Paul Wood | 12:12am gmt 26 Feb 2011
The value of a wicket-taking strike bowler during the middle overs of an ODI cannot be understated. At times when the fielding captains seemed content to revert to their slow bowlers and set a more conservative field, this particular style of bowler can find a more productive way of controlling the run rate, by removing one or two key members of the opposition. It does require a captain willing to attack and utilise field placements designed to take wickets first, and employ containment as a secondary strategy.
There is little point in bringing your strike bowler back only to see him defeat the batsman but the ball fly away to the third man boundary.
In Shoaib Akhtar Pakistan have just that style of bowler, Sri Lanka use Lasith Malinga in a similar manner. The difference being Shoaib played today against Sri Lanka and made a healthy contribution in helping his side to win the game, Malinga unfortunately wasn't risked due to recent fitness issues, and so watched on as his side could not find any answers to the partnership of the ever important performances of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Misbah and Younis came together with the score on 105-3 off just over 20 overs, the side already had a reasonable run rate so there was no need for unnecessary risks, that isn't the duo's method anyway. Barring Nuwan Kulasekara, the entire SL attack had a go at breaking the partnership, to no avail. They remained unflustered with a clear plan in mind, that was to accumulate steadily, if unspectacularly, and provide the more exhilarating strokeplayers with a solid platform on which to build. When Younis departed via top edged sweep, the score had moved on to 213-4, they had stuck superbly to their side of the bargain, even if the power hitters did not exactly stick to theirs.
So when Mahela Jayawardene joined Kumar Sangakkara at the crease in the Sri Lankan innings there was an expectancy that a similar partnership was due to unfold, but nobody figured on Shoaib. Shahid Afridi acknowledged the importance of breaking the Sangakkara/Jayawardene partnership, so successful in many games in the past, by urging Shoaib to return to the attack, shake off any feelings of stiffness and deliver what could be a fatal blow to Sri Lanka's hopes.
Shoaib bowled with purpose, and breached Jayawardene's technique by getting just enough seam movement to cut back in through bat and pad and rock the middle stump back. That is what wicket takers do, they turn games on their heads, they deliver at the exact time they're required to do so. Yes, alternatively Shoaib could have briefly gone round the park, and perhaps in the next game he will do, but today he knew what was at stake and struck. Pakistan were now in the box seat before this much celebrated Sri Lankan partnership had to time to develop. Good captaincy and excellent bowling.
All teams crave these type of bowlers, very few sides have a genuine one.