England must not get in spin on Caribbean's new pitches
For a traveller the Caribbean conjures images of palm trees, golden beaches, warm turquoise sea and rum. For a cricketer the vision is not quite as exotic. Historically tours of the West Indies have been characterised by fast bowlers, fast bats, broken bones and battered egos.
Cricket lovers who visit these beautiful islands over the coming weeks will undoubtedly leave with these images intact, but conditions have changed for those about to compete in the 2007 World Cup. Spin bowlers have traditionally been looked upon here as "over-rate bowlers", who are brought on to improve over-rates when the quicks are looking for a rest.
But the balance appears set to change during the World Cup. The fast, bouncy pitches of the Seventies and Eighties have become tired and the surfaces laid specifically for the tournament will take time to develop the old bouncy traits. The grounds may be small but spinners, for once, have a chance.
The transformation is not good for England because they have struggled to impose themselves on teams possessing good spinners in the past. The shortcoming was highlighted on Monday when a wily, rotund left-arm twirler from Bermuda caused angst in England's middle order.
Good players of spin tend to be wristy, natural batsmen who play the ball late. They pick the length of the ball early and generally allow it to hit the bat softly.
Duncan Fletcher's coaching has improved England's play of spin but they will need to develop it further. English batsmen tend to premeditate the shot they are about to play and push hard at the ball, and nowhere is this more clearly seen than with Andrew Flintoff. Flintoff possesses the power to hit the ball out of any ground but his gameplan revolves around either blocking or bashing, whereas the skill of playing spin is to score off most balls.
In all likelihood, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, in the Super Eights, will join New Zealand as England's first three major opponents and all these nations are likely to field at least two very capable slow bowlers. Michael Vaughan's side will need to win at least two of these games if they are to reach the semi-finals.
Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood possess the guile to score freely against this type of bowling, and Jamie Dalrymple, too, showed his flexibility in scoring 76 against Bermuda. Dalrymple, England's off-spinning all-rounder, has the advantage of having toured the West Indies with England A 12 months ago and it is crucial he uses that experience to his advantage.
"I hope that spin plays a major part in the World Cup, bowling it myself," said Dalrymple. "There is a thought here that the pitches may take a bit more turn but countering that is the fact that the grounds are small. But there is also likely to be a strong breeze blowing across each venue and this may allow the spinners to bowl more conventionally. It will make it quite hard for batsmen to clear the ropes when they hit in to the wind.
"It is important we play spin well and we are looking at it. Not from a crisis point of view but from the angle that the pitches may be slightly slower and more subcontinental in character. It is down to each batsman to work out his method."
* New Zealand suffered a shock defeat by Bangladesh in a World Cup warm-up in Barbados yesterday. Mashrafe Mortaza was the architect of the win, taking four wickets as New Zealand were dismissed for 226 and then hitting an unbeaten 30 to see Bangladesh home by two wickets. Michael Clarke scored 82 and Shane Watson 81 as Australia beat Zimbabwe by 106 runs in St Vincent.
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