Since its introduction at the international level as a 3-day match between the U.S.A. and Canada on 24 September 1844, cricket has gone through many reforms. Even though rules have been modified in all the formats, the change in ODI cricket has been surreal.
The change in the kind of balls used, in fielding restrictions, and various other factors like better batting decks and thicker bats have made the job easier for batsmen in the modern era. At the same time, the credit also goes to the batsmen for becoming more innovative and improving their attacking game with time. Here is an analysis on the evolution of batting in ODI cricket.
Progression in each World Cup cycle
A World Cup generally takes place once in four years. Examining batting numbers in each World Cup cycle can give us a fair idea to know how the batting has evolved over the years. A World Cup cycle is the period between two consecutive World Cups. For example, the 2015-19 World Cup cycle is the period after the World Cup 2015 and till the end of the World Cup 2019.
The average increased to 32.38 in the 2015-19 cycle which was 28.28 in the inaugural cycle – an overall difference of 41 runs per 10 wickets. Similarly, run rate wise, an overall difference of 70 runs per 50 overs is obtained on comparing the same sets of the World Cup cycles.
In the first eight World Cup cycles (till the World Cup 2003), there had been 149 occasions of a team scoring 300 or more runs, constituting 8.37% of the total completed innings played in the timeframe. In contrast, in the 2019 World Cup cycle, the teams breached the 300-mark on 207 instances, constituting 49.64% of the total completed innings.
Evolution in terms of batting-order
Batting at each position brings a different challenge. At the top of the order, a moving new ball can test the batsmen. On the other hand, the middle-order batsmen have to be capable of adapting to different match situations.
There is a significant increase in strike rates and averages of batsmen irrespective of the batting-position. In the 1971-75 World Cup cycle, the average for the top-order batsmen was 34.31 which rose to 39.12 in the 2015-19 cycle. For the upper and lower middle-order batsmen, the averages increased to 35.4 and 26.07 from 26.64 and 22.21 respectively.
The batsmen have continuously flourished as the numbers suggest. Despite this fact, the percentage of runs scored by the top-order, upper and lower middle-order batsmen of the total runs scored by all batsmen has not changed a lot. For the top-order batsmen, this percentage was about 52% in the first World Cup cycle, and in the 2015-19 World Cup cycle, it decreased to about 49% only. The story remains the same for upper and lower middle-order batsmen. For the upper and lower middle-order batsmen, the contribution percentages increased to 26.01% and 15.78% from 22.55% and 15.04% respectively.
Change in Approach, phase-wise:
In the early days of ODI cricket, many players took it as a shorter version of a Test match. At the beginning of the innings, players took time to build an innings. However, the introduction of the fielding restrictions, in the form of various powerplays, since the 1992 World Cup, changed the dynamics. The teams took advantage of the fielding restrictions to score quickly. Since the Mark Greatbatch experiment paid off in the 1992 World Cup, the role of openers changed.
The powerplay restrictions have been overhauled – as many as six times – over the years. Comparing the scoring rates in various phases gives us a fair idea of the effect of the fielding restrictions.
The phase-wise scoring rates have consistently risen in each duration except for three phases – in the powerplay and in the death overs from 01 October 2011 to 29 October 2012, and in the death overs from 26 June 2015 onwards. From 1 October 2011 to 29 October 2012, the drop in the powerplay run rate could be due to the introduction of two new balls for the first time. Also, a fewer number of matches in this short time frame might fail to give a clear picture as well. From 26 June 2015 onwards, in the death overs, the scoring rate has decreased because of five fielders outside the ring in this phase.
How batting first and chasing targets have evolved over the years?
The general perception is that chasing is easier in comparison to setting a target in modern-day limited-overs cricket. It is correct overall. The win percentage of the team batting first was higher than that of the team batting second in just three out of the first-eight World Cup cycles. However, in the last four cycles, the win percentage of the team batting first has been higher than that of the chasing team just once and that too by a very little margin.
The interesting case is of Day-Night matches. Dew in the outfield at night makes bowling difficult which in turn helps the chasing team. However, if the breeze in the night aids the movement of the ball, it might trouble the batsmen. In the Day-Night games, the captains have been generally reluctant to chase, however, the percentage of the teams opting to field first in the last two World Cup cycles has increased.
The Day-Night matches were first introduced in the 1979-83 World Cup cycle. Since then, the win percentage of the chasing teams has been higher than that of the team batting first in four out of ten World Cup cycles. And, in three out of those four instances, the difference is not huge.
Chasing targets has its advantages and disadvantages and the teams are getting better at it with time, particularly in Day-Night matches.
On 19 June 2018 at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, England, while batting first, piled up 481 runs at an incredible run rate of 9.62, against Australia. To put that into the context, the highest run rate in an ODI innings, among all the 300+ totals till 1990, was 7.40. The storm drawn by the English batters on that day encapsulated the evolution of batting in ODI cricket.
From being a shorter version of Test cricket, ODI cricket evolved as a bridge between Test and T20 cricket, and now it has become an extension of T20s.
As of now, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that ODI is the easiest format for batsmen. In Test cricket, it is hard to succeed across different conditions. In T20 cricket, the batsmen are under continuous pressure to score runs at a quicker rate. In ODI cricket, a batsman can take his time before attacking in every phase of the innings.
To be a successful top-order batsman in ODIs, a batsman should have the ability to build an innings. For the lower middle-order batsmen, their work gets easier in comparison to the T20s because they generally have enough time to do their job. The emerging trends are that the teams are attacking right from the word go and are flexible with the batting order depending on the match situations, and could be taken on to the next level in the upcoming time.