ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Wristy business: Spin looms as Cup key
Australia set for trial by spin at Brisbane training camp, while their skipper says each World Cup venue will provide a different challenge
3 May 2019, 01:48 PM AEST
Forget the quaint historic refrain that England's pleasant pastures offer manna for those artisans trained in the craft of swing and seam bowling.
Informed wisdom and weight of statistics collectively point to the 2019 ICC World Cup that begins this month in the United Kingdom being dominated by teams with the most accomplished spin bowlers.
Australia's ODI captain Aaron Finch has forecast that spin will play a 'huge part' in deciding the tournament's outcome, with the influence of spinners increasing further as the final weeks play out in early-mid July.
And not just any garden variety tweakers – specifically, the advantage seemingly rests with those of the wrist-spin persuasion, with the discipline once viewed as too unreliable and uneconomical in the limited-overs format suddenly emerging as its pre-eminent strike weapon.
In a remarkable transformation since the previous iteration of the quadrennial ICC showpiece in 2015, at which the eight leading wicket-takers were swing or seam bowlers operating on hard and flat Australian pitches, 50-over cricket has become the domain of the wrist-spinner.
In the year leading into the upcoming World Cup opener between England and South Africa at The Oval on May 30, three of the top five ODI wicket-takers have been wrist-spinners with the charge led by India left-armer, Kuldeep Yadav.
From his 24 matches, Kuldeep claimed 48 ODI wickets at 23.15, with next-most successful being England leggie Adil Rashid (35 wickets at 23) while fourth-ranked among the wicket-takers was another India wrist-spinner, Yuzvendra Chahal (29 at 28.72).
In addition, of the 25 ODI bowlers with the lowest runs-per-wicket average (minimum 10 wickets) during that time, six of them – almost a quarter of the bowlers' cohort – are wrist-spinners.
In the top 50 according to bowling average, the total is 10, which represents 20 per cent of all ODI bowlers.
By contrast, during the 12 months prior to the 2015 World Cup, only one wrist-spinner – South Africa's Imran Tahir – was ranked among the top 50 ODI bowlers for bowling average using the same criteria (minimum 10 wickets).
Tahir was also one of only two wrist-spinners, along with Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, to figure in the top 50 ODI wicket takers from February 2014 until the World Cup began at the MCG a year later.
The balance of bowling supremacy has clearly shifted markedly in the period between World Cup tournaments.
Among the 10 teams competing for the trophy, a majority boast at least one world-class wrist-spinner.
Most prominent among that group are Rashid Khan (Afghanistan), Adam Zampa (Australia), Rashid (England), Chahal and Kuldeep (India), Ish Sodhi (New Zealand), Shadab Khan (Pakistan), Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi (South Africa), and Jeevan Mendis (Sri Lanka).
It's little wonder, therefore, that Australia's batters are expected to undergo some intensive training against wrist-spin bowling during their pre-World Cup camp that started today in Brisbane and includes three unofficial ODIs against New Zealand.
Although the Black Caps squad for that warm-up series won't contain their highly rated leg-spinner, Sodhi.
To help hone Australia's skills against leg-spin ahead of their World Cup opener against Afghanistan – an outfit featuring the world's top-ranked ODI leggie, Rashid – at Bristol on June 1, combatting the spin threat will be a focus of the current Cup-holders' forthcoming net sessions.
A number of the nation's foremost leg-spinners - Brisbane-based Mitchell Swepson, South Australia's prodigy Lloyd Pope and fellow teen Tom O'Connell of Victoria - have been summoned to the Bupa National Cricket Centre to be part of the camp.
Finch, who has gleaned significant experience of England's domestic white-ball competitions during recent stints with Yorkshire and Surrey, has no doubt that bowlers who generate sharp turn and bounce will potentially pose a more significant World Cup threat than those relying on movement in the air of off the pitch.
"I think spin will play a huge part in this World Cup," Finch told Melbourne radio station SEN this week, before flying to Brisbane to join his World Cup squad mates.
"The English wickets are a bit drier than people think, and the white ball doesn’t swing a huge amount.
"We saw at the last World Cup, (Australia's) Mitchell Starc swinging it and (New Zealand's) Trent Boult swinging it - the guys who are genuine swingers of the ball had such a huge impact.
"I think spin, once the wickets dry out towards the end of the tournament, that’ll be a big factor."
Finch said there was no better illustration of the disparity between English conditions served up for Test cricket versus those expected for the seven-week limited-overs event than Trent Bridge at Nottingham.
Best known among contemporary Australia cricket fans as the venue where Michael Clarke's team was bowled out for 60 inside the first session of a 2015 Ashes Test to effectively forfeit the urn, Trent Bridge is more recently renowned for hosting bat-dominated run-fests in the white-ball formats.
When Finch led Australia in an ODI against England at the ground last June, the hosts plundered 6-481 from their 50 overs, and in 2016 the home team compiled 3-444 in a one-dayer against Pakistan.
Australia are scheduled to play two preliminary games at Trent Bridge – against the West Indies on June 6 and Bangladesh a fortnight later – but Finch does not believe that the massive totals posted there will necessarily be replicated across the 10 other World Cup venues throughout England and Wales.
"At Trent Bridge, everyone thinks back to the Ashes Test matches where they leave a lot of grass on (the pitch), there’s a lot of moisture in it and (the ball) goes around corners," he said.
"But England got 480 against us, and we see domestically that Notts make 400-plus quite regularly and there are times when they get chased down, or someone will make close to 400.
"I don’t see that being the characteristic of the tournament, where you go out to make 400 at every venue.
"They (the venues) are so different; we play at Manchester, at Old Trafford, which is a slow wicket that spins.
"The outfields are fast, and they’re reasonably small (grounds) at times so I’m sure there will be big scores, but I think that will be ground-dependent and not so much a tournament characteristic."
2019 World Cup
Australia's squad: Aaron Finch (c), Jason Behrendorff, Alex Carey (wk), Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pat Cummins, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
May 25: (warm-up) England v Australia, Southampton
May 27: (warm-up) Australia v Sri Lanka, Southampton
June 9: India v Australia, The Oval
June 12: Australia v Pakistan, Taunton
June 15: Sri Lanka v Australia, The Oval
June 20: Australia v Bangladesh, Trent Bridge
June 25: England v Australia, Lord's
July 9: Semi-Final 1, Old Trafford
July 11: Semi-Final 2, Edgbaston
July 14: Final, Lord's
For a full list of all World Cup fixtures, click HERE