When Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana harassed bowlers in the 1996 World Cup, power-play was a term unheard of. In fact such was their calculated assault on the opposition bowlers that it became fashionable in ODI cricket to have big hitters coming top of the order. Prior to that you would have some blitzkrieg in the last ten and try stretching the score. But that tournament changed it all – afterwards, teams would hit out in the beginning and then in the end, leaving drab batsmen to run the twos and threes in the middle overs.
When Twenty20 came along, invariably those very middle overs were the problem. For they encouraged snooze fests and fans wanted something exciting – like getting those fours and sixes through the innings. Someone in the ICC then thought up the ploy of batting and bowling power-plays, an idea that was reformed to its present day version and voila, spectator interest was somewhat back. People wonder what would be the 2011 World Cup remembered for, because each tournament should leave behind a definitive legacy. The one and only answer being how, again and again, the batting power-play became such a vicious question for teams to answer.
You don’t have to look further than England for a team that has had its fortunes so overturned by the batting power-play. They have been on the receiving end of the willow – as it were – on more than one occasion during those five overs, and very rarely have they benefitted from it. It allowed the Dutch and the Indians to set imposing totals for them to chase. And while against the former their batsmen were able to sight the victory line, the Indian bowlers unwound their mammoth efforts scalping four wickets.
The same damage was done by the South African bowlers who gave them 21 runs in exchange for 3 wickets. But they were able to turn it around and obliterate the Proteas’ chase, who themselves lost 3 wickets for 8 runs.
It probably sums up the tournament England have had so far; that it doesn’t make much sense and, more often than not, betrays the form book. They are the only side in the competition having had full use of their power-play in four different innings and it sets a standard in turn as to what can be done with these five overs. When armed with wickets, they usually tend to use the early part of their last tenth of overs – as it should be to get the momentum going. This trick has been deployed with aplomb by Pakistan, and then, against them by New Zealand in turn, the other night when they scored nearly a hundred runs in only their last four overs.
There are other sides then who don’t want to use their power-play in the last ten overs at all. India are the best example here as they tend to use up their quota when the ball is changed mandatorily after the 34th over. It is hard and if you have set batsmen at the crease, why not go for the jugular after which there can be no recovery as Bangladesh found out to their misery in the tournament opener.
48 runs came therein for the Indians without any loss of wickets and this is something common in their many ODI innings if studied from the past two seasons as well. Perhaps that is the best use of the batting power-play as also shown by South Africa and West Indies against the Netherlands. But what of the other side of this coin, what if you’re in a heady chase and there are not enough wickets to play around with?
In that scenario, Kevin O’Brien is your man. For he alone has done the impossible yet; five down facing a mammoth target and he comes in to obliterate the English attack with a fastest World Cup hundred. The Irish batting power-play that day yielded an astonishing 62 runs without the loss of a wicket. Of course the track at Bangalore had been laid out for hitting the bowlers in such merciless fashion, but that shouldn’t take away from the merit of that innings. Their gutsy chase was one wicket away from disbanding and it was one of those rare days when such things don’t happen.
Ask Sri Lanka though – chasing Pakistan’s tally of 277 runs, they took the power-play in the 34th over in hope of stepping up on the gas pedal. They did get 35 runs out of it but that one wicket lost, of Kumar Sangakkara, is what unraveled their march to the finish line.
So yes, these five overs are a bit devilish in nature. The fielders come in, leaving the boundaries unguarded, and pure timing will fetch fours and even sixes. They will entice you to score high runs and at times grant you victory as well, but it all comes at a price, one which might ultimately cost the match in the end. For the pressure of not stealing singles and doubles, of the increasing count of dot balls, has to be balanced by some power hitting.
If there is one way to tide over them, it is through perfect timing – you have to judge the pulse of the innings and its pace just about right, making sure that it doesn’t reverse your fortunes. Taking them before the last ten overs can be faulty, for if you lose too many wickets, your entire batting unravels. If you take it a couple of overs too soon in the chase, it might be the difference between victory and defeat, allowing the opposition to come back into the match.
As the 2011 World Cup edges ever closer to its knock-out stage, the team to solve this mystery – and with consistency – will eventually triumph.
© Cricket World 2011