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India's Jasprit Bumrah. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM
India's Jasprit Bumrah. Picture: REUTERS/SUMAYA HISHAM

The scheduling of venues for the Cricket World Cup was widely viewed as one of the most shambolic exercises in tournament logistics in the computer era. It was issued just two months before the first game and then had to be changed 24 hours later because some local police forces were double-booked.

The effect on ticketing and sales has been evident for all to see during the first week, with even India’s first game at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai scarred by rows of empty seats. Nothing like this happens when the Chennai Super Kings play an IPL game there.

At the start of the opening game between defending champions England and the team they sort-of beat in the 2019 final, New Zealand, there were more cleaning staff and security people than spectators in the 130,000-seater Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmadabad. Many thousands of visiting supporters who might have made the trip to India gave up for lack of information. The fixtures for the previous Cricket World Cup were announced 13 months in advance.

But not everything about the schedule has been a disaster, certainly not from India’s point of view. The BCCI, India’s cricket board, effectively runs the global game and, having appointed itself hosts of this tournament — not co-hosts as was the case 12 years ago — it would have been foolish not to meticulously plan the venues to suit the home team.

First up for Rohit Sharma’s team were Australia, infamous for their timid batting against spin. Hit one of the big favourites hard where it hurts them most, on India’s most spin-friendly pitch. Select three spinners, watch the Aussies flounder to 199 all out and knock the runs off for a six-wicket victory. (Don’t be misled by them slipping to 2/3. Minor inconvenience.)

India chose to play SA on another spin-friendly pitch at Eden Gardens later in the tournament despite a Proteas top-six far less reticent and greatly more adept at scoring efficiently against the slow bowlers. Perhaps it should be taken as a compliment that the hosts wish to tackle their main rivals with their most potent bowlers. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami can take their wickets against Bangladesh and the Netherlands. Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav and R Ashwin will be saved for the “threat” teams.

What happens between the other teams may also be of interest to the hosts. It may have been coincidental that the pitch at Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi for SA’s opening game against Sri Lanka sported more grass than anyone had seen in 30 years. A venue with an average first innings score of 230 in ODIs, one where batters have to pry their runs out of a low pitch with sweat and patience, rolled onto its back and offered its belly to the Proteas batsmen.

SA’s batting blueprint for success in this tournament is crystal clear. Bat “time” up front, keep wickets in hand for the final 20 overs and then smash it. It was a blueprint on steroids on Saturday with Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen making run-a-ball scoring look easy before Aiden Markram added a third century from just 49 balls, a World Cup record. As were the three centuries in an innings.

What the blueprint does not say for the second half of the match is “... and then just hang on”. At times that was what it looked like as the bowling attack failed to apply any control for much of Sri Lanka’s helter-skelter reply in which they racked up a very respectable 326 all out.

If it’s possible to lose by 102 runs while giving your opposition a fright, they managed it. Marco Jansen claimed two important early wickets before conceding 92 runs from his 10 overs. Bowling coach Eric Simons was relaxed afterwards.

“It was encouraging to see KG [Kagiso Rabada] back to bowling at 140km/h and Gerald Coetzee reaching 145km/h. There was some early swing for Lungi and Marco which was also encouraging. Keshav once again showed what a master of his craft he is, reading conditions perfectly and taking some pace off. A spinner’s greatest challenge is when there is no spin on offer, then when all the other skills are needed, and he certainly has them,” Simons said.

“Marco bowled a lot better than his figures suggest. His two early wickets could have been crucial and there was some freaky batting from Kusal Mendis. If you bowl a good ball and it gets hit for six over square leg, then credit to the batsman. He also had a couple of catches dropped and could easily have had Mendis lbw second ball — it might have been a very different evening for him.

“Although we spoke about bowling with intensity, and Temba [Bavuma] asked for a disciplined performance with the ball, there were times when we bowled like a team with 428 on the board, which is understandable but something we want to avoid. You can’t take any total for granted these days,” Simons said.

SA’s second game is against Australia on Thursday in Lucknow, a venue known for its benevolence to spinners.

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