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World Cup 2011

The World Cup's new best friend

The batting Powerplay a potential banana skin for the team seeking it, has created a period of play when anything can happen

Sambit Bal

March 13, 2011

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Tim Bresnan bowled Tamim Iqbal to get England back in the contest, Bangladesh v England, Group B, World Cup, Chittagong, March 11, 2011
Games involving England have been the most entertaining so far thanks to their schizophrenic performances © Getty Images

The main course is yet to be laid out but, despite the tournament retreating to obscurity for the major part of the past few weeks, the World Cup is well on its way to fulfilling one of its prime objectives. Already it has shown that there is life in one-day cricket. The crowds had never really turned away but, as the lure of Twenty20 has grown, the hum about the tiredness of one-day cricket has got louder. After all, there is only so much cricket that cricket can take.

The World Cup is indebted in large measure to England who, through a strange mixture of incompetence and indomitable spirit, have provided the best illustration of the ebb and flow and the variety one-day cricket can produce. In the five-matches involving them, we have seen almost the entire range: high-scoring heists, a heart-stopping tie, low-scoring thrillers, upsets, dramatic collapses, super defending, spectacular hitting, and last-gasp meltdowns. There is no telling where they will finish in this tournament but they are already worthy of a bonus for keeping the World Cup turning.

Add to that another star: the batting Powerplay. When it was first instituted it brought scepticism among those concerned about the already lopsided balance between the bat and the ball. It was feared that five more overs with field restrictions, that too at the choosing of the batting side, would lead to further mayhem against bowlers already short-changed by flat pitches, shrinking boundaries and meatier bats. What it has instead created is a period of play when anything can happen.

Ireland used it spectacularly in their game against England to mount the unlikeliest of victory charges and, against India last night, South Africa timed it perfectly to tame the asking rate to the territory of the manageable. But no way has the batting Powerplay been a one-way street. Indeed, as India demonstrated so dramatically during their self-induced combustion on Saturday, the batting Powerplay can be the most treacherous banana skin for the team calling for it. With the opportunity of runs, it also brings the threat of wickets.

But more than runs and wickets, it has brought strategy back to a period of the one-day game that had tended to drift along predictably, with fielders hanging back and batsmen churning out mechanical singles. More than anything else, it has imposed attacking cricket on both teams.

The batting Powerplay is different from the bowling Powerplays, both mandatory and optional, in two fundamental ways. The bowling Powerplays, invariably taken at a stretch, allow the batsmen to ease into a rhythm. In this World Cup particularly, opening batsmen have shown no particular haste. The starts have mostly been calculated and gradual, based on preservation rather than all-out acceleration. But the batting Powerplay, because it is so brief, and because it is often initiated by the batting side with the sole purpose of propelling the run-rate, obliges the batsmen to go over through the infield. Sometimes it can be dangerously disruptive.

England, coasting in their chase of 338 against India with such ease that it prompted the Bangalore fans to start leaving, found this out the hard way. Ian Bell, batting serenely till them and beginning to cramp, decided to launch Zaheer Khan into the night sky but ended merely lobbing the ball within the circle. Zaheer, who would have never bowled that over had the Powerplay not been taken, next produced the ball of the match to nail Strauss, playing his greatest one-day innings, and with two more catches in the infield England surrendered four wickets in those overs for 25 runs, before managing to tie the match.

India themselves had fluffed their own Powerplay earlier in the day by managing only 32 at the cost of Sachin Tendulkar's wicket which restricted them to 338. At one point, a total of 360 had seemed plausible.

India's manhattan, India v South Africa, Group B, World Cup, Nagpur, March 12, 2011
India's manhattan from the game against South Africa highlights the dangers of the Powerplay for the batting side © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

It is a reasonable assumption that, for it to be counted as good, a batting Powerplay must yield 50 runs. It would count as super for the batting side to achieve without losing a wicket. But the quick look at the numbers tells us the 50-run mark has been breached in only eight of the 43 instances of the batting Powerplay, and, barring South Africa against India, each of this has been achieved against the non-Test playing nations (which currently includes Zimbabwe).

Equally revealingly, there have been only eight instances of a team going through the batting Powerplay without losing a wicket, and on 19 occasions, teams have lost two or more wickets, and seven times three or more.

Different teams have adopted different strategies. Pakistan have been delaying theirs till almost the very end, and this has worked for them apart from their loss against New Zealand. They stand second in the list of batting Powerplay run-rates (9.82, which is behind South Africa's 10.18) and No.1 in terms of having lost three wickets during these periods.

It's a policy England seem to have embraced after the Powerplay malfunction against India. This implies batting on without disrupting normal rhythm until the last five overs, when everything must go anyway. But this works on the principle that the team must have at least two batsmen capable of making the most of it. And overall, England have the worst batting Powerplay numbers among the top nations, with a run-rate of 6.40 at the cost of 12 wickets, the highest any team has lost during batting Powerplays.

India, whose sole gameplan revolves around batting their opponents out of the game, have tended to launch the final assault around the 35th over to coincide with the mandatory change of the ball. However, only once in five games, when they scored 48 without losing a wicket against Bangladesh, has this gone to plan.

There are lessons from these for both batting and bowling captains. India have seen it from both sides already. There was no other way for them to get back into the game against England apart from the Powerplay wickets; it was the same for South Africa when India were 267 for 1 in 40 overs in Nagpur.

If anything, the batting Powerplays have shown the value of posting fielders in the ring and denying the strolled single. And for batting teams, it is not merely the passport to easy runs for it can, equally swiftly, derail the innings beyond recovery.

Why batting sides are not more flexible about it is hard to fathom. India's score stood at 128 for no loss at end of the bowling Powerplays on Saturday, with both Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in sublime ball-hitting zones. But did India even consider opting to extend the field restrictions to allow them to carry on the same way for five overs? As it turned out, the next five overs produced only 27 runs as Tendulkar and Sehwag adjusted to the changes in the field, and Tendulkar had to make another adjustment when the Powerplay was eventually taken 39th over, and promptly lost his wicket.

But while the batting Powerplay may not always be a blessing for the batting teams, it is quite so for the one-day game.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 25 
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Posted by Arjun on (March 15, 2011, 5:27 GMT)

indian team in general and MSD in particular seemed to have developed an inferiority complex over our bowling, which is leading to wrong strategies and seriously threatening to derail our chances at this WC. this thinking is prompting MSD to choose batting whenever he wins toss coz he evidently thinks batting is our strength and therefore the best way to go about is posting as big a target as we can. but then, because we have no confidence in our bowling, we are unsure of what target we can defend, and this leads to further insecurity and rash batting towards the end, which evidently manifested in the 9 for 29 collapse against SA. it is time MSD doesn't get swayed by experts and media and starts trusting our bowlers and also the team needs to get ready to chase against better teams. wrond thinking will invariably end in getting knocked out from the WC...

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 15, 2011, 5:16 GMT)

India still has chance to win the further matches played against top teams. Now is the stage where i feel we need to get the final XI right or else there is a problem even going past the league stage. I feel India should paly two specilaist spinners and three pacers wherein the top 6 batsmen can do the job with more responsibility. I personally feel that India should play 5 bowlers in Harbhajan, Ashwin, Zaheer, Munaf and Sreesanth along with Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Dhoni & Pathan. Today in one dayers, we need more of all rounders rather than genuine bats. We do have sachin, sehwag, gambhir to do that roles. yuvraj, pathan and dhoni to play all rounders roles along with other 5 genuine bowlers who can also bat given the indian pitches...

Posted by gusta on (March 14, 2011, 21:55 GMT)

I think that INDIA has great chance here, I know they missed couple of close games but this league level is were you get things straightened and I think we will play AUS in semi final and we will win that game and the world cup. I want my fellow INDIANS to think positive and spread good positives waves and support the TEAM, not criticise, we have to get powerplays right and the Batting Lineup/order should not change. I support DHONI and the team ,UNCONDITIONALLY. Please spread the positive energy.

Posted by Milind on (March 14, 2011, 19:57 GMT)

Well said Sambit! Batting PP has made things more interesting! there are opportunities for both teams to cash in.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 14, 2011, 17:06 GMT)



Posted by giri on (March 14, 2011, 16:57 GMT)

The TRUTH is - Everyone forgot to notice that when Sachin was playing the pitch seemed to be flat and the bowling appeared to be mediocre. Then came our big hitters and played as if it was IPL-20 and tried to blast every ball out of the park without even bothering that they were facing one of the best bowlers in the world today, Dale Steyn. It was absolutely right, what Dhoni said, had they played 50 overs even by taking singles the result would have been different.

Posted by Praveen on (March 14, 2011, 15:53 GMT)

Dhoni should introspect on his individual performance with the bat and behind the wickets, more importantly his captaincy before slamming his team mates. First he has to learn to back his players in open forums. He can be critical in internal reviews. First Sreesanth, then all the bowlers together and Ashish Nehra now.

Posted by Subash on (March 14, 2011, 15:51 GMT)

@Pienk: As an Indian fan I completely agree with you. Dhoni has lost his abilities as a captain and has started blaming others. It's funny how he had said in the pre match interviews that the top order for India should give a very good start so that batsman coming later can slog. How can India which boasts of the strongest batting lineup lose 9 wickets for 29 runs. The hard work was done by the openers and Gambhir, and all the remaining batsman had to do was stay there until the 50th over.Powerplay doesnt means sixes and fours. Another Dhini mistake is not keeping the best bowler to bowl the last over. Its common sense that in high scoring games the match will be decided in the final over. It's pretty obvious that India cannot defend anything < 320 or 330 as we have one of the weakest bowling attacks among the test playing nations. Overall I hope this loss will bring the team back to earth and realize that they need to play hard and sensible cricket from here on for any chance towin

Posted by PIyal on (March 14, 2011, 15:11 GMT)

I think a lot less is talked and thought about the bowling powerplay. It can be as strategic as the batting pp.So far the philosophy behind taking the bowling pp immediately after the first 10 overs seems to be treating it as a threat and not as an asset by the fielding side. If a team takes a bowling pp not immediately after the first 10 overs but at an opportune time where they think that they need to change the rhythm of the batsmen and tempt them to take more risks it can work for the bowling team. The WC will be won by such teams who are innovative and attacking in their thinking. PP concept definitely changes the batsmen's approach and inevitably changes their rhythm. A food for thought to the bowling sides.

Posted by Nigel on (March 14, 2011, 12:26 GMT)

I would love to see which captain uses his leadership to innovate by creating a batting powerplay of sorts with field placings akin to those used when the batting play normally calls for the five over slog. Used properly, it can confuse the batsmen into playing to fit a strategy that they do not understand, which will force them then to take the aerial route when runs get stifled!

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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