Sunday, August 31, 2014

Start well in an ODI, but then build!

The idea of building a solid platform on which to build a team innings in a One Day International has a credible logic to it - though it does only seem to be England that obsessively believes this - certainly when batting first. As England keeps losing these matches it does suggest that the tactic is flawed!

At Trent Bridge yesterday England reached 82 before, in the eighteenth over, they lost their first wicket. At that moment the run rate was 4.55 per over. The run rate then subsided and only a brief late assault by James Tredwell restored it to where it had been by the close of the innings.  Chasing a modest total of 228 India reached an identical score to England in their eighteenth over - but then they were chasing and the case for pacing the innings was clear. India knew that only the loss of wickets could lead to an improbable defeat - and they weren't going to let that happen!

Coincidentally at Cardiff India, batting first, was also 82 in the eighteenth over - though for the loss of two rather than one wicket. At Cardiff India had that platform and unlike England at Trent Bridge they used it. 4.50 became just of over 6.00 by the end of the 50 overs. That said it was only in the last fifteen overs that India really charged along moving from 156-4 (4.45) after 35 to 304 after 50.

The point of this is that a platform is only handy if you use it, it is not an end in itself. And also that if your plan, batting first, is to score 300 runs it doesn't really matter how you do it. And up to a point wickets don't matter either. If you are all out for 300 off the final ball that is just as good as being 300-2. So you might as well (a) pace your innings over the 50 overs and (b) not matter too much if you regularly lose wickets. One of the great truisms of cricket is that it "doesn't matter how the runs come, so long as they come". Which brings me to opening batsmen.

In a Test match an opening batsman can bat for ever - and you hope he does. If one of them scores 150 in a day and a half and the players at the other end chip in decent scores rather more quickly you're likely to be knocking on 400 by lunch on the second day - which is fine especially if you haven't lost too many wickets.  One Day games are different. Alastair Cook had a strike rate of 67 when he was out - OK, but no cigar. Even the exuberant Alex Hales took 55 balls over his 42.  Over the innings as a whole not one England player, Tredwell aside, had a strike rate of over 80. Bar Dhawan  all of India's batsmen achieved this. And that is the point. Pacing the innings means pacing it over the full allocation of overs.

In the recent ODI between Australia and South Africa in Harare in which South Africa chased down 328 to win the scores after eighteen overs were Australia, batting first, 92-0 and South Africa chasing 106-2. The Proteas had lost a couple of wickets but they had 14 more runs – not crucial but a signal that they were on for the chase and the loss of wickets could be accommodated.

At Trent Bridge England had a platform at 82-1 and a confident Captain would have said right let’s up the pace a bit and have brought in Jos Buttler or Eoin Morgan at that point. But no - the predetermined batting order couldn't be changed and Ian Bell (ODI strike rate 76.02) came in and predictably batted stodgily for 38 balls scoring 28 without a boundary. Sport is often about symbolism – and about showing your confidence. Would Buttler or Morgan have succeeded up the order – who knows? But it would have showed we meant business and given India something to think about.

The best ODI teams capitalise on good starts and recover form poor ones. They play eleven-man cricket and never assume that the job is done – or lost. Remember that great achievement by India at Lord’s in 2002 when they chased down 326 having been 146-5 at the fall of Tendulkar’s wicket in the 24th over?

The argument here is not not to try and get a decent start – which England had yesterday – but if you do get it to use it! If you are 82-1 after eighteen the opposition will be a bit on the back foot and that is the time not to “consolidate” but to capitalise. That requires confidence and the ability to be flexible – especially in respect of your batting order. Cook was at the crease when Hales was out yesterday. Against Raina (27 ODI wickets in 193 matches) and the novice Rayudu he had the chance to assert himself, but he did the opposite and then got out. 

No comments: