At the start of each match, I look at the career batting and bowling record of each player in the starting XI on each side. I then create a batting average for the team by determining the total number of runs scored by all eleven players in their careers, and dividing by the total number of dismissals of all eleven players. In a similar way, I create a batting strike rate (runs/ball) for the team.
The batting strength of a team is given simply by (Team Batting Average x Team Batting Strike Rate)
Similarly, I create a bowling average for the team, as well as a bowling economy rate. The bowling strength for a team is given by (Team bowling average x Team economy rate).
The Strength of a team is given by (Batting Strength / Bowling Strength) - since higher batting averages are better, while lower bowling averages are better.
In the case of Test Cricket, I found that there is an inherent limit to comparing batting and bowling, as a century is as likely to occur in a draw as it is in a win, but a 5 wicket haul is far more likely to occur in a win than in a draw.
With the option of the draw taken away in ODI cricket, batsmen emerge as genuine match winners. In fact, in the ODI game, the stronger batting team wins slightly more often than the stronger bowling team. Over the history of ODI cricket, having a bowling attack that is 20% stronger than your opponents has proved to a little bit better (as far as a team's chances of winning go) than having a stronger batting. However, it is also not as good having a batting line up that is 20% stronger than your opponents.
Having given the overall picture of ODI cricket in the first chart above, I will now break things up into three phases:
Phase 1: From 1971 to 1991 - before the advent of the 15 over field restrictions.
Phase 2: From 1991 to October 2005 - 15 over field restrictions introduced.
Phase 3: From October 2005 - Present - Powerplays (10 + 5 + 5) replace field restrictions. The rules for using powerplays were modified in October 2011
|Phase 3 - ODI Cricket - 2005 - 2012|
Another important difference is the number of wins of sides with 20% stronger bowling as a whole. Overall, of the 3166 ODI games that have been won 798, or 25% have been won by the team with a bowling attack 20% stronger than the opposition's. Since 2005, 167 out of 978, or 17% have been won by the team with a bowling attack 20% stronger than the oppositions. This does not suggest that teams have been bunched closer to overall in the last 7 years, because the number of wins by teams which bat 20% stronger than the opposition (374 out of 978, or 38%) in this period has remained about the same as it has for all ODI cricket (1146 out of 3166, or 36%). If anything, the difference in batting ability has increased a little bit.
|Phase 2 - ODI Cricket - 1991-2005|
In Phase 2, when the 15 over restrictions were in place, in addition to the 30 yard circle, the figures are as follows:
Batting strength and bowling strength was more or less equally important (the better batting won 63% of the time, the better bowling 61% of the time). This is also the case when we consider batting and bowling which is 20% stronger than that of the opposition (74% and 71% respectively).
The share of the games won by teams with 20% stronger batting (522 out of 1552, or 33%), and 20% stronger bowling (442 out of 1552, or 28%), when compared to the overall figures for these two measures, suggests that for whatever reason, the 15 over fielding restriction rule favored bowling made bowling side more important than the 10+5+5 powerplay rule.
|Phase 1 - ODI Cricket 1971-1991|
The share of the games won by teams with 20% stronger batting (250 out of 636, or 39%) and 20% stronger bowling (189 out of 636, or 30%) is also similar to that in Phase 2 of ODI cricket.
In summary, the comparison of the three phases looks as follows:
The advent of the powerplay has diminished the importance of having quality bowling in ODI cricket. I attribute the decrease in the share of bowling teams 20% stronger than the opposition in the last 7 years to a deliberate choice made by teams to pick fewer pure specialist bowlers, and prefer more multi-skilled players whose primary skills are perhaps less well developed than those of the specialists.
It is a truism in cricket than audiences want to see fours and sixes - this is equated with "excitement". But this, it appears is no longer a just a truism. It is ICC policy. The advent of 20 over powerplays has diminished the importance of quality bowling (if quality can be determined based on how many wickets bowlers take and how many runs they concede).
It continues to surprise me how willing cricket has been to undermine its own core contest - that between bat and ball, in its quest for audiences. This is a failure of commentary, of writing, of explanation. Having been unable to explain itself to the world, Cricket has felt the need to sell itself short and continues to do so to this day. As we come upon the T20 World Cup, it might be worth reflecting on this.