Friday, 22 August 2008

How Not To Use Powerplays

At the moment, England are half-way through their innings in the first ODI against South Africa. Usually, it is prudent to wait until the end of a game to make judgments about a team's performance. In this case, however, there is still a chance that England might bludgeon their way to a respectable total and/or bowl well enough to win the game. So I'm going to make this assessment now, with the score at 113/3.

The Powerplay overs are the best time in the game to score runs. The Powerplay concept was created to make it easier for batsmen to score runs. That is the point. A big score during these overs is a necessity in modern day cricket, a score of 78-1 at their end is a victory for bowlers regardless of the conditions. Boundaries are the key currency, both through piercing the necessarily-crowded infield and by going over it.

Today, we picked ostensibly the right opening partnership. We have Bell, a cultured strokemaker but one who is more than capable of scoring at a run a ball throughout his innings. Then we have Prior, the latest in a series of pinch-hitters being asked to emulate Adam Gilchrist, but a player who has shown the form for Sussex this season to suggest he is up to the task. So far so good.

Bell is then sent out with the express instruction of batting through the innings. I fail to see how anyone can bat in that manner without being given that instruction. Certainly not a player whose instinct is to play shots, and who has all the shots in his locker. But it happened, Bell managed to bat for 19 Powerplay overs - you know, the ones promoting aggression and boundary-hitting - without hitting a single boundary and at a strike rate of 50.72. He did lots of leaving, and lots of defending, which is against his instincts and must be part of a grand plan. And then got himself out for 35 (surely not a start which wasn't capitalised on...?) by slashing a loose ball to point. *

Let's leave aside the fact that this is the worst of both worlds for the aspiring ODI anchorman (scoring at below the optimum rate for the first 20 overs, and then getting out, leaving the "hitters" to play around each other). The mere fact that the concept of an anchorman is still alive and kicking in any major international cricket side is worrying enough. It was last tried by England at the 2007 World Cup, where it was an abject failure and relentlessly pilloried in England and internationally. These days, teams bat so deep that losing a couple of wickets at the top of the order in exchange for a higher strike rate is fine. In England's case, we have Stuart Broad (whose is being touted as a potential Test no. 6 and who has played at least one match-winning innings at ODI level) coming in at no. 9.

That means that teams can now afford to carry on attacking even when they are four or five down, because they have players lower down the order who are capable of picking up the pieces. The risks are lower, which makes the risk/reward ratio higher. If our top five got out and we were left with Bopara, Wright, Patel (admittedly unproven at this level, think Swann instead) and Broad to get us over the line, it wouldn't be great but it wouldn't be the end of the world.

The modern version of the anchorman is for one partner in any partnership to try to nudge the ball around and score at a run a ball (note to Peter Moores: this is a strike rate of 100.00), whilst the other tries to blast the boundaries (aiming for a strike rate of, say, 150.00). Then, when the blaster falls, the nudger becomes the blaster whilst the new batsman settles by nudging. Obviously it's not that simple, and nobody is suggesting that a par score in every ODI is 300, but it should be the mindset of the players involved. If you want an example of that sort of innings in action (albeit in a different format), you could do a lot worse than watch Owais Shah's innings in the Twenty20 final - it took my breath away.

It was suggested in parts of the press this week that this could be a pivotal series for Peter Moores. If he oversees a return to the darkest days of Duncan Fletcher, that might not be as silly as it sounds.

*For those of you who are interested, I thought Prior did a decent enough job with his 42 at 80.76. The timing of his dismissal wasn't great, but he was trying to hit England out of a flatline which is what he is there for.


Tim said...

Great piece - and it's equally valid despite the fantastic second half of the innings.

As you said, England picked the right opening partnership; I just do not know why Bell was so defensive. Normally he scores at around 80, which is adequate for a modern 'anchor'.

Penguinissimo said...

Yeah, well, it's been great to see how we've dug ourselves out of a hole.

But it can't obliterate the fact that the first twenty overs were appalling. SA showed us how it was done, to the extent that Pietersen had to (rightly) withhold the third powerplay. Before they lost a series of stupid wickets we looked 30-40 runs light.

Sorry to sound like a broken record, but it was interesting hearing Nick Knight on Sky (a Warkwickshire guru if ever there was one) describing Bell as a "fretter". He said Bell doesn't back himself if things are going his way, he gets down and loses focus. Summed up one of my main worries about Bell, but relevant to hear it from someone like Knight.

Chrispy said...

I don't think we should be expecting Bell to score at 100.00 every innings and every other player at 150.00! That would give par scores of getting on for 400!

80.0 is the minimum I would expect from players in my side, with some players lower down aiming for the likes of 100.00 and a few cameos of higher than that. I think Prior played fine yesterday considering the circumstances, with Bell batting slow up the other end. It was uncharacteristically slow from Bell however, as he showed against NZ that he has much more in the locker. He must have been under instruction to bat in that fashion, it is hard to see any other reason. England could well have reached 300 though had they exploited the talents of Luke Wright earlier.

I still believe that Shah is batting a place too high at three as he is not the greatest against the new ball and quicks. He would be better at four against the spinners and so he could get away from his horrible stats at three! Pietersen though wants to bat four and now he is captain will get his own way. He should be batting three though.

I must end with praise for Fred, a great innings which showed he is getting back to his best. I still think he will rightfully be back at 6 when Colli returns, though his record at five is great.

Chrispy said...

Pietersen at three would go a long way to improving the use of the powerplays I think, while Shah is better starting as a manipulator of the ball (especially spin) who can accelerate once he is settled. KP fires from the off. I hope like you that Bell bats with more gusto next match and that England pay attention to South Africa's mantra. They will need to improve if SAF recall the Morkels next match!

Penguinissimo said...

Chrispy - I know about the scoring rates, I was suggesting them as targets rather than things to be regularly achieved. But one decent partnership that does conform to that model will usually be enough to set up a good score.

I agree that KP at 4 is for his benefit rather than the team's, but just at the moment we can't begrudge him anything!

Richard Lake said...

England do tend to play the One Day game differently to other teams, preferring to score big in the last ten overs rather than the first ten. Cricinfo did some stats on this a while back and England are by far the highest scoring team at the end of a One Day innings, but lowest at the start of the game.

Flintoff and KP had licence to attack earlier due to the fact there weren't many wickets down in the early stages, so it could be said that Bell and Prior did their job in seeing off the new ball!

Bell's innings was uncharacteristically slow and I like the combination of Bell and Prior at the top of the innings. Had one of Flintoff or KP failed then there was the options of Bopara, Patel and Wright to come in and score. However, these plaers shouldn't be coming in to rebuild the innings, whcih has happened so often in the past.

Richard Lake said...

Given the siutation in the second game, I would contend that England may have judged the powerplay situation better than SA.

A big score in these overs is not a necessity if it means being 4 down at the end of the first ten overs. I'd like to see England adapt better in batting friendly conditions, but can't fault their approach at the moment

Anonymous said...

Regarding the first ODI, I think the author hasn't taken into consideration that SA bowled very well in the first part of our innings. There were very few half volleys and loose balls outside the off stump to take advantage of and sometimes you can only score as quickly as the opposition allows.

Contrast that to the third ODI and we see that even the often maligned Bell with 50 off 36 balls, 49 of which were off 24 balls, is more than capable of taking advantage of a ball that is there to be hit.