Attack with the new ball, don't lose momentum in the middle: where the 2023 World Cup could be won

No clear favourites and the vast range of conditions in India mean the 2023 edition is deliciously set up to intrigue - but there remain some things that have brought teams success of late. Here's a rundown

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Not on boundary countback. This World Cup will not be won that way, given the change in rules.
That low blow out of the way, this is an intriguing World Cup not least because it is the most open one since Australia started making a mockery of the tournament in 2003. Because of this even field, the vast range of conditions in India, the unavailability of teams' best XIs at various points in the years between the World Cups, and the recency of trends, it is extremely difficult to bridge the gap between cricket the story and cricket the sport.
Still there are certain things that can inform our understanding of what the teams are trying to do to win matches in this World Cup. For starters, they are not bowling spin early. There's a good reason for it. The new white ball seems to be doing more. More so in India. And for longer. What used to be some shape for one or two overs is now considerable seam and swing for about eight overs in India.
That's why you will see bowling teams attacking wholeheartedly in the early exchanges. More so when they are defending, because under floodlights - and before the dew kicks in - is the best time to bowl in India these days. The average cost of a wicket in the first ten overs in matches between the sides playing this World Cup has been 31 and 32 the last two years. In 2019, it was 41. The last time the new-ball bowlers had so much for two years in a row was way back in 2005 and 2006.
It is great that most teams are blessed with some pretty good seam and swing bowlers who can make use of the new ball. It will be interesting to see if the batters will look to be watchful or counterattack, as we saw Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill do in their second Asia Cup match against Pakistan after they struggled in the first.
India and Australia, in fact, have been leading the way against the new ball in recent times. No side has scored as quickly in the first ten overs across the past year or so as Australia and India have: 7.26 and 6.61, respectively.

Not leaving it late in the big chases

If they are chasing a big total, expect the batters to meet fire with fire. Himanish Ganjoo, cricket analyst and an ESPNcricinfo contributor, has worked out that teams of late are not leaving themselves too much to do in tall chases. There is strong data to support it. Since 2016, in successful chases of above 300, the run rate of the winning side has tended to remain uniform, while the sides batting first have tended to increase their run rate only gradually.
It perhaps flies in the face of conventional understanding that anything is possible with wickets in hand in the last 20 overs. In fact, teams batting second have been okay with losing wickets if they can keep abreast with the asking rate: looking at high totals, the first three wickets of sides batting first contribute 60% of the runs, but only about half in the second innings. The sixth and seventh wickets play a bigger role in chases, which is probably why you see sides valuing depth so much.
If this informs a chasing strategy, is there something to be gleaned by the fielding side too? In the lead-up the World Cup, I asked Ian Bishop and Tom Moody if it would be smart to try to choke early through spin, and then have seam bowlers operating when the dew is in and the asking rate is high. They both went for the conventional wisdom: wickets. Go for what will get you wickets. If the recent trend of the ball gripping in the second innings continues, it will only support the conventional wisdom.

Win the middle overs - a key to success

As ever, teams that do better in the middle overs tend to win. That's why you see batters like Virat Kohli press more in the middle overs than they did before. That's why you see focus on point-of-difference bowlers who can pick up wickets through the middle overs. These are the overs where England seem to be making up for sedate starts with the bat, and after non-penetrative new-ball spells. Their spinners have a decent strike rate, the fourth-best between the two World Cups.
It might not show in the numbers because the two haven't played that much together, but two highly uncommon bowlers in Kuldeep Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah give India a big advantage in the middle overs. And still they might have cause for concern if the pitches keep offering spinners some grip: their batters have not been great against fingerspin.
If India and Australia are great in the early goings, they can stutter in the middle overs. England and South Africa are superb from 11 to 50, but they are not the best with - and against - the new ball. Pakistan might have the best pace attack, but they need to make up for lukewarm numbers of their spinners, and also the middle order.
The difficult pitches worked a treat for the 2019 World Cup, but it was also a predictable World Cup in terms of tactics: stable start, mid-overs press, extreme pace, and wristspin. This one is more deliciously set up in its unpredictability and the variety of tactics available, especially given how much the conditions tend to change through the course of a match in India.
Keep your eyes and ears open. It's going to be a wild one.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo