to bowl in the 30th over, stemmed the flow of runs and got rid of both Lara and Samuels.
Hafeez bowled flat, and his off-breaks were hard to put away on a pitch where the ball was holding up and turning. Kaneria's loopy leg-spin by contrast sat up nicely to be tonked for sixes in the small ground. Harbhajan, unlike Hafeez, tends to give the ball overspin, as does Kumble, and I wonder if they will suffer Kaneria's fate. How badly we're going to miss Ramesh Powar, who would have been twice as difficult as Hafeez in these conditions!

No comments: