It’s been a little over 24 hours (at the time of this writing) since the rollercoaster ride at Lord’s reached its improbable “twice-tied” conclusion in an excruciating final shaped by the bowlers. However, before a ball was bowled in the tournament, the expectations were that bat would dominate the ball. England had redesigned their side with one certain path to the promised land: outslug the opposition.
So it stood to reason the method employed by England in the preceding four years, and more so the run glut seen in their series with Pakistan that bowlers would be cannon fodder.
However, with one of the wettest June in England’s history, the playing surfaces were slightly under-prepared which made stroke-making harder. With neither consistent swing nor seam available, fast bowlers that plied their trade by pushing the 150 kph mark became essential to success.
It was no surprise then that the ICC Team of the Tournament featured four top of the line pacers (with Ben Stokes providing further back up as all-rounder and Trent Boult on 12th man duties).
Mitchell Starc, Lockie Ferguson, Jofra Archer, and Jasprit Bumrah also featured in the top five wicket takers in the tournament, with Mustafizur Rahman missing out. One would presume that the recognition of these four bowlers in the Team of the Tournament, in addition to their excellent returns, was also due to their respective sides reaching the knockout stage. Starc went five further than his bag of 22 wickets in 2015, where he was the highest wicket taker and the player of the tournament. The other three were world cup rookies, but just as important a cog in their team’s plan as Starc was to Australia.
While these four fast bowlers could rush even the best batsmen in to playing injudicious shots, each of them possesses a few common weapons – speed to attack the feet and the quickness to get at the throat – but also unique skills that pose distinct threats to the batsmen.
The table below provides the performances of these four fast bowlers, as well as the rest of the fast bowlers in their respective teams. It is to be expected, and obvious, that they were the linchpins of the pace attack of their sides, with a fabulous combination of strike rate and economy.
Performance in CWC 2019
Starc, the only left hander of the four, was used by Aaron Finch exclusively as a strike bowler. Australia looked to the 29-year-old for early openings with the new ball, brought him back in the middle overs to break any threatening partnerships, and to clean up in the death overs. Of the four, it is arguably Starc that was the absolute key to his side’s success. He was as expensive as his compatriots but struck nearly every 20 deliveries. Without Starc, Australia could not have advanced past the league stage.
Of the several ways Starc took his wickets, it was the yorker with the old ball that was a work of art. When the ball was new, he used the conventional swing, in to the right hander, looking for LBW and bowled dismissals; in the middle overs, he was content to test the middle of the pitch and the mettle of the batsmen to handle bouncers; in the death overs, yorker was the go-to. Stokes was at the receiving of one of those that lit up the tournament.
Faced with an improbable chase at Lord’s, Stokes was playing a lone hand when Starc produced an exhilarating piece of fast bowling. The ball, launched from a slightly low round-arm position, swerved away from the left hander’s off stump, before rapidly reversing course to swing back towards the stumps. It was too quick and far too sudden even for a batsman who had faced 114 deliveries, and as the Englishman tried to jam his bat down to prevent the ball from continuing in its irresistible trajectory towards the base of off-stump, it was already past him.
Unlike Starc who had to be the leader of the attack, Lockie Ferguson was supported by the presence of two senior pros in Matt Henry and Boult who handled the new ball duties. Ferguson’s role in a side comprising pacers bowling in the 130-140 kph, was to be the change up. His ability to consistently crank deliveries in excess of 90 miles an hour was a weapon the Black Caps sorely lacked in their run to the final in 2015.
The 28-year-old from Auckland, second behind Starc with 21 wickets in the World Cup, primarily bowled first change and was employed by Kane Williamson as a wicket-taking option in the second power play, and as well as, utilise his ability to pound back-of-length deliveries in to the surface towards the end of innings to make run scoring difficult. His pace brought him 13 wickets against weaker oppositions but he shined brightly when the world’s eyes were upon him at Lord’s, removing Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes to set up the climactic finish.
Ferguson is as good a proponent of the two-card trick (short deliveries to push the batsman back, and a yorker coup de grace) as any. Having pushed the South African skipper Faf du Plessis back with a sharp bouncer (149 kph), Ferguson sealed the wicket with a 148 kph follow up yorker that swung in and burst through the defense. Du Plessis held his defeated pose for a few seconds, collected his thoughts, tucked the bat and gave an approving nod of “too good” and took the long walk.
If Ferguson to Du Plessis was a sight, Jasprit Bumrah put on a clinic on bowling yorkers. There has been no bowler in this World Cup, perhaps not since the heyday of Lasith Malinga, that could deliver the yorker the way India’s Bumrah does.
The boy from Gujarat, who lit up the IPL stage as a 20-year-old with skippy run up and unorthodox action, has been the toast of international cricket since he made the debut three years ago. He has been India’s man for all seasons and all formats, shouldering the responsibility as the ace of the attack. He was the best all-round pace bowler on view in the World Cup, and his numbers back that up.
His natural bowling action brought the ball in to the right handers, while he also displayed the ability to take it away from them. He could regularly bowl at speeds in excess of 90 mph while delivering an assortment of slower deliveries at any stage of the game with deadly accuracy. He could bowl an entire over of yorkers while seeming capable of hitting the good length with a blindfold on.
He maintains an economy rate that hasn’t been heard of in a couple of decades. He delivers for his captain when called upon with wickets or miserly spell or both. He currently is undoubtedly the best limited-overs death bowler in the world.
The overall quality and consistency of Bumrah as a bowler can be best explained with the fact that there aren’t viral videos of his circulated through the tournament. Yet, he delivered six searing yorkers in the 49th over against Afghanistan when India were in real danger of losing.
The most number of wickets he has taken in the 9 matches he played was four, that included two heat seeking missiles that wiped out any last threat from Bangladesh to cause an upset. He did not take at least one wicket in just one of the matches (versus Pakistan), and his services weren’t really required in a game India dominated.
However, there is one youngster that entered the international scene only a couple of months ago, whose skills were already known around the world, that could rival Bumrah, for all-round capabilities and class as a pacer, is England’s Jofra Archer. Fast tracked in to the senior circuit as soon as he was eligible for selection, he was the last missing piece in England’s jigsaw: a true wicket taking threat.
While England’s redesigned approach of power hitting brought them unprecedented results and records, they were a one dimensional side that relied on their batsmen. Archer, who bowled one of the fastest deliveries of the World Cup, seems to generate tremendous pace even as he seems to just jog to the crease and whirl him arm around.
Archer hurls down the most vicious bouncer in the game today, hitting several batsmen in this World Cup, including the legendary Hashim Amla in the opening match. Amla had to retire hurt due to a concussion and his World Cup campaign never got off the ground.
Archer’s genius was on display during the semi final when he revealed a knuckle ball, and of course, he saved it to dismiss another genius, Glenn Maxwell, who was fooled by a sequence of quick, short deliveries.
It is a testament not only to the young man’s immense physical abilities but also the matter between his ears that Eoin Morgan trusted him with bowling the Super Over. Tasked with defending 16 runs, he was taken for nine in the first two deliveries,. With all his gumption, he limited New Zealand to only six more in the next four deliveries, and the World Cup was England’s.
The Cricket World Cup 2019 was a festival of fast bowling that was highlighted by Starc, Ferguson, Bumrah and Archer. There were several others – most of them young – just a level below including Shaheen Afridi, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Mark Wood, Trent Boult, Kagiso Rabada and Pat Cummins. While the next World Cup is four years away, the way there will be studded with glittering array of star fast bowlers. Buckle up, and enjoy the ride.