Ball-dampening England's Latest Ploy

Published: 22nd March 2014 02:33 PM  |   Last Updated: 22nd March 2014 02:51 PM   |  A+A-

Stuart Broad_AP

Broad's men try to work out how to cope with dew Struggling New Zealand ideal opponents first up

Away with the reams of statistical analysis. Away with the bespoke gizmos and expensive training equipment. Away with the state-of-the-art simulator.

The key to England's World Twenty20 challenge lies in a bucket of water.

The evening dew expected to accumulate on the surface of Bangladesh's second city tonight (Saturday) will constitute a protagonist all of its own. The turf at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong will be seriously slimy by the time England and New Zealand bowl on it in their opening group game. So yesterday, in order to simulate the effect, both sides practised with wet cricket balls.

"It looks quite obvious dew is going to play a part," said England captain Stuart Broad. We're practising today with wet balls, getting the spinners bowling with wet balls, fielding with wet balls. It's not something you do very often; I can't think I've ever done it."

In an age of ProBatter and the space-age crash helmet, you may think this a rather crude practice. In fact, it is tempting to imagine that the England and Wales Cricket Board is already investing millions in a High-Performance Ball-Moistening Unit at the academy in Loughborough, employing a phalanx of scientists and analysts to determine the best way of wetting a cricket ball, concluding that in Twenty20 the team with more water in its bucket wins 65 per cent of the time.

But sometimes the simplest techniques are the best. "Yeah, that's about as scientific as it gets," said New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum. "We're open to other ideas!" All good fun, but - serious face - for a spin bowler, dew is no laughing matter.

It is a particular problem during night games in Chittagong; after Tuesday's group game against Nepal, Bangladesh spinner Al-Amin Hossain said he had never seen such dew in his life. During England's defeat to Bangladesh at this venue during the 2011 World Cup, Graeme Swann was driven to frustration by a dew-soaked ball that proved almost impossible to grip.

His expletive-laden tirade at umpire Daryl Harper cost him 10 per cent of his match fee, and Broad revealed that he had recently sought Swann's views on the issue.

"I called Swanny the other day and he said he struggled with gripping the ball here in 2011," Broad said. "It's something we have to take into consideration, because if you go in with three spinners and they can't bowl, you've stuffed yourself a bit."

Now Swann has retired to a life of radio summarising and dew consultancy, it falls to James Tredwell and Stephen Parry to carry England's spin burden. But a thin film of grass suggests that the wicket may be less spin-compliant than expected. With Parry getting hit for 17 in his only over against India on Wednesday, it is possible that he will make way for the returning Broad, who looked to have recovered from his knee injury and was at full tilt in training.

Not that the quicks are safe from the dew, either. "It's something to consider as a fast bowler," said Broad. "Will your leg-cutters and off-cutters grip? The wicket has gone through a lot better than I thought it would as a quick bowler, so the bouncer may well be a really good ball to bowl. We've picked up some good information from the ground, but we're still not quite sure how much effect the dew will have.

"From watching on the TV, it's not really spun. It's just skidded on. These conditions might suit us a little bit more than Dhaka."

This tacit admission of England's struggles against spin bowling was inflected with optimism. The encouraging display against India - albeit in defeat - has rejuvenated the side. There is a sense that the nadir of the Ashes has passed, that the squad is slowly improving by increments.

"The game against India did us a lot of good as a team," said Broad. "I thought it was one of the best death bowling performances we've seen so far. The way we played the first six overs with the bat was really good again. The fielding was a highlight too. There are little things to carry into the game."

But now they face New Zealand, a team that have been "dark horses" in virtually every tournament they have ever played. Their recent record in Bangladesh is abysmal - consecutive 4-0 and 3-0 defeats in 50-over cricket and a drawn Test series last autumn. But that series unearthed a brilliant young talent called Corey Anderson, an all-rounder from Christchurch who many believe could emulate his hero Chris Cairns.

In one respect, he has already surpassed him - and everyone else. On New Year's Day he hit a century against the West Indies in 36 balls, the fastest in one-day international history. In February, Mumbai snapped him up for pounds 450,000 in the Indian Premier League auction. He is built like Atlas, hits like Hercules and bowls tidy seam-up.

"He's an incredible talent," said McCullum. "He's one of those guys who, when he does get himself in, he wins a game pretty quickly."

Anderson and McCullum pose the sternest threat to England. But one suspects that New Zealand are the team they would have chosen to face first: a familiar foe carved in their own bustling, grafting image, as discomfited by sub-continental conditions as they. On a seam-friendly Chittagong strip, they look evenly matched. It may ultimately come down to which team has the bigger bucket.

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