Cricket World Cup 2023: Spin-backed pace has been the key for all four semifinalists

Australia have the highest wicket-taker in the tournament in leg spinner Adam Zampa, who has 22 wickets

By Ayaz Memon

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Australia's Adam Zampa celebrates with Josh Inglis and Steve Smith after taking a wicket. - AFP
Australia's Adam Zampa celebrates with Josh Inglis and Steve Smith after taking a wicket. - AFP

Published: Sat 11 Nov 2023, 8:33 PM

Australia have the highest wicket-taker in the World Cup as the tournament heads into the knock-outs – leg spinner Adam Zampa, who has 22 wickets. But they also have the weakest spin attack on paper compared to other teams in the semi-finals, India, South Africa and New Zealand.

Apart from Zampa, who started sluggishly but has since taken wickets prolifically, Australia doesn’t boast of another frontline spinner. Instead, they pin their hopes on pace bowlers, of which they have an abundance what with Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins, Stoinis and Mitch Marsh handy for a few overs if necessary.

Supplementary spin is available through Glenn Maxwell, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschange and Steve Smith if he plays, but none of these have extraordinary credentials as bowlers.

South Africa is also tilted towards pace what with Rabada, Ngidi, Jansen, Coetzee and medium-pace swing bowler Phil Pehlukwayo if any of the four mentioned above are unfit.

But the Proteas have multiple and interesting spin options too. Orthodox left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who is enjoying a rewarding tournament, unorthodox left-arm Tabrez Shamsi, who, like India’s Kuldeep Yadav bowls the `wrong un’, and, crucially, Aiden Markram can turn his arm over effectively with accurately controlled off-spin.

New Zealand, expectedly, has given weightage to pace bowlers too as they should with Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry in their ranks. But they’ve had to revise their tactics because of injuries, work overload and/or poor form of a regular. Fortunately, they’ve found outstanding support from spinners to not only provide balance in the combination but also pick up wickets.

Mitch Santner has been outstanding in control, spin and deception. But where the Kiwis have benefited is in how well Rchin Ravindra and Glen Phillip, both part-timers, have responded whenever called on to bowl. In fact, so good have they been, that New Zealand haven’t seen much need to play Ish Sodhi, since Rachin and Phillips not just shore up the bowling, but as all-rounders, strengthen the batting too.

India has potentially the strongest spin attack with three frontline spinners in the squad, though Rohit and Dravid haven’t seen the need to change the combination in the past four matches when Mohamed Shami was introduced into the playing XI.

Since then, the tactic has been to go in with just two specialist spinners. Ashwin played in the first match against Australia but has been kept in abeyance thereafter.

Hardik Pandya’s injury has meant including an extra specialist batsman, which means unlike the other three semi-finalists, India doesn’t have a sixth bowling option if the current playing side is retained.

The excellent wicket-taking form of pacers Bumrah, Shami and Siraj, with Jadeja and Kuldeep bowling exceptionally in the middle overs to choke opposing teams, means India hasn’t had to look around for a sixth bowler.

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