January 27, 2017

No target tall enough

The new fielding regulations in ODIs may well have forced teams to adopt a strategy that's more likely to succeed in tall chases
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Teams are scoring at a faster clip in the middle overs of ODIs than before © AFP

While ODIs have seen mammoth totals being blitzed up for a while now, the series between India and England produced a couple of matches in which the chasing team posted scores in excess of 350 runs. After India chased down a target of 351 in the first ODI, England fell just 16 runs short of 382 in the second. No too long ago there was another match in which South Africa chased down a target of 372, against Australia in Durban.

These instances, perhaps, are extreme manifestations of a trend that has emerged recently: since the new fielding restrictions have come into play, teams are running chases of 300-plus targets closer than they earlier managed to. Top ODI teams have successfully chased down targets of 300-plus ten times out of 37 since July 2015. There was only one such successful chase in 14 innings in the 2015 World Cup - a series in which the odds favoured batsmen, with flat tracks adding to the then existing fielding regulations. (Only three fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle during five overs of batting Powerplay, and only four were allowed in the last ten overs). Admittedly, however, it would be unfair to consider the World Cup matches for comparison, since the pressure of the big stage would only worsen the chances for teams chasing such big totals. But even in the period from October 2012 - when the previous fielding restrictions were introduced - to just before the World Cup, teams chasing such targets only won or tied in nine out of 53 attempts.

The trend is stronger if we also take into account matches where teams have managed to come close to the targets, even if they haven't been successful at chasing them down. Out of the 37 times that teams have had to chase 300-plus since the new fielding regulations, on 18 occasions they have either won or lost after scoring at least 90% of the target. That's almost every other attempt (a percentage of 48.65). In the period from October 2012 until the World Cup, there were 19 such chases in 61 matches. While teams have run close or chased down targets of 325-plus in seven out of just 19 instances since July 2015, there were only eight such instances in 41 matches from October 2012 to June 2015.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Also, these chases haven't been limited to any particular host country or team. Of the 18 chases since July 2015 where teams have successfully reached 300-plus targets or lost after scoring 90% or more of such targets, four each have come in Australia, South Africa and India, three in England, two in Zimbabwe and one in Bangladesh. Among the top teams, Sri Lanka are the only ones to not come close to chasing a target of 300-plus in this period. As expected, teams like India, England and South Africa, who are strong while chasing, have had greater success than others.

300-plus chases: Wins and close matches, venue country-wise since Jul '15
Host Country Close chases/Wins 300-plus targets
 South Africa  4  5
 India  4  6
 Australia  4  7
 England  3  8
 Zimbabwe  2  2
 Bangladesh  1  1
 West Indies  0  1
 New Zealand  0  2
 Sri Lanka  0  2
 UAE  0  3

300-plus chases: Wins and close matches, team-wise since Jul '15
Team Close chases/Wins 300-plus targets
 India  5  6
 England  3  5
 Australia  3  6
 South Africa  2  3
 Zimababwe  1  1
 Bangladesh  1  2
 New Zealand  1  3
 West Indies  1  4
 Pakistan  1  5
 Sri Lanka  0  2

Given that fielding restrictions were more batsman-friendly from October 2012 to June 2015, it seems counter-intuitive that teams should be chasing down big targets more often since the new rules came into being. After all, there hasn't been a corresponding significant increase in totals of 300-plus when teams bat first. Teams batting first have made scores of 300 or more in 34 of the 122 ODIs since July 2015, as compared to 77 such scores from 280 ODIs in the period from October 2012 to June 2015 - a relatively marginal increase of 4.69% (1.3% in absolute terms).

Totals of 300-plus & 325-plus batting first
Period 300-plus scores %age increase 325-plus scores %age increase
 Since July 2015  36  28.79  18  14.39
 Oct '12 to Jun '15  77  27.50  41  14.64

One plausible reason is that teams have realised that with five fielders in the deep and the opposition's best death bowlers bowling, they can't leave too much of the work for the last ten overs of the chase and so have tried to score as many as they can in the middle overs too. Consequently, they have been able to keep the required rate in sight towards the business end of the chase more often than earlier, and have been less prone to crumbling under the pressure of the fall of a wicket or two. Teams batting first - without the benefit of knowing what a good score is on any given wicket - are still unwilling to take too many risks early in the innings and prefer to save up wickets for the last 10-15 overs. The new fielding restrictions have possibly forced a more definitive change in chasing teams' strategies than in those of teams that bat first.

The change in approach is evident, especially in overs 11 to 30, from the table below. Earlier, teams used overs 11 to 30 as a period of retreat and consolidation before a frenetic scoring effort in the final 10-15 overs. Since July 2015, though, the approach has changed: teams play a significantly lower percentage of dots and hit more boundaries in these overs. The difference is stark in overs 11 to 20: teams play 30.76% fewer dot balls (12% in absolute terms) and take nearly 1.5 fewer balls per boundary than before.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

As a result, teams these days are able to keep the required rate in check through the middle overs, and are scoring at closer to the required rate as they approach the 31st over. As seen in the chart below, the average difference between teams' required rate and the scoring rate drops down to as low as sub-0.60 runs per over around the 28th from a high of only 0.87 runs per over after the tenth over. For innings before July 2015, the difference actually reached a high of 1.2 runs an over around the 28th over. For instance, at the end of the 28th over teams previously were likely to be scoring at an average of 5.8 runs per over, with the asking rate at 7.0. Since July 2015, however, they are likely to be scoring at a rate of 6.4.

This new approach has meant that teams often have reasonable asking rates to score at in the last ten to 15 overs, and therefore the chances of them pulling off such chases are significantly better. Earlier they waited for the last ten to 15 overs to do the bulk of scoring, which used to leave them with improbable asking rates towards the end of the chase. Not surprisingly, there were fewer successes earlier.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

These changes in scoring patterns indicate that teams - by design or otherwise - have adopted a strategy where they keep the asking rate in sight throughout the innings rather than building up for a big finish at the death. Early evidence suggests this strategy is helping them pull off big chases more often than earlier. Teams can be expected to push the envelope and set new standards in the near future. Even 350 might not be a safe total anymore.

* Numbers correct up to India-England ODI series

Shiva Jayaraman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo.com. @shiva_cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • richcricketguru on January 29, 2017, 0:04 GMT

    This is a good analysis by Shiva informed by the evidence instead of pure opinion or bias. It suggests that the method of loading up with all-rounders and late order hitters, as in Australia's case, will be a good approach when batting first but not so good when batting second. Alternatively, with India, who has mainly skillful stroke playing batsman in the 50 over format, they should be much better chasing than batting first, on average. India can keep up a consistently high run-rate throughout the innings and chase anything down compared to Australia who you might expect to have more lower and higher scoring overs and get into trouble chasing bigger totals. T20 is completely different where as many hitters as possible are best, except if you have Kholi! Would be good to have this all checked by Shiva.

  • cricfan77406353 on January 28, 2017, 21:24 GMT

    I think this PSL should give Pak 2 middle order solid hard hitting batsman so that they can b successful in chasing 350 targets otherwise its end of road in LOI for PAK

  • cricfan61646232 on January 28, 2017, 11:19 GMT

    Thicker bats, two new balls, field restrictions, shorter boundries,tough over rate to maintain. All these factors are taking toll on bowlers. Soon you will see 11 batsmen on one side and bowling machines on the other

  • murali4 on January 28, 2017, 1:13 GMT

    This is a wonderfully oversimplified analysis. Teams plan targets based on situations and field restrictions, isn't it :)

  • Maverick2 on January 27, 2017, 23:45 GMT

    Simply laying it on the decline of bowling and hyping the batting prowess. In fact the statistics clearly indicates that death bowling has improved. With the 2 new ball there is nothing for the bowlers beyond 10th over. Batsmen are playing safe in the first few over and capitalizing on the weak rules. Aus and India are already on the chasers club. The new recruits Eng, NZ and SA are excited about. I doubt Pakistan and Srilanka may ever join the club. 2 New ball effectively killed the variety of skills on display in a 50 Overs game. Its Just an extension T20 game. ICC has to decide whether ODI has to be different format of partial boring episodes or exciting 50 overs as an extension of T20. If it second, then better to scrape the ODI which is taxing the players altogether and give International window to BBL, CPL ad PSL which will add context to the game and generate more revenue.

  • rohans_devils on January 27, 2017, 21:11 GMT

    just goes on to show that the changes made to have 5 fielders outside the ring in the last 10 overs have made the batsmen take more chances in the middle overs thus making it interesting and more fun to watch than earlier.

  • cricfan11328451 on January 27, 2017, 16:02 GMT

    I feel T20 version of cricket has more impact on ODI ones, previously last 5 overs n 1st 10 overs were crucial,after T20 habits batting first go for start, middle overs n last 10 have become all important hence 300+ scores r made n chased too.

  • cricfan90377000 on January 27, 2017, 13:52 GMT

    Very good read, but I think one thing that has been left out that might explain all the numbers is batting depth. in 300+ chases, we need to look at number of capable batsmen left. its not so much wickets in hand as batsmen remaining. if there are 4 bowlers who cant bat there there are only really 7 batsmen. and if there are more all rounders in the tail the middle order have more confidence, taking more risks and scoring more runs.

  • HadesLogic on January 27, 2017, 13:13 GMT

    I think I heard some Aus commentators mention that ICC is looking at bringing the 1 ball rule playing condition back along with some improvement in the balls to make them last longer. The current game is just too loaded in favour of batsman to be interesting unless the pitch offers something to to bowlers.

  • DrJez on January 27, 2017, 12:23 GMT

    Excellent analysis. There was years of debate about how to make overs 11-30 more interesting - the "boring" overs when batsman used to play safe at 4 or 5 rpo. It was this perceived weakness in 50-over cricket that fuelled the rise in popularity of T20, which simply cut out the middle overs, and might even have killed off ODIs completely. Now teams are realising that, with batting depth, these overs can be used more effectively, and this seems to have led to resurgence in popularity of 50-over cricket. I think this has as much to do with a change in mentality than a change in regulations, as perhaps best exemplified by England's dramatic ODI transformation over the last 18 months.

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