Michael Jeh April 28, 2009

Deconstructing the Batting Powerplay

My prediction for the future is that fewer teams will take their batting Powerplays so late in the innings

As a general comment, without the benefit of statistics or specific team strategies, I’d have to say that I think the Batting Powerplay has often been more of a negative than a positive to most teams. I didn’t really watch the recent ODI series’ in West Indies and NZ so I can’t comment on them but in games involving Australia, it seems to me that most captains have yet to learn how to best use their Powerplay.

South Africa have used it to best effect thus far, mainly because they have managed to keep wickets in hand and therefore been able to use Albie Morkel’s clean hitting (and to a lesser extent Duminy and Boucher).

Australia have rarely benefited from it and Pakistan too seem uncertain of the tactics involved in using it for maximum impact. Too often, it is left too late and the teams are almost forced to take the powerplay when their No 9 batsman is at the crease, caught between trying to bat out the full 50 overs and capitalising on the Powerplay.

Too often, batsmen have played a little bit too conservatively leading into the Powerplay and then promptly got out in the first two overs, therefore wasting the very prize they had been waiting for. Perhaps it’s because middle order batsmen are not accustomed to batting in traditional Powerplay situations – they are more adept at finding gaps and working the ball around until the final slog is on.

I think batting captains are taking the Powerplay too late in the innings. Most captains try to take it around the 40th over but too often, wickets are falling and teams are torn between consolidating with new batsmen arriving at the crease or taking risks in the Powerplay which can turn a mini-collapse into a terminal tailspin. In that sense, the Powerplay almost acts like a trap – you feel obliged to walk into it even though you know it could cost you an arm and a leg!

Take Pakistan for example – I think they got their tactics horribly wrong last night chasing a modest 198. From 0/90, needing less than 4 rpo to cruise to victory, they finished up needing about 7 rpo when their final wicket fell. How in the world did they allow that to happen? They ended up not even using up all of their Powerplay which is almost criminal in its negligence. They simply left it too late. They should have taken it as soon as Afridi came to the crease. Why? Because he doesn’t really change his game whether the field is in or out anyway so you might as well give him every chance of succeeding with the Powerplay. It’s not like Afridi is going to be patient enough to wait for the Powerplay so why waste his hitting power?

Another reason why I think the Powerplay is wasted in the last few overs is because that’s a period of the game when teams score quickly anyway. More often than not, most teams press the accelerator pedal in the last 10 overs so the scoring rate tends to scoot along, regardless of field placements. With short boundaries and powerful cricket bats, batsmen have no trouble clearing boundaries, often hitting the ball way back into the stands. It wouldn’t have mattered if there was a fielder on the fence or not. This tends to happen naturally in the slog overs so why waste the Powerplay when batsmen will clear the ropes with or without field restrictions?

It is a new innovation so we need to allow captains and coaches time to figure it out I suppose. My guess is that we’ll start to see teams employing the batting Powerplay a bit earlier in the innings, perhaps with the new ball that is taken in the 35th over. If the innings gets off to a rollicking start, it would make perfect sense to take it in the 15th over because that effectively forces the fielding captain to change his bowling rota. On pitches that don’t help spinners, he might be forced to bowl out one of his quicks in those consecutive Powerplays which then leaves him massively exposed in the death overs when his lesser bowlers may have to close out the innings. At that point, the batting side may not even need a Powerplay to score heavily against the fifth bowler or a spinner.

It’s fascinating to watch evolution unfold in front of our very eyes. It’s like watching naughty schoolboys in the chemistry lab – nervously mixing a bit of this and a bit of that and then watching anxiously to see what happens. My prediction for the future is that fewer teams will take their batting Powerplays so late in the innings. A bit like the global financial crisis, artificial stimulus packages will take the form of early intervention.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane