The World Cup is touted as Cricket's greatest stage which is witness to the greatest action in the game. But one doesn't so easily discern that a lot of that action stems from experimentation. The surprise element or the X factor is something every team strives to dish out and wants to include in it armoury. After all, no team wants to be predictable to the opposition.
Innovation didn't figure in the teams approach for most of the first three editions of the mega-event. The strategies were pretty concrete in terms of how the match unfolded. Pace bowlers would open the bowling, spinners would take over in the middle overs before the speedsters would return at the death. Batman would progress languidly at the start, just seeing out the new ball and creating a platform for the latter batsmen to take the innings forward, while a surge was reserved for the end.
However, in the 1983 World Cup, it was the swing bowling of the Indian seamers that did the West Indians in, exemplified by Balwinder Singh Sadhu bowling Gordon Greenidge in the final with a deceptive in-swinger. It was the kind of dismissal that prompted the batsman to gesticulate animatedly over his falling for the trick.
In the 1987 World Cup, Australian allrounder Steve Waugh used his 'slower ball' to deadly effect. Batsmen would expect a quickish delivery, when Waugh would catch them unawares with his perfectly disguised weapon. It was exactly the sort of ball that bowled Maninder Singh in the cliff-hanger semi-final encounter against India, thus paving the way for the Aussies entry into the final and from there, to embracing the cup with both hands.
New Zealand went big with experimentation in 1992 edition, by using a slow bowler to open the bowling. Opening batsmen were stumped, some quite literally, when Kiwi off-spinner Deepak Patel was brought onto bowl. Many attempting to start the innings aggressively were stopped dead in their tracks and wound up surrendering their wicket to a crafty Patel.
But one of the most incisive innovations to show face in the World Cup was the pinch-hitting strategy of the Sri Lankans in the 1996 World Cup, which saw them blast their way to victory. With belligerence flowing through their veins, openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharna would pummel the opposition raw on the unresponsive bowling tracks of the sub-continent. And where they failed, Aravinda Da Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga would pick up the momentum. Sri Lanka won the World Cup and their tactics changed the dynamics of the ODI game forever.
The 1999 World Cup was a return to a more traditional approach, owing to the seaming wickets of England where the tournament was held. Conditions favoured the speedsters with the swing bowlers excelling. But ultimately it was Aussie paceman Glenn McGrath's dangerous short-of-a-length bowling that flummoxed the Pakistani batsmen in the final, as they were bowled out for a paltry total, a score which Australia then overhauled with ease.
Earlier in the tournament, Pakistani skipper Wasim Akram bumped up all-rounder Abdul Razzaq to No. 3. But rather than to pinch hit, his role was to see off the tough conditions before the more accomplished batsmen arrived.
With Australia dominating the scene after that, there wasn't much by way of new tactics employed. Aussie opener Adam Gilchrist kept a squash ball in his pocket as a lucky charm and it worked insofar as him striking form in the final against Sri Lanka in 2007.
Now with the World Cup returning to the sub-continent, certain strategies would surely be different. Like 1996, wickets would be flat-beds again. While openers will be expected to go for their strokes early on, the concept of 'pinch hitting', which went unused since it was introduced in 1996, will come in for a reprise.
With power plays playing a decisive role, slogging will be the order of the day, which reflects in the various team selections. And the decisive game-changer could be how teams use powerplays.
With bowlers looking for reverse swing, batting sides should be opting for powerplays early on, particularly with two batsmen set in the middle, or around the 34th over, when the ball is due for a change. The fielding sides would look to take powerplays as soon as wickets tumble.
Spinners would play a crucial role with the strips being on the slower side. So, there are no surprises why India have decided to recall leg-spinner Piyush Chawla while South Africa have gone for debutant Imran Tahir (whom Graeme Smith admitted he was keeping fresh for World Cup as a tactical move). In fact, spinners could wind up bowling in powerplays or slog overs.
High-scoring matches will definitely be on the cards again, so don't be surprised is Sri Lanka's record of 398 against Kenya in the 1996 edition, is surpassed, perhaps a few times! Indeed, this World Cup promises to be a run fest and if every run increasing the decibel level of cheering fans, then we're in for a whole lotta noise...