May 14, 2014

The time and space of T20 cricket

Insisting that T20 is simply ODI cricket minus the boring middle overs is disingenuous

Is T20 cricket? Is it not? © BCCI

IPL and ODI data is used in this post. Data from the IPL is from the first innings of 395 games from the first six seasons. Data used from ODIs is from 1222 ODIs featuring all Test-playing teams excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Matches involving Associate teams are excluded as well.

I've been interested in the idea of a balanced contest between bat and ball for a while now. The substantive basis of my argument that T20 is not cricket in any meaningful sense but a different sport altogether is that the balance between bat and ball in a 20-over contest, with ten wickets available to the batting side and nine fielders available to the bowling side, is radically different from that in even a 50-over contest. To some cricket fans, this seems obvious; to others, it appears foreign. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that insisting that T20 is simply the very familiar ODI form minus the boring middle overs is essential to marketing the new form successfully, since the cricketing public is too shrewd to spend good money on some unknown new sport.

Here are some clear differences in the balance between bat and ball in the 20-over game and the 50-over game. I'm using only the first innings of matches. The data from the second innings is less reliable because the game is already set by the time the second innings begins.

1. The sixth wicket falls in about 48% of IPL games. It falls in nearly 80% of ODI games. The No. 8 spot is typically occupied by the best batsman among the specialist bowlers. 20% of an ODI innings is 10 overs, the same as 50% of an IPL innings. A No. 8 batsman can expect to bat as much in an ODI game as a No. 6 batsman can in a T20 game. No part of the tail is threatened in a majority of IPL first innings.

2. A team is bowled out in fewer than one in ten IPL first innings. In ODIs a team is bowled out in about three in ten first innings.

3. Contrary to what commentators say, there is no period of consolidation in T20 cricket. It is never in the interest of a pair of batsmen to maintain the same scoring rate over two or three overs unless wickets have been lost. In T20, batsmen score quicker and quicker in each successive over, or perish in the process. Steady scoring is seen in ODI cricket even when wickets are not lost, especially in the middle overs.

Two heat charts are included in this post, one for each format. A heat chart shows the scoring rate in each over for a given number of wickets lost at the start of the over. The charts are colour-coded - red indicates slower scoring rates, while green indicates higher scoring rates. As you will see, a constant run rate progresses diagonally in the T20 chart, indicating that it depends on the loss of wickets. In the ODI chart, this tendency is weaker. This comparative point is intuitively obvious, but the chart shows that it holds true generally over a large number of ODI and T20 games.

© Kartikeya Date

© Kartikeya Date

© Kartikeya Date

Perhaps no pair of charts conveys the illusion that T20 is merely ODI cricket compressed like the two that follow. They show when a given wicket is likely to fall in T20 and ODI cricket in a normalised fashion. I have broken down a team innings in each form into periods of 10% each - five overs for an ODI, and two overs for a T20 game.

The fall of wickets in T20 innings

© Kartikeya Date

The fall of wickets in ODI innings

© Kartikeya Date

As an example of how to read this chart, the fourth wicket in IPL games falls in the ninth or tenth over 12% of the time. It falls in the 11th or 12th over 14% of the time, and in the 17th or 18th over 18% of the time. Note that in this chart, the horizontal access indicates when a given wicket falls, and not how many wickets have been lost at the start of an over (as in the earlier charts). The coloured portions of each chart show those points in innings when a wicket is likely to fall at a rate about the average. Let's call this the "business area" of an innings.

The symmetry is wonderful. The shape and slope of this business area is apparently the same. There are, however, some seemingly minor differences. For example, the fourth wicket is 10% more likely to fall in the first half of an ODI innings than it is in the first half of a T20 innings. Nine out of ten times, the fourth wicket in a T20 innings falls after the 10th over.

Remember, the rules in the T20 and ODI games are identical. At the most, some of them have been scaled. For example, a ten-over quota in ODIs becomes a four-over quota in T20. Now regard the difference between a No. 6 batsman coming in with fewer than 60 balls remaining in eight out of ten first innings, and a No. 6 batsman coming in with at least 120 balls remaining in five innings out of 10. With the exact same rules for dismissal and run-scoring, with the same cricket ball, boundaries of the same size, the same number of fielders and the same bats.

Ahmer Naqvi wrote a few days ago that cricket was primarily about space, time and angles. I agree. It is about these things. But these things have to be given shape to make a good game - one in which all roles are attractive. Those wonderful games of cricket I grew up playing (as I'm sure did Ahmer and all of you) involved taking time and space and buildings and sidewalks and tape and tennis balls and making up rules and playing a game. We used to play an underarm version in school, where we had to use one hand on the bat handle and another on the blade of the bat. The "pitch" was about ten yards long. One could be out if the ball was caught on the first bounce, but only if the fielder was on one knee while doing so. If the ball hit any wall on the full, one was out. If it hit a wall on the first bounce, one got six runs. We were playing, as you might have guessed, in a courtyard. Some of the rules came to be because the bowlers hated being hammered all the time. Others came to be because we broke things far too often.

For over a decade now T20 has not bothered to govern its time and space. It has lived lazily in another sport's space, by snatching away another sport's time and players. This is perhaps the reason for its commercial success. It is also the reason for its cricketing failure. It could become a good game, and perhaps even a great sport. On present evidence, it doesn't seem to want to.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 18, 2014, 20:11 GMT

    I am watching a T20 match, Sussex Sharks vs. Middlesex Panthers. Can you tell me what the acronym WASP means, in the analysis; and how is it arrived at?

  • I on May 16, 2014, 12:42 GMT

    Lovely analysis, and a great article. There is far too much inverse snobbery from advocates of T20 cricket/IPL, who try to make grandiose claims about why it is a superior form of the sport. A good example is AJ_Tiger86's comments, trying desperately to superimpose a grander context to what is just a slogathon, which only shows variance when the quality of batting is even poorer than usual. Desperation in elevating T20 to something more meaningful: just look at how 0.33 variance in run rate is trying to be passed off as a legitimate data point to prove a period of "consolidation." Most of it is just derived from a vapid reaction to colonial hegemony, as if favouring the longer forms is something that automatically aligns you to the perspective of Eng/Aus,

  • c on May 16, 2014, 2:01 GMT

    Kartikeya's discription of courtyard cricket reminds me of a rule a sister of mine had at our house: a ball that touches a plant on the up (without bouncing at least once off the bat) was an OUT. There were several at forward short-leg!

    After reading his last post I wanted to wait and see how Kartikeya advances his argument. Using IPL stats used here to attack his premis is to miss the point of what he is saying. I don't agree with the INTERPRETATION of SOME stats cos there are alternate presentations elsewhere - to the contrary - that's more convincing. Yet, having 10 wickets in hand is ONE of the aspects that makes it a viable option to set or chase a target in t20! Take it away and you kill it. So, while the point is well made on what ails existing rules for 20 COMPARED to ODI (and Tests) my point is no comparison is required. Let it be.

    Someone mentioned the use of DL in t20s. Anyone with an IQ above plant life should know that DL method is a joke. Can't expect ICC to know it.

  • Pelham on May 15, 2014, 21:10 GMT

    @Facebook User on (May 15, 2014, 14:06 GMT): It is a common misunderstanding that the D/L method was designed for 50 over cricket only and then cut down to the shorter form. In fact, from the first version in 1997, D/L was applicable to games starting at any length from 11 to 60 overs and reducing as low as 10 overs. Because D/L works in terms of overs remaining, the relevant question for comparison is whether T20 matches behave similarly to the last 20 overs of 50 over matches, and this is in terms of total runs that can be scored conditional on wickets that have already fallen at the beginning of a given over. The nearest we have here are the "runs per over" charts, and the last few lines of these are quite similar. These are consistent with the view that D/L works equally well for 20 over and 50 over cricket. However, the charts were not designed for judgement of D/L (no criticism of K Date here) - for that, you would need charts that directly make the comparison I have indicated.

  • Rajat on May 15, 2014, 15:38 GMT

    Skewed data. Because for T20 you are considering only IPL matches. Additionally, if you are excluding Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and associatesfrom ODI's then might as well have excluded bottom-rung teams like DD, PWI, KTK, etc. from IPL matches. This article looks more like trying to put your point across using the data that suits you.

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2014, 14:06 GMT

    This research and Date's interpretation convinces me that the import of D/L method from the longer form is not only meaningless, but also blatantly unfair, to either of the two teams. Which team gets the stick depends on the relative number of wickets lost, at the time of interruption. Relative fall of wickets is factored into the formula, BUT taking into account the pattern of the middle overs from inn-numerous ODI games. In 20-20 there is NO such pattern!

    This flaw may not look as obvious as the stupidity of the super-over, especially when the points could be split, as in a draw. Draw is a draw; is it not? Why do we artificially convert it into an unfair lose for one? This, an obvious one, had been mentioned by many. But Date's analysis attempts to expose a less obvious one. Good show.

    20-20 is entertainment, all right; but it needs its own rules of the game, and not illogically borrowed and misused ones!

  • Adam on May 15, 2014, 11:33 GMT

    T20 cricket dates back decades. I'm fed up of these ill-informed articles that appear to think it only appeared in the past 10 years or so. No-one your analysis is so consistently and spectacularly wrong.

  • Mainuddin on May 15, 2014, 8:59 GMT

    " It is that unless a wicket falls, scoring rates in T20 do not stay steady. In ODIs they do during the middle overs. "

    Yes, but wickets *do* fall more rapidly in T20s compared to ODIs, don't they? In trying to keep hitting every ball, teams lose wickets at regular intervals, which forces them to consolidate. Point is, a T20 innings is by no means one-dimentional. It has its own rhythms just like ODIs.