Current ODI fielding restrictions are having unexpected consequences on teams’ run-rates in the 10-over Powerplay – and making quality allrounders more crucial than ever.
One of the fascinations of the 2017 Champions Trophy has been how lower scoring matches have been managed by the team batting second. While Sri Lanka (v India) and Bangladesh (v New Zealand) pulled off remarkable comebacks after losing wickets early in their chases, Pakistan wobbled almost continually against Sri Lanka and managed to get over the line with help from the generosity of the Sri Lankan fielders. Meanwhile New Zealand came unstuck against England through a combination of a slow start and an overdependence on their Nos. 3 and 4.
In this tournament most sides have tended to adopt a more traditional approach to one-day batting than in the 2015 World Cup. Perhaps they found the sun-drenched tracks of Australia and New Zealand more conducive to free scoring. But in reality, only Cardiff has offered any variable bounce, with sides having joy bowling the ball into the wicket back of a good length – and as England have shown in the last 18 months – there’s actually nothing about their home conditions these days that prevents big totals. Maybe the iffy weather has played a part. Or perhaps the reason that England have had more success than other teams lies elsewhere.
Eoin Morgan has made no secret of the fact that England’s preference is to bat second and chase a total – backing their batting (the team’s primary strength) to haul in whatever they’re set.
So far they’ve managed to make chasing look simpler than other teams due to the quality and depth of their batting line-up and the simplicity of their approach.
Set a stiffer-than-expected 306 to win by Bangladesh in the tournament opener, the hosts made light work of the task, closing the game out with 16 balls to spare with the loss of just two wickets as Joe Root compiled a wonderful unbeaten 133 from 129 balls.
Having batted first against New Zealand, they were back to chasing a target against Australia, where their refusal to row back from their aggressive game-plan worked wonders. After losing their top three cheaply the ginger duo of Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes scored freely to set up a comfortable D/L win.
While other nations have built their innings along the more traditional ‘solid platform’ model, England have managed to remove some of the nerves from their chases by backing their ability to score quickly – as far as possible pretty much ignoring the scoreboard.
In this regard they’re following the trend of the last couple of years and taking advantage of the tougher fielding restrictions – which keep just four fielders outside the 30-yard circle for overs 11-40. These conditions are what have made way for so many 350+ scores in the past year or so in ODIs.
But perhaps the 2017 Champions Trophy highlights how the impact of that regulation might be evolving. When the middle overs are so batsman-friendly and boundary-heavy, the relative importance of the 10-over Powerplay is diminished, as boundaries are likely to come throughout the innings. At the same time, the free-scoring middle overs have put a higher premium on wicket-taking for the bowling side. So teams are less able to settle for a compromise option as their fifth bowler: they need frontline wicket-taking options throughout because taking wickets is, more than ever, the surest way to restricting a total. But that means batting line-ups are shorter: a batsman who bowls a bit cannot be relied upon for 10 overs anymore. Therefore, with a shorter batting line-up, the importance of a ‘steady’ start that sets a platform and preserves wickets – as India have done well throughout CT17 – has come back to the fore.
This was most starkly in evidence during South Africa’s defeat to India, when Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock managed just 39 from the first 10 overs. De Kock’s strike-rate – 93.89 over the course of his career – was down at 66.87 in this tournament – a surprising statistic for a batsman who loves to play his shots against the new ball. When South Africa attempted to up the rate they then came unstuck.
All of which highlights the importance of England’s quality all-rounders. The presence of Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali – frontline bowlers and batsmen – as well as of the batting firepower of Jos Buttler as wicketkeeper, allows them to combine a wicket-taking attack with a deep, powerful batting order. That in turn frees up their top order to bat without inhibition.
Of course, saying that allrounders are important in one-day cricket is hardly an earth-shattering insight. But it could be that re-shaping and modernising the game through new rules and regulations might eventually produce less revolutionary results than we once thought.
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