Have power plays really helped ODIs?

Have power plays really helped ODIs?

The two matches played in Bangalore this week have laid to rest doubts about the future of the 50-over format. At least for now. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has been trying to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation for the format as early as 2005, much before Twenty20 cricket became the gargantuan glamour machine it is now.

Power play (along with the now discarded super-subs rule) was introduced to liven up proceedings during the middle overs when batsmen just nurdled and deflected the ball for singles and the match and spectators alike descended into torpor.

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Power play conjures up visions of gladiator-like batsmen smacking balls out of stadia. At least, that’s how the batsmen seem to be imagining it as they perish trying to raise the scoring rate, none so spectacular as England’s collapse against India on Sunday.

England lost four wickets for 25 runs in their batting power play, easily the worst batting power play in the World Cup so far. So how do the others stack up?

One thing is clear from the numbers. Batting power plays are the most fruitful overs for batting teams. In the 15 matches so far, teams scored at an average 8.22 runs per over during this period.

That’s not surprising. However, there seems to be a strange reluctance among captains to call for the power play early. Out of the 30 innings studied, the batting power play was completed (all five overs) only 17 times.

And in 10 of the innings, the batting power play started after the 40th over. These are in any case the slog overs, when batsmen try to cut loose if they have wickets in hand. One wonders then if it’s not a waste of the power play, especially with bald pitches and small grounds, where mishits can go for a six.

Just like riskier stocks yield greater returns, this period has been most fruitful for the bowlers in terms of wickets, though that might not be necessarily due to their skill. These 17 completed power plays yielded 25 wickets, or one wicket every 21 balls. This is a far better strike rate than the mandatory power play in which the bowlers struck every 50 balls. It’s also superior to the bowling power play strike rate of 44 balls.

On the other hand, the bowling power play is the most miserly in terms of runs conceded—a paltry 4.7 runs per over. Now that could be due to the poor performance of some of the associates, but it seems a general malaise as batsmen seem to temporarily take their foot off the pedal. In 20 of the 29 completed bowling power plays, the run rate was less than the innings rate. Even in a majority of the mandatory power plays, the run rate was inferior to the innings rate. In other words, the batting in this World Cup has gone back to the old maxim of start, steady, consolidate, and keep wickets in hand to blast off towards the end. And that doesn’t solve the problem of boredom for half the innings. What next? Pink balls and four quarter-innings?

Photo by Aijaz Rahi/AP; graphic by Sandeep Bhatnagar/Mint

Respond to this column at ravi.k@livemint.com