ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
World Cup 2011
The Powerplay conundrum stumps Pakistan
The batting Powerplay seems to have been more advantageous to the bowlers in the World Cup, and though Pakistan's numbers in it read well, they are quite inflexible in deciding when to take it
March 13, 2011
Pakistan have not quite yet mastered the batting Powerplay, though their numbers in this World Cup make for impressive reading. They have only lost three wickets in batting Powerplay overs across four games, the least for any side who has taken it more than twice, and their average run-rate of 9.81 through those overs is second only to South Africa. Yet something about their usage of it hasn't looked that impressive, though in fairness, they are not the only side of whom that can be said.
That is proof enough that the ICC has got the innovation right. On evidence so far, in fact, it is difficult to know whether it is the batsmen or bowlers who have benefitted more from the batting Powerplay in this tournament.
England's stutter against India and India's own implosion against South Africa counter the Irish boost in their chase against England and AB de Villiers' canny use to spark South Africa's chase against India on Saturday.
For Pakistan it poses a unique conundrum. The very idea of it muddles the long-held and preferred batting ideology of steady, safe accumulation until the last ten overs whereupon arrives a great burst of scoring. Their current batting order, with Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq at Nos. 6, 7 and 8 is configured precisely for that purpose: Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to build and those below them, power-hitters all, to blast. In their defence, over the years, it has worked more often than not.
There is no one ideal time to take the Powerplay, of course. It is a situational strategic tool and there is no definitive moment when it is best employed; in this World Cup only twice have sides taken it before 30 overs; twelve times it has been taken between overs 31 and 40, and the vast majority of occasions - 29 times - it has come after the 40th.
Often, two set batsmen at the crease choose not to take it early because the runs are coming anyway. Sometimes, the batsmen at the crease are not best equipped to exploit it. Often, as seen in the New Zealand-Pakistan game, the runs are not as important as is the need to see a good death bowler bowled out, as happened with Umar Gul. With Gul gone, New Zealand pillaged the last five overs.
Pakistan have chosen to, as best they can, render it insignificant, trying simply to slipstream it into their own strategy. In four World Cup games so far, on three occasions they've waited till after 42 overs to take it.
Against Kenya they took it from the 43rd over onwards; at the Premadasa against Sri Lanka from the 44th over; against Canada at the same venue from the 43rd over. The one occasion it has come before was in the loss to New Zealand, when it was taken in the 34th over.
Only against Kenya can the strategy be said to have really worked; Misbah and Umar were at the crease and well-set when they took it and they proceeded to take 71 from those five overs, losing only one wicket. Against Sri Lanka, Pakistan probably waited too long; Misbah and Younis were well-set in a match-defining partnership but chose not to take it. Only when Younis fell in the 41st over and after Umar had faced a few balls did they take it, but momentum was lost. Umar holed out and only 36 runs came from it.
The game against Canada was most revealing of Pakistan's attitude towards the Powerplay. After a top-order collapse, Misbah and Umar had rebuilt the innings with a 73-run stand. They came together in the 16th over and batted through to the 35th, yet still didn't feel comfortable in taking it. Once Umar was gone, the bottom fell out of the batting; when Afridi and Razzaq were briefly at the crease, they chose not to take it even then.
Eventually, it was left to Gul and Saeed Ajmal to take it in the 43rd and the innings ended in the same over. Against New Zealand, Razzaq and Gul were at the crease and the game was as good as gone by the time they took 48 runs from it.
Before the 40-over mark it seems Pakistan do not consider the Powerplay in any condition, even if Afridi talks publicly of it depending on the mood of the game at that moment. "I think the situation really counts for a lot," he said. "If you have wickets in hand in the 40th or 41st over then you can take a Powerplay. If the scoreboard is going well you don't need to take it early." In other words, do as you have done since the time of Imran Khan.
But more than Pakistan's power trio, Misbah is probably the key man for it, given the position he comes in at and his ability to gather momentum and then unleash it. At his best, in form, he is an intelligent limited-overs player, confident enough to play the big shots for the slog overs and smart enough to fully exploit the field with his running through the middle overs.
"We haven't used it appropriately," he said before the game against New Zealand. "But it plays a vital role, if you look at the results of some of the matches. The team who uses the Powerplay well generally wins, whether the batsmen or even the bowlers. We need to have a plan for that."
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