12. Following in Dipak Patel's footsteps

When a spinner opened the bowling in 1992 it was a revelation. Not so much nowadays

In the first game of the 1992 World Cup, New Zealand captain Martin Crowe sprang a surprise by asking off-spinner Dipak Patel to open the bowling along with Chris Cairns. Faced with a target of 249, Australia didn’t react too well and began slowly, eventually losing by 37 runs.

When leg-spinner Imran Tahir opened the current edition of the World Cup, bowling the first over against England, nobody was surprised. For in the 27 years since Patel opened the bowling, opening the bowling with a spinner has become far more common. In 2018, 13% of all opening overs in ODIs were bowled by spinners.

The enthusiasm of opening with a spinner is not uniform across teams. India, for example, opened with R Ashwin three times in 2011 (two of them in the World Cup that year), but has since not opened with a spinner. England have similarly not opened with spin since Joe Root (!!) opened three games in 2014 against the West Indies.

Bangladesh and Afghanistan are at the other end of the scale. In 2018, spinner Mujeeb-ur-Rehman opened the bowling in every single ODI played by Afghanistan. Before he arrived on the scene in 2017, off-spinning allrounder Mohammed Nabi and left arm spinner Amir Hamza regularly took up opening duties for Afghanistan.

Bangladesh have regularly used Mehidy Hasan Miraz to open the bowling, including in the games against New Zealand and South Africa in this World Cup. Against England, who open with two right hand batsmen, left-arm-spinner Shakib Al Hasan opened the bowling.

When Imran Tahir opened the bowling against England, he picked up the wicket of Jonny Bairstow in his very first over. It is possible that England hadn’t prepared for him, since apart from one game in January this year (against Pakistan), South Africa hadn’t opened with a spinner since 2015.

Finally, while opening with a spinner has gotten more popular with time, especially for Bangladesh and Afghanistan, opening the bowling with two spinners hasn’t been particularly common - there have only been nine such instances in ODI cricket.

Four of them have been by Bangladesh, with Shakib Al Hasan bowling from one end. Two other instances were by Sri Lanka in 2014.

And the other three occasions have been by New Zealand - the side that pioneered the use of spin in the opening overs. In two games in 2010-11, New Zealand opened with Daniel Vettori and Nathan McCullum (one of them was in the World Cup quarterfinal against South Africa). And again in 2017, they used Mitchell Santner and Jeetan Patel to open against South Africa!