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Time For Parity Between Bat & Ball!

The success of World Cup 2015 has fostered the resurgence of the 50-overs format in addition to the World Cup of 2011 and the Champions Trophy in 2013 in the recent years. The tournament was decorated with sparkling batting knocks, dominative bowling spells, low-scoring thrillers, a tantalising semi-final and the top teams showcasing their A-game, albeit in patches. The quadrennial event often signifies different things to different players and teams, and the performances therein provide basis to project the progress of the format till the succeeding edition. Likewise, the big talking point rendered during this edition of the marquee competition is the growing clout of bat in a contest between wood and leather!

Many expected the bloom of T20 cricket to drastically alter the way 50-over cricket would be played, if not make it redundant completely. While it would be an interesting analytical breakdown in understanding the contribution of shortest format of the game in recent years, the dynamics of ODI cricket have indeed changed remarkably. This is directly visible in the upward trend for batting averages across World Cups since 2003 [2003 - 27.84, 2007 - 29.42, 2011 - 29.18, 2015 - 32.91]; bowling economy rates too seem to follow a similar increment [2003 - 4.76, 2007 - 4.95, 2011 - 5.03, 2015 - 5.65]. Although neither corresponds to an exponential rise, there is a noticeable deviation from linearity.

The additive confluence of the player maturity to the T20 game and the heavily biased rules in favour of batsmen has meant that players, spectators and analysts have started perceiving the ODI game much differently. The consequence was clearly visible during the World Cup (2015) with teams following the template of keeping wickets in hand and going berserk in the last 15 starting with the powerplay around the 35th-36th over; in a subtle manner inversing the 15-over field restriction rule before 2005! Additionally the use of two balls has meant that softness of the balls in the death overs may not be hindrance to scoring big at the back-end. It has resulted in the commonly pointed out development of teams looking to double their scores from the 35th over mark.

Do the statistics concur with this observation? The average deliveries taken to score half of total scores (>300 runs only) during the recently concluded World Cup are 189.9 (approx. 31.4 overs). As anticipated and discussed above, lesser deliveries are taken to double the score while setting up totals and the midway lies around 32.4 over mark. In instances of batting second, the halfway point hovers around 27.1 overs and shouldn’t surprise analysts, as big chases are often associated with keeping track of the required run-rate from the start. When 300+ totals were recorded, 6.2 wickets were lost on an average and in concurrence with the observed template, only 2.1 wickets fell when teams recorded half of their eventual totals.

As against the 28 totals of 300 or more in the present World Cup, only 17 such scores were compiled in 2011. The average 300+ total in 2011 was 327.3, while it compounded to 337.7 in the 2015 edition. Interestingly the halfway mark in that tournament for such totals was 30.2 overs. The first innings doubling happened when 31.1 overs were bowled and 26.3 overs during run-chases.  On an average 6.8 wickets were lost in 300+ totals and 2.3 when half the runs were scored.

These numbers on comparative introspection can suggest unremarkable differences and be attributed to the greater efficacy of the new ball on harder Australian/New Zealand tracks than in the sub-continent. The other conclusion could be presence of the additional fielder inside the circle contributing to the raised stats. Pitches and boundary dimensions in Australia were supposed to suit bowlers more than those in New Zealand but 15 out of the 28 triple hundred scores were recorded in Australia. The rules have been modified in the last decade with the motive of stimulating interest in the middle overs as all the key action was perceived to happen only in the first and last 10 overs. 

While this World Cup has left us with plenty of memories, it leaves room for a massive potential loophole with the major highlighted action (50% runs and 66.67% wickets falling in 36.67% deliveries for 300+ totals) happening only at the extended back-end of the innings, which undermines the objective of the modification in the rules. Already some respected names in the fraternity have advocated for changes to certain rules to accommodate the bowlers and avoid the ODI format from becoming too batsmen-centric and hopefully shouldn’t be too long before leather starts catching up with wood!


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