March 15, 2017

Why you can't approach a T20 chase the same as an ODI one

In 20-over cricket, individual scores that may appear outstanding might actually be detrimental to the team's cause
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Was Mohammad Hafeez's 47-ball 77 in the PSL an asset or a liability? © AFP/Getty Images

Peshawar Zalmi lost the first qualifying final of the 2017 Pakistan Super League against Quetta Gladiators by one run. Thanks to Kevin Pietersen's 40 off 22 and Ahmed Shehzad's 71 off 38, Quetta had made an even 200 batting first, despite having struggled in the final third of their innings. Pietersen and Shehzad added 90 together in seven overs.

The run chase followed a similar pattern. After two early wickets, Mohammad Hafeez and Dawid Malan added 139 in 12 overs before Hafeez was out. Malan was at the wicket for the first 91 legal deliveries of the run chase. Of these, he faced 30, and made 56 runs. Hafeez was out to the fifth ball of the 14th over, having faced 47 of 72 balls bowled while he was at the wicket.

Despite Shahid Afridi's 34 in 13 balls, Peshawar lost by one run. From a cricketing point of view, this game is easily read. The conclusion is that despite Hafeez's brilliant 77, and support from Malan (56) and Afridi (34), Peshawar lost a game they ought to have won.

Does this reading hold in T20, though? There is some evidence to suggest otherwise. This evidence also points to a logic of the T20 run chase that is distinct from that of the ODI run chase.

Theories about how chases should be approached in limited-overs cricket abound. Given that boundary shots produce four and six runs off one ball, the predominant theory in the early days of ODI cricket was that chasing teams should keep wickets in hand even at the cost of falling behind the required rate, and then make one concerted push over a small number of overs at the end to win. Imran Khan and Javed Miandad were arguably the most famous proponents of this theory. The thinking here was that in the early overs of a chase, the game could not be won, but it could definitely be lost. This theory worked well when the overall asking rate was under five runs per over, and falling behind the rate meant needing about 7.5 to 8.0 runs per over for the last 10-15 overs.

The logic of the T20 run chase is distinct from that of the ODI run chase

ODI teams were constructed to adopt this theory. India did this famously well under Sunil Gavaskar's leadership in Australia 1985-86. Ravi Shastri was promoted to open the batting and provide solid, albeit slow, starts in that tournament. Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge played this way for West Indies throughout the 1980s.

But soon teams began to see that using an attacking opener would help. From Mark Greatbatch in the 1992 World Cup to Brendon McCullum in the 2015 one, New Zealand and every other side have adopted this tactic. This became so popular that the ICC then had a so-called "middle-overs problem" and changed the rules to restrict field settings during this phase to reward risk-taking similar to that found at the beginning and end of limited-overs innings.

Hafeez's innings in the PSL game was not dissimilar to Virat Kohli's innings in the 2016 IPL final. Like Kohli, Hafeez did not attack from the word go. And just like Kohli, his approach will be widely considered through the lens of the well-understood ODI logic.

Consider how Hafeez's innings would translate into a 50-over innings. Going by the frequency with which a target of at least 200 is set in a T20 game, the equivalent asking rate in an ODI first innings in the T20 era (June 13, 2003 onwards) is 6.8 runs per over, or 340. Both are set 7% of the time by teams batting first.

In the IPL 2016 final, Kohli played an innings similar to that of Hafeez in the PSL qualifying final - and also ended up on the losing side © AFP

Hafeez played 47 balls out of a possible 120, and scored 77 chasing a target of 201. In other words, he used 39% of the deliveries available to his team and scored at a rate that was just under the required rate. The equivalent ODI innings in the equivalent ODI run chase of 340 is 132 in 117 balls (scoring at the minimum required rate for 39% of the possible 300 deliveries).

This is equivalency considered from the batsman's point of view. From the team's standpoint, the equivalency does not quite work this way. The units of scoring available in the 20-over and 50-over chase are the same. Sixes, fours, singles, twos, threes, wides, no-balls, leg-byes and byes are all counted in exactly the same way in both chases. The cricket ball and the boundary are also the same, as are the bats, as is the quota per bowler (20% of the total balls bowled per bowler). All the ingredients of run production are the same. In the 50-over chase, 132 off 117 in a 340 target would leave the other ten batsmen needing to get 208 in 183 balls. In the 20-over chase, 77 off 47 in a 201 target would leave the other batsmen needing to get 124 in 73.

Standard cricketing wisdom states that compared to a new batsman, a set batsman will find it easier to score quickly. This wisdom has developed in the context of batting - the art of accumulating as many runs as possible with as much certainty as possible. The art of batting involves recommendations about relying on timing, hitting the ball along the ground, playing with a straight bat, not playing across the line when the ball is on the stumps, and waiting for the bad ball. This wisdom is often transferred wholly to the T20 context.

Halfway through his innings, Hafeez had scored 31 off 24; the second half produced 46 off 23. This split suggests that the conventional wisdom about batting is true. Using the first few overs to "get in" seems to have helped Hafeez score more quickly in the second half. At 31 off 24, Hafeez had used up 20% of the deliveries available to his team to be nine runs behind the minimum required rate. Later, when he was on 32 off 27, they were 13 runs behind the required scoring rate. In the second half of his innings, he did eight runs better than the minimum required rate.

In T20, a batsman choosing to use 20 balls to get his eye in is taking an enormous risk by essentially conceding one-sixth of the total available deliveries to the opposition without contest

It is here that the cricketing logic breaks down. One batsman using up nearly 40% of the total deliveries to get set and end up at the minimum required rate means the other batsmen have a great challenge on hand to achieve more than the required rate for 60% of the total deliveries.

Suppose those remaining 124 runs are scored by five batsmen among themselves. Let us say (conservatively) that each batsman takes two balls to get set. Let us say four of them get out. That's 14 balls out of the remaining 73. If we assume that those 14 balls produce 14 runs (let us assume this even though four of those 14 deliveries result in dismissals), then 110 runs remain to be scored from the remaining 59 deliveries without a single dismissal. In other words, Hafeez's 77 in 47 still left Peshawar one innings of 110 off 59 short of victory.

Consider the same calculation for the equivalent 50-over chase: 208 are required from 183 balls. Let's say that five batsmen are available for this, and that each of them takes an average of six balls to get set, and during those six balls, score, on average, three runs each. Four of them are dismissed. This means that them getting set uses up 34 balls, during which 15 runs are scored. What remains is 193 in 149 balls.

Still very difficult. But compare the requirement of 193 in 149 balls (or 7.8 runs per over), to the requirement of 110 in 59 balls (11.2 runs per over). The comparison is valid because the units of scoring and all other factors are equal in both cases. The latter is significantly more difficult.

Keeping wickets in hand has not yielded good dividends in T20 chases - but it has still been a highly used approach © Associated Press

When we consider these chases, we usually remember the last over, or the last couple of overs. We have a tendency to think that it was those two overs that determined the outcome of the game, and that earlier events are of little consequence. Perhaps this is why we are likely to describe Peshawar's chase as the players at the end undoing Hafeez's great work.

Yet, in T20, a batsman choosing to use 20 balls to get his eye in is taking an enormous risk by essentially conceding one-sixth of the total available deliveries to the opposition without contest. This concession arguably makes a bigger contribution to the result than anything that happens in the last two overs of the match.

A target of ten runs per over (rounded)* has been set 422 times in T20 games in ESPNcricinfo's database. Of these, 390 chases have lasted into the 16th over and 75 chasing teams have won. A further nine were won before the 16th over. Of the 390 chasing teams that took the match into the last five overs of the chase, 68 did it with seven or more wickets in hand and a required rate of ten runs per over (rounded) or more; 26 of these teams won. Meanwhile, 13 teams did it with six or fewer wickets in hand and a required rate of less than ten runs per over; 11 won. Compare 11 wins in 13, to 26 wins in 68. More significantly, compare 13 to 68.

The history of T20 thus suggests that teams are far more willing to use cricketing wisdom and keep wickets in hand rather than go hell for leather early. But history also shows that the latter approach is decisively more successful. This because of a paradoxical point: while it is probably better for the batsman to launch an assault on the bowling later rather than sooner, it is worse for the team when the batsman does that. This is because all the deliveries used up to get set are essentially conceded without contest to the opposition. With so few deliveries available as a whole, this concession is unaffordable, according to the arithmetic.

*rounded: In order to group matches, the asking rate is round to the nearest integer. So 9.6 round to 10, as does 10.4. 10.6 rounds to 11, and so on.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View. @cricketingview

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • greata9204042 on March 17, 2017, 1:21 GMT

    The overall point is correct. However, the chosen example is not the best one. Note that in any chase, every batsman does not score at or above the initial rate required. The required rate to make 201 is 167. In the team that made 200, every batsman did not have a strike rate of 167 or more either. Hafeez had a strike rate of 163, just slightly below need. That is pretty good and not disastrous at all. Hafeez was neither the hero nor the villain, he did a decent job. Having one batsman like that, who provides a foundation for a big score at a decent pace (that may be lower than needed rate, but not by too much), is very good. This allows other batsmen to hit without concern. Otherwise, it is too risky for ALL batsmen to score at the asking rate. If he had a strike rate of 130, that would be a serious problem. That's why batsmen like Rahane are no good for T20s. It is also true that taking 20 balls to settle and then hit is very risky. Kohli often does that, but it is not the best idea.

  • michael on March 16, 2017, 21:54 GMT

    There is no exact fit across the board but in principle the article has merit. Eg. Pollard is frequently used too far down the order in T20 games. Those who follow his career would realize that he gets bigger scores when he is allowed about 10 balls to get his eye in. In this phase he usually scores at SR 70 - 100. However when he accelerates he usually goes SR 200+. Therefore if he faced more balls he could contribute to a bigger team score. He should be 1st man in after 8 overs. On the other hand this article demonstrates why the WI selectors are doing such a poor job. Low SR batsmen like Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope in an ODI automatically limits the score the team could make. The longer Kraigg stays in the wicket the more balls he will consume at a poor SR 60. I hope these selectors read this article and make corrections for the upcoming Pakistan series. Sometimes a team along these lines will fail but there is chance of winning whereas the other way is a sure loss - ask WI.

  • srikan9456562 on March 16, 2017, 13:38 GMT

    This article is a must-read for every T20 coach.

  • Ashhar on March 16, 2017, 6:24 GMT

    Excellent calculations. great article

  • mukesh on March 16, 2017, 3:48 GMT

    So many times in T20s foundations are more likely for failure rather than success. Also chasing wise sense of urgency from ball 0 is missing on few openners who want to stay till the end. T20 is not about perfect chase cos we will always have wickets at end no need to think about survival. Its not like loosing few wickets upfront will loose a game. If weight is given for 10 rpo 2 wickets or wickets 7 rpo 0 wickets in powerplays of 6 overs, 18 runs are more precious in T20s. WC T20s ,*PL's are randomly won by teams where all phases of innings flows to perfection remember only 120 balls and each ball is important. Millions are paid in these *PL's on teams especially foreign players are strategically used for late over power hitting or for that initial burst of runs in powerplays. Author is 100% right innings like Hafeez's would have been great in ODI's but loose matches in T20's.GG,RS,AR ,SD maintained hafeez like innings in IPL this trend of slow starters will vanish soon from *PL's!

  • Alex on March 15, 2017, 20:37 GMT

    T20 is decided by strike rate of players. You need min 4 160% strike rate player to win any game.

  • mukesh on March 15, 2017, 20:17 GMT

    Awesome article especially with millions of dollars involved in all these private leagues. Manageability of resources is a critical questions.Total resource is only 120 balls . I have been asking questions in these forums that slow openners who settle down are still normal? Not many articles or many responses. Every modern team wants either explosive openners or late order power hitters. India having none of them was felt dearly in t20 wc . IPL doesn't bring this too much cos each team has "foreign " players designed for openning hitting or lower order hitting. IMO IPL doesn't generate x factor Indian batsmen cos thats already assigned to "foreign " players role. Likes of Rohit,Rahane,shikhar,GG play hafeez like role. Sometimes these players even get MOM if lower order hitting pulls it off. In T20 terms traditional openners can only go at slow rate for 2 overs. Exceptions always exist like slow starting gayle ,warner or roy, But this should never be a norm! Please publish

  • Pelham on March 15, 2017, 15:42 GMT

    BabuRaoGanpaRaoAAPTE on March 15, 2017, 14:00 GMT: Some people may hate the D/L system, but others understand that a system of that type is the simplest way of coming close to fair results for rain affected matches. As you say, tracking D/L (or, now, DLS) par scores is the best way of ensuring that the chase is on target, even if rain is not likely.

  • Ramon on March 15, 2017, 15:18 GMT

    T20 run chases are carefully calibrated, each batsman has a designated role. This depends on many variables, such as the quantity and quality of lower order power-hitters. Depending on their skills, some batsmen solidify the innings, some are hitters and some do both. Many power-hitters prefer to go in at an 'adrenaline laced' time like 70 to get off 30 with 4 wickets down, rather than with a 'nervy' 120 to get off 72 with 4 wickets down. By the columnist's reasoning, Samuels measured knock in the T20 WC final was only vindicated by Braithwaite's last over 6s. Context is everything. A good 'set up innings' is not automatically converted into a bad knock just because designated 'finishers' failed to finish as planned. T20s chases are carefully planned; the quality of each innings depends heavily on how each batsman executes the role assigned to him by the team.

  • Nauman on March 15, 2017, 14:00 GMT

    There is no one-size-fit-all solution.A more practical strategy is along the lines of the hated D/L system.The D/L par score at end of every over gives you a reasonable guide on how to win that particular game when chasing.Just track that & you should cruise to win.Ofcourse, its easier said than done.So instead of following it ball-by-ball,have concrete milestones based on your team combination.If you are top heavy, target to smash the D/L ceiling in the initial part of innings.If you have strong finishers then keep tracking the D/L par score but dont be bothered if you are slightly below it.Most importantly, have a dynamic game plan.If opposition counters your plan (puts a miserly Badree or trickster Narine to bowl at your Warner/Roy/Guptill) then adjust accordingly.

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