Cricket World Cup analysis: This was supposed to be the big hitters' tournament but bowlers have bitten back with bouncers

Alistair Tweedale
West Indies have led the charge with more short balls than any other team at the World Cup - Getty Images Europe

With batsmen stronger, fitter and more aggressive than ever, this was supposed a World Cup dominated by the bat.

Twenty20 is influencing other forms of the game, and scores are getting higher. Coming into this tournament, big totals were the expectation.

England have been countering the not insignificant problem of their expensive bowling by attacking with the bat, just as they did in hitting a record score of 481 against Australia last year.

The goalposts have been shifted. The standard of batting is higher than it used to be. The bowlers at the 2019 World Cup clearly needed a change of tack.

The most notable change at this tournament has been an increase in the number of short deliveries. According to data from CricViz, before the start of play between South Africa and West Indies on Monday, almost 45 per cent of all seam bowling deliveries had been short, compared to around 37 per cent at the last two World Cups and under 32 per cent in 2007.

The pitches in England have produced a surprising amount of bounce, and we have seen a number of batsmen caught out by balls kicking up off the surface more than expected.

Short balls are a high-risk strategy because they produce more wickets but also tend to be more expensive than average length or full balls. Then there is also the risk of giving away extras. Any ball that passes the batsman above head height results in a wide. Fast bowlers are also limited to two balls per over that bounce above shoulder height, and will concede a no ball - and a free hit - if they bowl a third.

But that is not putting them off. West Indies skittled Pakistan for 105 with a wonderful display of short bowling in the second game of the tournament, and that was their tactic again when they played Australia last week.

That time, though, their bowling erred too short. They conceded 24 wides, with the majority the result of bouncers going over the batsman's head.

It was only the 24th time in 4,156 matches in the history of one-day cricket that 20+ wides have been conceded in an innings - a rate of once every 173 matches. However, two of those have come in just 14 matches so far at this World Cup - a rate of once every seven matches.

That is not an indication of low quality, but rather a desire to push the boundaries of short bowling in response to the domination of big-hitting batsmen. The West Indies got it wrong against Australia at Trent Bridge, and they lost the match narrowly, but it was their decision-making with the bat that let them down and not their short bowling, which meant Australia never truly settled.

Cricket has always been a game of evolution, and there was always going to be a response to the big hitters that were expected to take charge of this tournament. Bouncers have helped keep totals down so far, but don't bet against the World Cup's best batsmen adapting again to send scores back through the roof.