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ANALYSIS: Quicks remain the key to World Cup success

Of the seven five wicket hauls taken at the tournament, five have gone to bowlers with genuine pace. Only the spin of Shakib Al Hasan and the miserly seamers of James Neesham have spoiled the party.

Australia's Mitchell Starc (L) celebrates with Australia's Nathan Lyon after taking the wicket of New Zealand's Mitchell Santner (R) for 12 during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between New Zealand and Australia at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on 29 June 2019. Picture: AFP

LONDON - Think of a fast bowler. It doesn’t matter which one. Left arm or right arm, open shouldered or front on, Caribbean or African or Asian or Antipodean; it really doesn’t matter. There is one thing unifying all of history’s great tearaways. They all have it.

What is it? It is the thing that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It is the thing that nudges your bum to the edge of your seat. It is the thing that has batters lying awake at night, tossing and turning in a pool of cold sweat. It is the thing that has made all the difference at this Cricket World Cup.

Of the seven five wicket hauls taken at the tournament, five have gone to bowlers with genuine pace. Only the spin of Shakib Al Hasan and the miserly seamers of James Neesham have spoiled the party.

Of the 18 bowlers with more than 10 wickets, 13 bowl at a decent click and mostly with the new ball. In fact, you have to go as far down as 11th on the list to the names of Imran Tahir, Yuzvendra Chahal and Shakib, who have 10 wickets apiece, to find spinners with double digit tallies.

Way out ahead is Mitchell Starc (24 wickets), Lockie Ferguson (17), Mohammad Amir (16) and Jofra Archer (16). India’s Mohammad Shami has only played three games but he’s already bagged 13 wickets at an eye-watering averaged of 9.61. And, apart from having it, the thing that these devastating quicks all have in common is that they spearhead attacks that have carried their respective nations to the top of the table.

Australia’s Starc has been the standout. At just under two metres tall, the 29 year old delivers the ball at a searing pace and hits yorkers at will. He already has seven five wicket hauls in ODI cricket from just 83 games. For context, Glenn McGrath achieved the same number of milestones from 250 games and Waqar Younis, the leader of the pack with 13 five-fors, played 262 games.

Starc’s dismissal of Ben Stokes in Australia’s 64 run victory over England at Lord’s is a contender for the moment of the World Cup. Stokes was on 89 at the time and was seeing the ball as if it were the size of a pumpkin. But Starc did not deliver a cricket ball. He launched a rocket from his left arm that had momentarily taken the form of an Apache Longbow assault helicopter.

He has been well supported by the relatively unknown Jason Behrendorff who will play his tenth ODI against South Africa on Saturday. Another burly lefty, he has rubbished the notion that you can have too much of a good thing. Rounding off a terrifying triumvirate is Pat Cummins whose smooth action and unnerving lengths makes him one of the most watchable bowlers on the planet.

Sure, David Warner and Aaron Finch have contributed with big scores, but Australia’s success has been forged in the furious fires of their fast bowlers. It is no coincidence that the best fast bowling attack is the one contained in the team that was first to qualify for the semi-finals.

Tied in second place, three points behind Australia, are India and New Zealand. Lurking in these respective dressing rooms are a handful of world beaters. Shami and Ferguson provide the shock and awe for their sides. Adding to guile to the brutality is Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah, two masters of their crafts who ranked second and first on the ICC’s ODI bowling charts.

Boult is a genius. The left armed Kiwi has immaculate wrist positions which allows him to tail the ball back into the right hander and makes him a nightmare to play off the front foot. His hat-trick against Australia provided a lesson in death bowling; nail the toes, target the stumps, claim the plaudits.

India’s Jasprit Bumrah, still only 25, is quickly establishing himself as one of the most complete all-format bowlers on the planet. He has an uncanny knack of working out a batsmen’s weakness and pouncing at just the right time. Don’t believe me, go and re-watch his dismantling of Quinton de Kock in Southampton.

Next on the list of potential semi-finalists are England and Pakistan and, as you can probably guess, there is no shortage of fear inducing fast bowlers in their ranks. Mohammad Amir and Mark Wood bring the skill. Shaheen Shah Afridi and Jofra Archer bring the bounce. All four are rapid. All four are scary. All four can send your stumps flying or, as Archer did to Hashim Amla, can knock you on the head and remind you who is the alpha on the park.

A disappointing omission from the names above is that of Kagiso Rabada. The South African is still ranked as the fifth best ODI bowler - 16 places ahead of Starc - but he has looked a pale imitation of himself throughout the tournament.

He has received harsher criticisms than that. Fans and journalists have pointed to Rabada’s poor performances - 8 matches, 8 wickets at 42.62, travelling at 5.26 runs an over and striking at 51 with a best return of 2/36 against Sri Lanka in a dead rubber - as a reason for South Africa’s abject campaign.

Questions remain over his fitness and his decision to play in this year’s Indian Premier League despite concerns over his workload. These questions were sidestepped by Rabada following the Proteas defeat to Pakistan that eliminated them from the competition and no doubt much will come out in the wash over the next few months. What we know for sure now is that a fully fit and firing Rabada would have made a difference.

The same applies to Lungisani Ngidi who has only bowled 35 overs in four matches this tournament. The same applies to Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje who were ruled out of the competition before bowling a ball in the UK. It is telling that Chris Morris (Nortje’s late replacement) is South Africa’s highest wicket taker with 12 from seven matches.

Batters score the runs, fielders take the catches and spin bowlers put the squeeze on the middle overs, but there is nothing as thrilling in all of cricket than the spine tingling sight of a ball hurled down at pace. Nothing comes close to the primal energy of a fast bowler with the scent of blood filling his nostrils as he charges in like a gathering storm. And, as is plainly evident, the quicks remain the key to World Cup success.

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