Monday, 24 November 2008

In praise of the batting power play

The latest ICC amendment to the One Day International playing conditions looks like being a hit with spectators and batsmen, if not bowlers.

The batting power play is cricket’s best new regulation for some time. It might not be as significantly game-changing as the expanded third umpire referral system, but its introduction represents a much-needed fillip for 50 over cricket and shows the law-makers do take spectator enjoyment into consideration.

The new system needs tinkering. There is a grey area surrounding the element of choice involved – what happens if fielding team and batting team want to take their power play at the same time?

The current convention is for the fielding captain to tag his power play onto the first 10 overs of compulsory fielding restrictions, with the batting side targeting a spell two thirds through the innings, around the time of the mandatory ball change at 34 overs.

However, a flying start by the batting team might prompt them to call for their power play at the same time the fielding captain does; whose power play it is is important, as the state of the game might be very different after 15 overs – either side might not want to choose their power play at that stage.

Bowling changes also need to be looked at. It is part of the cat-and-mouse nature of the rule for the batting team to pounce on a part-time bowler by commencing five overs of fielding restrictions; for the fielding captain to stand down a fill-in bowler at the start of his run-up in favour of his star man goes against the spirit of the new regulation.

These are mere teething problems. The meandering middle overs of a One Day innings have been instantly enlivened and a new tactical dimension is introduced. Big hitters can now reside at four and five in the batting order rather than as openers or number seven sloggers – it is the licence Andrew Flintoff has needed to play his natural game, although as Kevin Pietersen’s power play go-to bowler, he must curse the new regulation.

India’s current superiority over England might persuade them to try new batting power play tactics – as soon as possible as mentioned above if Virender Sehwag is in full flight, or at the death if Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan are new to the crease – although the ease with which teams score in the batting power play asks some interesting questions.

Why do England remain so incapable of utilising the 10 overs of compulsory power play? Why do all batsmen not play with more freedom at all times? Is limited overs cricket heading towards a full innings of fielding restrictions? These queries suggest the batting power play is here to say and not about to join the Supersub on the ICC scrapheap of abandoned regulations.


Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.

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