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Contrary to perceptions at the beginning of the World T20, spinners ended up having the maximum impact. Is is a signal that this kind of bowling will finally hold sway in the shortest version of the game?
Before this edition of the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, most people thought it would be the fast bowlers who would dominate the tournament, something which does not happen often in the subcontinent. The feeling was that the wickets here had changed post the retirement of spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan.
The seamers have done alright, with Australian allrounder Shane Watson being the tournament's leading wicket-taker till Thursday. It is the spinners, though, who are playing the crucial role in most games, especially those being played at Colombo. The wicket at the Premdasa helps those who can impart revolutions on the ball and bowl as slowly through the air as they can.
Pakistan, who have traditionally relied on pace bowlers, played four spinners in their first two Super Eight games against South Africa and India. It was unusual to see a leftarm spinner open the bowling, but Pakistan's strategy to give the new ball to 20-year-old Raza Hasan worked brilliantly against South Africa. Hasan gave away just 12 runs in his three overs, including a maiden, to put pressure on the Proteas. Australia then copied Pakistan's game plan, and opened the bowling against SA with left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty. It was again a successful move, with Doherty picking up three wickets, while giving away just 20 runs in his four overs.
India destroyed England earlier in the tournament with spin, as Harbhajan Singh made a smashing return to the national colours after a year in the wilderness with a match-winning haul of four for 12. Even leggie Piyush Chawla, whose place in the side has been questioned by none other than batting legend Sunil Gavaskar, thrived in that game, unleashing his googlies to take two for 12. India's lead spinner, R Ashwin, too has enjoyed his time in the middle, as his haul of two for 16 in the win over Pakistan showed.
It has been the left-arm spin of Yuvraj Singh, however, that has given India the decisive edge. Yuvi grabbed six wickets in four games, while giving away just 58 runs with his 'pie chuckers'. He has broken partnerships, got in-form batsmen out, and made skipper MS Dhoni confident about playing the extra batsman in the XI.
Sri Lanka, though, would be a bit disappointed with the form of Ajantha Mendis, after he started the event with a bang, taking six for eight - the best-ever bowling figures in T20 cricket - against Zimbabwe, at Hanbantota. Since then, Mendis has gone through a testing time. He was hit by a side strain, and when he returned, he struggled, going for 48 runs in four overs against New Zealand. He did pretty well against the West Indies in a Super Eight game, taking two for 12 in four overs to make a huge impact in Lanka's win, but was then taken for 40 in his four overs against England. Sri Lanka's next big spin hope, the 18-year-old Akila Dananjaya, took two for 26 against England, and that was a really encouraging sign for the hosts.
Australia largely relied on Watson and their pacers during their relentless march, but Doherty and Hogg were crucial cogs in the wheel too. England crashed out, but Graeme Swann did his best, taking seven wickets in five games. South Africa bank big time on the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but blundered against Pakistan by not letting off-spinner Johan Botha complete his overs. Botha and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson had done well on a pitch that was helping the tweakers a fair bit.
The West Indies managed to pip New Zealand in a Super Eights thriller, and they have their mystery spinner Sunil Narine, who took three for 20 in that game, to thank for it. Had the Windies not won that game in the Super Over, they would have been out of it before the semis.
It all reflects one thing: the spinner has truly called the shots in this edition of the T20 World Cup. The conditions gave the spinner a chance to sizzle, even in a format where the batsmen are looking to hit sixes all the time and the ball never gets old. Every team banked on its lead spinner to come good. The West Indies on Narine, the English on Swann, Pakistan on Saeed Ajmal, New Zealand on Daniel Vettori, Australia on Hogg, South Africa on Botha, and India on Ashwin and even Yuvraj.
Mendis, Narine, Ajmal and even Ashwin are all freakish, unconventional spinners, while Vettori, Harbhajan, Hogg and Botha are the traditional types. It would be interesting to see which spinner has the final say in Colombo in the final. Nevertheless, Ajmal, Ashwin and Harbhajan, besides Mendis, have all already made their mark with match-winning spells. The winner of this 'race' might just take his team all the way.
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