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South Africa and India head to World Cup with an enviable middle-order

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Last updated on 30 Sep 2023 | 07:36 AM
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South Africa and India head to World Cup with an enviable middle-order

Wonder which team has the best middle-order (4-7)? Stop wondering!

In this piece, we have come up with our own set of metrics that helps to understand which are the best middle-order units in world cricket. 

Of course, amongst the teams that are present in the 2023 ODI World Cup. Unless stated specifically, all the data are from the end of the 2019 ODI World Cup till 22nd September 2023. 

South Africa, the overall best middle-order

Let’s start with the most generic of the list: the best middle-order unit going into the World Cup is drumroll!! South Africa. It is a shocker for people who aren’t following the Proteas closely. 

But for the ones who have followed, South Africa’s middle-order is perhaps the most well-balanced batting unit across the board. Not only do they have the best average (43.6), but they also possess the best run-rate across the ten qualified teams (6.3). 

India, though, aren’t too far behind, giving the Proteas middle-order a solid competition. India’s middle-order have a run rate of (5.8) and an average of 37.9 per wicket. That’s the second-best number in world cricket post the 2019 World Cup. 

New Zealand round up the top three sides with a run-rate (5.8) and a steady average of 36.8, with a solid left-right mix in their batting unit. Unfortunately, despite a white-ball revolution, England’s middle-order is only the fourth-best in the overall metric. 

Sri Lankan middle-order's vulnerability against pacers

South Africa’s middle-order have shown no respite to pace units in the last four years; the numbers are just living proof. There is almost a + 0.2 difference between them and the second-best team - Pakistan - regarding run-rate against pace. 

In terms of average, the Proteas are +7.2 runs better than England (37.9) and + 8.9 runs better than India. Interestingly, Australia, who are supposed to be good against pace, are not even close to competing with the top teams with an average of 35.8 and a run-rate of 5.9, a middling return on a list where they used to top at some point in the past consistently. 

Also Read: Fire, Ecstasy - Miyan Magic sweeps Colombo off its feet

Sri Lanka’s record against pace has been highly questionable. Them being blown away by Mohammed Siraj wasn’t an aberration, it was quite on the expected lines. Their run-rate (5.5) and average (27.6) are both below the mean among the World Cup teams. Only the Dutch are below the island nation.

India cautious, but Proteas take spin head-on

Expect a lot of spin in India. And whichever team plays spin well are bound to have success. It isn’t surprising to see India top the list for having the best average against spin (51.6), and a large part of that success should be attributed to the likes of Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant. 

While India take a conscious approach to tackle spin, South Africa are yet again the most attacking team. Surprisingly or not, South Africa’s run-rate against spin for middle-order batters is the best (6.3). England are second (5.9), with India rounding up the top three (5.8). 

Also Read: Welcome to the brutal world of Heinrich Klaasen

Teams such as Australia - an average of 30.1 - and Sri Lanka - run-rate of 5.2 - will come under increasing pressure during the 2023 tournament in India. 

Afghanistan languish at the bottom (4.6 RR and 26.2 average) in both aspects and would need their middle-order to step up big time if they do not want the 2019 fate upon them. 

How about non-Asian teams in Asia?

Evidently, England top the list when it comes to middle-order success in Asian conditions - both overall and against spin. In fact, England’s average (43.7) and run-rate (6.1) are substantially better than others against spin. 

That’s perhaps the only segment which hurts South Africa. South Africa’s middle-order have had middling numbers in Asian conditions. Overall, their middle-order averages (30.7) in Asian conditions, and their run-rate of 5.4 against spin is fourth-best for non-Asian teams. 

Who finds the boundaries consistently? 

The hallmark of a good middle-order is their ability to find boundaries at ease. That’s one of the key differentiators among the batting units heading into the World Cup. South Africa are tied as the best with England, and perhaps that’s what differentiates these two teams from the others.

While South Africa and England's middle-order find a boundary every 8.8 deliveries, it takes other batting units - New Zealand (9.4) and India (9.5) - more deliveries than them. That’s a major cause of Bangladesh’s downfall (13). 

They might be tied on balls per boundary (overall), but when it comes to middle-order in overs 11-40, there is NONE BETTER IN WORLD CRICKET than South Africa (50.1 average, 5.9 run-rate). 

South Africa’s key to success - a solid No.4 and 5

Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller - pick any name, they are integral to South Africa’s success. That’s perhaps one of the biggest reasons South Africa’s No.4 and No.5 batters stand out. There is a gulf of difference between them (52.9) and the second-placed sides, India and England (40.1). 

What are the other middle-orders?

That’s also one of the areas where teams such as Australia and Pakistan have been affected the most. Their No.4 and No.5 batters combine to average only 30.6, ranking above Afghanistan and the Netherlands heading into the World Cup. 

So, who averages the best?

We have a filter, and we definitely need one to compare. Amongst middle-order batters (Min: 300 runs), Rassie van der Dussen averages the best (73.91), and that shouldn’t really come as a shock. 

But guess what, four out of the top five middle-order batters are Proteas. YUP!! There’s one Indian - KL Rahul (63.94) - sandwiched right in between the four Proteas. While Miller averages 60.71, Markram (48.35) and Klaasen (51.05) are on either side of the 50 mark. 

New Zealand lean left, Netherlands stay firm right

Having a left-hander in the middle-order has become a prerequisite for a team’s success. Almost all the teams in this year’s World Cup have at least one left-hander in the middle contributing to their success, and some have two to make for a riveting balance. 

New Zealand have two left-handers - Tom Latham and Mitchell Santner - in their first-choice playing XI, and that’s obvious from the numbers. The Blackcaps have the best average for left-handers in the middle-order (36.6), and the Netherlands average the worst (8.7). 

India aren’t the best (33.4) but have a prime option in the form of Ishan Kishan. By including the 25-year-old Kishan in the playing XI, India solve one of their long-standing problems: a left-handed presence in the middle-order. However, sides like Pakistan and Australia have suffered greatly because of the presence of just one-two left-handers in the middle-order. Netherlands go into this ODI World Cup with none in the middle. 

Maxwell, Buttler, Klaasen all key to their respective sides

New Zealand first leant left, and now are right where it needs to be when it comes to finishing in the final ten overs of an ODI innings. Amongst the qualified teams for the World Cup, the BlackCaps’ uncanny ability to score quickly at the back end of the innings has seen them score at 9.5 (best), with England just behind (9.4). 

And when it comes to personnel during the end overs (41-50), no one in ODI cricket over the last four years has a better strike-rate (240) than India’s Rishabh Pant. Only Glenn Maxwell (185.9) and Jos Buttler (185.6) come close to Pant. 

Klaasen (177.4) is close as well, and that’s what gives the Proteas a lot of confidence heading into the World Cup in India. 

South Africa’s middle-order has excelled in almost all possible tests, but their biggest test - the 2023 ODI World Cup - is still pending. If they pass that with flying colours, don’t be surprised to see Temba Bavuma's side lift their maiden ICC title.

Schedule for 2023 ODI World Cup

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