Michael Jeh September 21, 2009

Don’t leave the Powerplay so late

Instead of viewing it as another tactic in the batting arsenal, it’s almost viewed as Devil and Saviour in the one incarnation, thereby giving it that real Jekyll & Hyde quality that confuses clear thinking

When it comes to the vexed issue of the batting Powerplay, I’m convinced that the strategists will soon have enough historical data to crunch some meaningful numbers. As more ODI games are played under the new rules, there will be more data available and clear patterns will start to emerge.

Thus far, the batting Powerplay has been anything but! It has often been the Achilles heel for the batting team - poorly executed, poorly timed and the catalyst for a collapse. One of the problems with it has been this dual sense of fear (what if we lose wickets?) combined with the burden of self-expectation (the Powerplay is a powerful weapon that we MUST save for that match-winning moment). Instead of viewing it as another tactic in the batting arsenal, it’s almost viewed as Devil and Saviour in the one incarnation, thereby giving it that real Jekyll & Hyde quality that confuses clear thinking.

The final ODI at Durham between Australia and England was the last straw in a series that defined itself for a complete waste of this weapon. The sight of Australia taking the Powerplay with Ben Hilfenhaus at the crease, nine wickets down and in the 44th over, was the final nail in the coffin of abysmal tactics by both teams throughout the series. England were particularly dim-witted in their use of the Powerplay throughout the series, arguably amongst the worst examples of getting it wrong that you can possibly imagine.

The Champions Trophy in South Africa will show a different side to this tactic though. I’m convinced that it will indeed be an advantage for the batting team in this tournament. Why do I say that?

To begin with, I think teams will now crunch the data and start to realise that it’s probably wasted if you leave it too late in the innings. The last 10 overs tends to bring with it a flood of runs anyway so why waste the Powerplay then? Connected with this theory, if you can force the fielding side to use their ‘death bowlers’ in the middle of the innings to protect the Powerplay, that leaves even more scope to cash in at the end.

On South African pitches with bounce and carry, to say nothing of the effects of altitude, scoring rates will tend to be higher than during September in England or on the slow, dusty pitches in the Middle East for example (when Australia played Pakistan). These conditions will lend themselves to batsmen being able to clear the boundaries because the extra bounce opens up more of the field. On slow pitches, it is difficult to get under the ball and open up the full 360 degree radius of the outfield. We’ll see a lot more shots square of the wicket in the Champions Trophy when it comes times to push the accelerator. Players like Dilshan, Duminy, De Villiers and Dhoni (and many more that I simply can’t mention) who don’t need to rely on going straight down the ground will revel in these conditions during Powerplay overs.

The pitches at Centurion and Johannesburg will be more suited to the quicker bowlers, thereby removing the choking threat of spin bowling in the middle of the innings. Small boundaries, hard pitches and balls flying further at altitude will reduce the stranglehold that spinners had on the game in the World Twenty20 for example. Fast bowlers who get their yorkers wrong will pay the price in these conditions, especially against batsmen adept at staying deep in the crease or flicking to fine leg. Extra pace and bounce will help established batsmen to plunder the late overs.

Most importantly, I think teams will do the math and realise that a Powerplay taken too late is a Powerplay wasted. I think we’ll see a lot more teams taking the option in the 30-40 over period, perhaps even in the 15-20 over range (if they get off to a great start) and then cashing in at the end against the lesser bowlers, even with the field spread. If the ball’s not turning or holding up and you’ve used your ‘finishers’ like Gul, Malinga, Lee, Parnell and the like earlier in the innings to stem the Powerplay bloodbath, you’ll be left with medium pacers or spinners at the end. I’m predicting some late carnage!

I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of the Powerplay and to see if anyone’s really learnt anything from the recent past. If they haven’t, what’s the point of all those complicated software systems and statsgurus? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the bleeding obvious – don’t leave the Powerplay so bloody late!!!!

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