World Cup 2011: Spinning a web
Both Afridi and Ajmal are wicket-taking spinners which is vital for a team aspiring for the top.
The sub-continent pitches have always been spin friendly and that’s one of the reasons why India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have always produced great spinners.
In the last World Cup held in these countries (1996), slow bowlers took the most wickets for all the four semi-finalists (joint, in case of Australia). Look at the line-ups of two sub-continental favourites, India and Sri Lanka. Both have selected three specialist spinners in their World Cup side. In addition, they have really useful part-timers.
All of Pakistan’s pool games are in Sri Lanka. The spin provided by the pitch should be present but at the same time it would also have low bounce. So one may call them slow turning tracks. Then there is the dew factor which would make it difficult for the bowlers to grip the ball properly. So the team bowling second might be at a disadvantage.
Shahid Afridi, the captain and the all-rounder, and Mohammad Hafeez, the all-rounder, appear to be automatic choices in the playing eleven. That leaves room for only one specialist spinner. Of the two, Saeed Ajmal and Abdul Rehman, my vote goes for the former.
Ajmal is not only vastly experienced but also brings a lot of variety. For such mega events, big match experience is of immense value and Ajmal fits the bill. His doosra is very effective and still a mystery for most batsmen.
At the same time, he should curb his tendency to bowl a lot of doosras. His stock ball should be the off spin and doosra be used as a surprise. Some may opine that as both Ajmal and Hafeez are off-spinners, Rehman, being a left arm orthodox, would bring variety but he’s inexperienced for the big show. However, he may be played against some weaker opponents.
Wrist spinners have usually been quite successful on the subcontinent pitches. Piyush Chawla’s six wickets in India’s two warm-up ties is the shape of things to come. And remember he hasn’t played a One-Day International since 2008 and was perhaps the most shocking selection in the Indian squad for the World Cup. Pakistan has not selected a specialist wrist-spinner but I think Afridi is capable of doing well. He is experienced with a good variety in his armoury: flipper, googly and change of pace.
Moreover, he’s quite fast in the air. As said in the case of Ajmal, Afridi should be mainly bowling his leggies with lesser use of googlies and flippers.
Both Afridi and Ajmal are wicket-taking spinners which is vital for a team aspiring for the top. Hafeez with his flat trajectory and lesser variety is more in the containing category though he is also capable of taking wickets.
In the fast changing scenario of the one-day game, adaptability is the key.
The bowlers should be able to read the situation quickly and vary their line, length, flight and spin accordingly and that should help Pakistan get the results the nation so badly wants.