Are India's bowling woes part of a larger trend?
On October 16, 2013, Virat Kohli was in one of his mad moods at Jaipur's Sawai Mansingh Stadium. He made a century in 52 balls and India chased 360 easily. Three days later, in Mohali, MS Dhoni produced a special of his own. It was a sprawling, undefeated affair that began in the 14th over of India's innings with the team four wickets down. Dhoni's first 50 runs took 77 deliveries and 22 overs of batting. His next 89 runs came in 44 deliveries. It would not be enough. James Faulkner launched a breathtaking assault on Ishant Sharma to help Australia successfully chase a total in excess of 300 against India for the first time.
The sequence of scores in the ongoing series has prompted plenty of comment. On this blog, Jon Hotten suggests that the T20 game is having a say in the 50-over game and the single is the chief casualty. Michael Jeh worries about the inability of contemporary bowlers to consistently land yorkers correctly. V Ramnarayan suggests eight rules to improve the fortunes of bowlers. At one point in the washed-out game in Ranchi, Lawrence Booth, the Wisden editor, tweeted: "[I]t's a measure of this series that Australia's total currently looks well below par". At the time, the Australians were about 240, scoring at about five and a half runs an over. Harsha Bhogle suggested that the fielding restriction was killing bowlers.
Is it really true that there has been a general explosion in ODI run-scoring since the advent of T20? Or is this a peculiarly Indian phenomenon? The figures suggest that while scoring rates in ODI cricket have increased across the board, games involving India are a special case that deserves attention.
Here is a look at the trend since 1971. I calculated the average number of runs achieved over 50 overs in each calendar year for home and away teams.
I also calculated an overall figure.
On average, home teams score ten runs more than away teams over 50 overs in ODI cricket. In the early 1990s, the average number of runs scored over 50 overs was about 220. In the late 2000s, this increased to about 250. Interestingly, there has never been a calendar year in which bowlers have taken ten wickets over 50 overs on average. The average number of wickets over 50 overs of ODI cricket has consistently between seven and nine.
Do India follow this trend? If we consider only matches played against the top eight Test-playing nations (all apart from Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), India have produced the third-best win-loss record over the last ten years. During this time, they have conceded more runs per over than any other team. The most successful team over the last ten years, Australia, conceded 249 runs over 50 overs. India conceded 267. The second most profligate team in the last ten years, England, conceded 262. England won 40% of their games over this period. India won 56%. Over the last five years, the difference is more stark. India have been the most successful ODI side during this time, India have won 65% of their games, and conceded on average 270 over 50 overs. England have won half their games and conceded 264. The story remains the same since the 2011 World Cup. India and England remain the two most profligate ODI teams in the field.
Over the last ten years, on average, India's batting has scored 270 over 50 overs. Over the last five years, this figure grows to a whopping 290. Since the 2011 World Cup, India's batsmen have averaged 281 runs over 50 overs. India have consistently been 15 runs better than the next best team with the bat during this period of domination.
While these figures reveal that India have produced the best win-loss record in ODI cricket due to their phenomenal batting power and depth, despite having the worst bowling attack in the limited-overs game, they also suggest that India are something of an outlier. Matches involving India over the last ten years have produced 269 runs per 50 overs. Matches involving the top seven Test playing teams other than India during the same period have produced 251 runs. Over the last five years, matches involving the top seven teams other than India produce 252. Matches involving India during this period have involved 279 runs being scored over 50 overs. Since the 2011 World Cup, when India are involved, 274 runs per 50 over innings. When India aren't involved, 249.
There is some evidence to suggest that this anomaly is not related to India as a high-scoring venue for ODI games. In games played in India without India participating, scoring rates are significantly lower at 236. This should be treated with a little bit of caution as the number of games in India where India didn't participate is small. ODIs involving India since the 2011 World Cup played outside India have seen 274 runs scored per 50 overs. If we only include games in England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, 279 runs are scored per 50-over innings. Here is a more detailed chart that illustrates this:
The figures suggest that while there has been a small increase in run rates in ODI cricket, when India play, this increase is more dramatic. Further, India's economy rate and strike rate have increased at a faster rate in recent years, especially over the last five years. This, in turn, suggests that India's bowling attack has been in decline and India's batsmen have been making up the difference magnificently. India's bowlers concede about 15-20 extra runs over 50 overs compared to most of their opponents. This could be put down to fielding, but given India's current ground fielding, it is hard to imagine that they are 20 runs worse than the competition.
There is a more cynical, and sadly, perhaps more accurate conclusion that is possible here. When India play these days, a lot of money is at stake. For many boards, an India match or series means financial security for the next few years. But even in the case of boards where this isn't the case, there is some evidence to suggest that India matches are played in more batsman-friendly conditions. Look at the leap in ODI scoring rates in England in 2002 and 2011 (see 2007 as well). These were the years when India toured.
Is the Indian run-rate growth down to India's poor bowling, India's magnificent batting, or what boards around the world think Indian cricket audiences like to watch? I think it is a combination of all three things.