March 5, 2011

Timing the Powerplays right

Teams haven't got to grips with when best to take them yet, as the matches in the World Cup have shown

The figures of England's batting Powerplay overs against India at the Chinnaswamy Stadium are baffling to say the least. Not only did they lose four wickets - three to India's wrecker-in-chief, Zaheer Khan - they suddenly looked dilapidated, notching up a meagre 25 runs.

Powerplays are deciding, or at least influencing, the outcome of most matches. Not just the batting Powerplay but the mandatory Powerplay at the beginning and the bowling Powerplay also demand attention. Well, why wouldn't they, for Powerplay overs take up 40% of the total overs.

The mandatory Powerplay overs
Going by the way things have shaped up over the first couple of weeks of the World Cup, it seems like we're back in the 1990s. Teams are treading with caution and are seldom willing to throw caution to the winds. While you'll always have a Sehwag to break this norm, it still remains an individual's choice and not necessarily a part of the team's strategy - unless the team is chasing over 300 runs. Scoring at 9-10 an over inside the first 10 is still an aberration, and the main culprit for this change in approach is the advent of Twenty20. Now you may think that Twenty20 should enhance risk-taking ability and quality of strokeplay, but while it may do these things, it also tells you that 50 overs is too long a game to get too eager too soon. The mantra is to keep wickets right till the end.

The bowling Powerplay
Ever wondered why most teams take the bowling Powerplay straight after the first one?

Most teams play three seam-up bowlers and the third seamer comes into play between about the 9th and 15th overs, because it's wise to introduce a quick bowler when the ball is still relatively new and might swing or seam. Only if the batting side is going at 9-10 an over without losing a wicket, then you would wait for a wicket to fall to opt for the bowling Powerplay. The older the ball, the easier it becomes (unless the ball starts reversing) for the batsman to milk the medium-pace bowlers.

Another reason for taking the bowling Powerplay immediately after the first 10 is to give you enough time to pull back things, in case the opposition cashes in. The later you leave it, the less time you have to resurrect yourself.

The batting Powerplay
The trickiest of them all. While this was introduced quite a while ago, no team can claim to have cracked its code.

Is it the timing or the approach that needs to be monitored? In my opinion, both are equally important. The ideal time to take the Powerplay is in the early 30s, provided you have two set batsmen in the middle. Teams must use these overs to build a momentum that will provide the platform for the final onslaught. Taking the Powerplay earlier would mean having to sustain the momentum for way too long, which might not be easy. Leaving it too late, like a lot of teams are doing by taking it in the 40s, may not give you enough time to build on the momentum. Also, if you take the Powerplay in the death overs, it's easier for the bowling unit, since they will have kept some overs of their best bowlers in hand till then. The idea is to employ the Powerplay to use up the five overs from the opposition's best bowlers early so that they need to resort to a lesser bowler during the death overs. Had England taken their Powerplay overs in the 30s, Zaheer may not have had enough overs left to come back towards the end.

The idea is to employ the Powerplay to use up the five overs from the opposition's best bowlers early so that they need to resort to a lesser bowler during the death overs

Now comes the approach. Most teams and batsmen feel obliged to go after the bowling after taking the batting Powerplay. While thinking along these lines is understandable, the results often leave a lot to be desired. In an attempt to up the ante batsmen are taking more risks than they can afford against the best opposition bowlers. More often than not batsmen find themselves in Catch 22 situations - they want to score quickly but don't have the license to get out. This lack of clarity in approach is leading to their downfall.

It makes things easier if the batsmen in the middle are well set. By set I don't mean both should have made 60 or more but they should have their eyes in and feet moving. I don't think it's mandatory to be in a situation where losing your wicket doesn't matter much. In fact, on the contrary, I'd take the Powerplay when the wicket matters both to the team and the batsman himself. If you haven't got the desired runs from the match, you would tread with a reasonable amount of caution. Playing proper cricket shots, while being prepared to go after balls pitched in your go-to area, is wiser.

It may not be a bad idea to set a realistic target of scoring 35-40 runs in the five overs. It's important to remember that Powerplay overs are as much about scoring quickly as about playing out the opposition's best bowlers. Also, it's wise to not approach them like the death overs, in which wickets don't matter, or like the first mandatory Powerplay overs, for bowlers have better control when the ball is old.

Finally, aren't these overs teaching fielding captains a thing or two? Dhoni knew that the only way to come into the match against England was by taking wickets, but still neither did he bring the field in nor actively seek to take wickets. Since bowlers are picking up lots of wickets consistently in the Powerplay overs, isn't it wise to be a bit more attacking most times, at least for your best bowlers? Why wait for the batting side to opt for the batting Powerplay to become attacking? That should be by default, not design.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • landl47 on March 6, 2011, 3:56 GMT

    The last paragraph of this article touches on the real issue. In fact, experience shows that the field mandated by the 2nd and 3rd powerplays is the best field for the FIELDING side. With no close catchers required and only three men out, the remaining players can be deployed in a ring saving one. Provided the bowlers can keep a good line and length, the batsmen MUST try and hit the ball over the infield to score at all. That's why so many get out in the powerplays, and why batting sides consistently leave their powerplay to the end of the innings; quite simply, it's easier to score when the field is set back than when all the singles are cut off. Fielding captains (especially Strauss) need to learn from this and place their field consistently as though they were in the 2nd and 3rd powerplay. If that happened, scores would immediately come down. Yes, there would be more sixes (which would be good) but the milking of 4 or 5 singles an over to boundary fielders would be stopped.

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 23:01 GMT

    Ireland took the batting powerplay perfectly against England - early enough to make it count and when there were two batsmen who were 'in.'

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 19:59 GMT

    Dhoni has always been a defensive captain Akash. It has costed us the test series against South Africa last December. He refuses to go for the kill. Thanks to powerplay the England game was a tie otherwise it was England all the way.

  • AsherCA on March 5, 2011, 19:00 GMT

    Best options for batting Powerplay I can think of - over # 27 - 31. Batting side could take the powerplay & bat sensibly, even 30 off 5 overs is sufficient if it means the best bowlers have come there & bowled out 5 overs with not too many wickets to show for the effort. Then, after 34, a 2nd, harder ball comes in. Most fielding captains look to bring in their best quicks at that point, looking for some swing. That means, there is 3 overs of confusion for the fielding captain (32 - 34) in between. His weaker bowlers have to come in for a very small burst.

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 17:41 GMT

    Very well thought out article......totally agree with all points discussed here, above all the finishing line "That should be by default, not design" says it all. People wrongly think that only slips are attaching fielders....All the incircle fielders esp short midwicket and short covers are the real attacking fielders during middile overs. They are right in the eyes of batsman and prevents batsman from milking runs and play freely. Finally this is best article on cricinfo that I have read. hope some team captains also pay heed to these points. IND lost 2 straight matches to SA in SA when Duminy scored around 150 runs and hit only 3 fours. Why in the world Dhoni let him milk runs so easily. Dhoni employed only 3 incircle fielders and a spectator fielder: fine leg for him. WHY? when Duminy had only hit 3 fours in 150 runs. Was he Viven Richards who was cracking every ball to fence??

  • PRASANTCMENON on March 5, 2011, 16:34 GMT

    I partially disagree with Akash. Every position has a specialist viz an opener or a middle order batsman or a pinch hitter. I feel that cracking the code is to do with having powerplay specialists. The games in which team's powerplay has clicked could be due to the presence of that man available at the crease. Against England planning powerplay while Sachin was batting was a waste. He was as such finding gaps and he is not the one who would (or should ) hit over the head of the fielder. If it was kept for Yousuf it would have been a smarter plan. So plan for your powerplay keeping your specialist in mind.

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 11:24 GMT

    Why expect teams to take the batting powerplay to avoid a certain bowler? It doesnt make sense to me. At the end of the day, you want to secure runs before you take a risk, even if it means taking singles from the same bowler. 200 runs is always a good score to take that powerplay, thats hoping you still have wickets.

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 9:09 GMT

    I disagree with the timing of the powerplays as taken by most teams. I think that teams go in with pre-decided plans and fail to change that plan according to the demands of the situation. It is even more flagrant in case of bowling powerplay. Case in point, Eng v Ind. Eng got of to a cracker, but Dhoni still took the bowling powerplay on the 11th over. Not even thinking about the possibility of slowing the opposition's moment and getting hold of the boundaries for a while, then getting the powerplay once the ball had gone a tad softer. Taking the batting powerplay immediately after the second new ball sounds nice, but I still think that the decision should be left to the batsmen in the middle.

  • dummy4fb on March 5, 2011, 8:20 GMT

    Here's a thought - take the powerplay from overs 16-20!

    Simple logic, you've had 15 overs of it and should be in the right frame of mind to just carry on. Most teams have had good starts and are in a position to dominate. The main 3 bowlers will be tired and it also leaves overs 20-40 to bowler 4/5 ie. the oppos weakest bowlers.

  • Deepkar on March 5, 2011, 8:01 GMT

    I think 35th over is best time and batsman playing should start hitting agressive shot 2 overs before they take powerplay i mean agressive not risky or arial shots so that they will be in that gear when powerplay comes, Remember when england took powerplay they had over from chawla which gave only 1 run and i think that prompted straus to take powerplay (and he gave just 2 runs in 2nd over of powerplay he should have given 4th over also which was bowled by bhajji who gave 10 or 11 runs) and if wicket falls then better send hitter whos wicket dosent matter harbhajan for example.

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