A statistical look at ODI cricket’s evolution

2015 World Cup

The influence of two new balls from both ends, revised fielding restrictions, and T20 have transformed the predominant 50-over strategy, turning the ODI revolution of the 1990s inside-out.

We've seen the flipping of the format on its head, with innings being defined by gradual construction, keeping wickets in hand and rapid acceleration in the final 10-15 overs.

This essay will analyse the phase breakdowns of the 2015 World Cup against previous editions of the tournament, identifying trends and correlations to help us understand ODIs shifting strategies.

1-10 overs: The Passiveplay

Since the mid-1990s and until very recently, it was the accepted norm that batting teams should attack in the initial field-restriction overs and get ahead in the match, before consolidating and then attacking again in the final 10-or-so overs.

The 2015 World Cup has seen the 10 mandatory Powerplay overs treated with comparative caution by the majority of batting teams with two new balls posing a greater threat to wickets which are now seen as more valuable.

Despite the evolution of the game informing a rise in the average RPO for the entire innings, and only four fielders permitted outside the 30-yard circle in non-Powerplay overs, rather than five as it was for the three previous World Cups, the RPO in the first 10 overs has hardly changed over the last four tournaments.

While the average RPO across the entire innings has grown 0.89 since the 2003 World Cup, the average RPO across the first 10 overs has only risen by 0.32.

Scoring ability in the first 10 overs has grown but scoring-reality has stayed relatively stable.

Average Runs Per Over In The Innings and First Ten Overs in the last four World Cups

World Cup Average RPO in the innings Average RPO in the first 10 overs
2003 4.76 4.54
2007 4.95 4.38
2011 5.03 4.73
2015 5.65

4.83

The average score after 10 overs in the 2015 World Cup was 48 runs for 1.5 wickets.

A close look at the breakdown for the mandatory Powerplay between winning teams and losing teams shows that winning teams on average scored 53 runs for 1.1 wickets, in comparison to losing teams who on average scored 42 runs for 1.9 wickets.

While there is only a discrepancy of nine runs – less than one RPO – between winning and losing teams in the mandatory Powerplay, losing teams are, on average, exiting the 10-over mark with close to double as many wickets lost.

It appears that in the mandatory powerplay wickets lost, or rather, saved, are more important than runs scored and at what rate.

On only seven occasions in the 2015 World Cup did the team who lost more wickets than their opposition in the mandatory powerplay go on to win the match.

Only twice did a team who lost more than two wickets in the first 10 overs go on to win the match.

On 15 occasions (a little less than 33% of the time) the team who scored at a slower run-rate in the first 10 overs went on to win the match. That’s not a trend, but it is more than an aberration.

A high premium on wickets informed a restrained approach to run-scoring in the first ten overs. Teams scored at an average RPO of 4.83 in the mandatory Powerplay, while winning teams scored at an average RPO of 5.38 in the same period, losing teams managed just 4.28.

Mandatory Powerplay Summary in CWC15

  Average runs scored Average wickets lost Average RPO
Overall 48.07 1.56 4.83
Winning teams 53.87 1.18 5.38
Losing teams 42.87 1.93 4.28

11-40 overs: Victory’s Whisper

In the 2015 World Cup, the middle-overs (11-40) saw teams look to shift up through gears, accelerating towards an all-out attack in the final 10. Again, like the first 10 overs but less pronounced, preserving wickets appeared to be of greater importance than RPO.

Winning teams on average scored 153 runs for 2.47 wickets in comparison to losing teams who on average scored 138 runs for 5.12 wickets. While there is only a discrepancy of 15 runs between winning and losing teams in the middle overs, losing teams, on average, lost more than double as many wickets in the phase.

It should be noted that there is a considerable difference between the RPOs of winning and losing teams in this phase – 1.08, but the data was slightly skewed by low run-chases affording winning teams the opportunity to attack more aggressively and from an earlier stage.

Middle Overs Summary in CWC15

  Average runs scored Average wickets lost Average RPO
Overall 146.11 3.80 5.48
Winning teams 153.45 2.47 6.03
Losing teams 138.77 5.12 4.95

That wickets remain pivotally important in this middle-over phase is made clear by the fact that on only eight occasions did a winning team enter the final 10 overs with five or fewer wickets in hand.

On only two occasions did a team post 300 after entering the final ten overs with five or fewer wickets in hand

On only eleven occasions did a winning team lose four or more wickets in the middle overs.

Despite the increased premium on wickets due to the increasingly bottom-heavy nature of innings, average RPO within middle-overs still rose in the 2015 World Cup in comparison to the other three 21st century World Cups. This could be a result of both the new ODI rules, which favour batsmen, and simply the evolution of batting.

Average Runs Per Over In The Innings and Middle Overs in the last four World Cups

World Cup Average RPO in the innings Average RPO in the middle overs
2003 4.76 4.41
2007 4.95 4.73
2011 5.03 4.71
2015 5.65 5.48

Batting Powerplay: The Fire Sparks

In the 2015 World Cup the balance of the middle overs shifted slightly towards attack in the Batting Powerplay. Five overs long and must be taken between overs 11 and 40, it was introduced to make the middle overs of ODIs more exciting but it hasn’t really had that effect.

The Batting Powerplay was, on average, taken in the 33rd over during the 2015 World Cup and rather than giving a fillip to the middle-overs, was utilised as something of a launching-pad for the final 10 overs.

The average score in the Batting Powerplay in the 2015 World Cup was 32 runs for 0.86 wickets at an RPO of 6.72 – 1.24 RPO more than was scored in the non-Batting Powerplay middle overs. The Batting Powerplay, therfore marked the biggest average increase in RPO across the innings until that point.

It also marked the point at which winning and losing teams began to significantly diverge in terms of RPO (highlighted in red below), with winning teams scoring at 7.90 in the Batting Powerplay, 2.38 RPO more than losing teams at 5.52.

Batting Powerplay Summary in CWC15

  Average runs scored Average wickets lost Average RPO
Overall 32.10 0.86 6.72
Winning teams 39.17 0.53 7.90
Losing teams 27.06 1.11 5.52

Despite the fact that the Batting Powerplay was used as a platform from which teams could launch their assaults in the final 10 overs, the 2015 World Cup saw a significant increase in the average runs per wicket from the previous years,suggesting an improved balance between attack and defence from teams during the phase.

The average runs per wicket during the Batting Powerplay in the 2015 World Cup of 37.01, was almost four runs higher than in any other time period of its existence, and the average RPO of 6.72, was the second highest in any other time period of its existence.

Batting Powerplay Summary Over Time

Time Average Average RPO
Post CWC11-Rule change 21.34 7.41
Rule Change to end of 2012 33.11 6.23
2013 to pre-CWC15 27.99 6.12
CWC15 37.01 6.72

41-50 overs: Freeing the arms

The marginal differences between winning and losing teams in the 40 overs preceding the final 10, and the gulf in class between winning and losing teams, was most conspicuously apparent in the 2015 World Cup in the final 10 overs of the innings where winning teams, on average, scored at an RPO of 9.51, specifically 3.39 RPO more than losing teams, who managed just 6.12 (highlighted in red below).

Admittedly, this data is skewed slightly by the lower order of losing teams eventually being bowled out contributing to some of the numbers, but all the same it is this phase that most clearly separates the winners from the losers.

This is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that on only 10 occasions in 48 matches did the winning team score at a lower RPO than their opposition in the final 10 overs.

41-50 Summary In CWC15

  Average runs scored Average wickets lost Average RPO
Overall 68.35 2.91 7.79
Winning teams 90.02 2.54 9.51
Losing teams 47.27 3.27 6.12

The influence of T20 on the mentality and ability of batsmen has redefined the limits of what is considered possible. Skill still remains relevant, of course, but as more and more players are capable of brutal destruction in the final 10 overs, almost more important than a batsman’s skill is the situation he bats within. Crucial therefore, to a team’s success in this final phase of the innings is wickets in hand entering the 40th over.

On 28 of the 34 occasions in the 2015 World Cup that the batting team scored more than the average RPO for the final 10 overs (7.79) did the team enter the phase with six or more wickets in hand. On only six occasions did a team with five or fewer wickets in hand at the 40th over go on to score at an RPO of greater than the average. On 14 of the 17 occasions that the batting team scored more than 100 runs in the final 10 overs, they entered the 40th over with six or more wickets in hand.

Tournament Trends and Analysis: Painting Patterns

The ODI format has become clearly defined by four distinct phases: the Mandatory Powerplay, the middle-overs, the Batting Powerplay and the final 10 overs.

Aggregate statistics, statistics for winning teams and losing teams in the 2015 World Cup show that innings sped up with each phase that passed.

Average RPO By Phase In CWC15

  1-10 average RPO 11-40 average RPO Batting PP average RPO 41-50 average RPO
Overall 4.83 5.48 6.72 7.79
Winning teams 5.38 6.03 7.90 9.51
Losing teams 4.28 4.95 5.52 6.12

The steady increase in RPO is the popular template for an ODI innings. However, a requisite of such acceleration is keeping wickets in hand. Losing teams lost too many wickets, mainly in the middle overs, to allow themselves to accelerate throughout and attack in the final 10 overs.

Average Wickets Lost By Phase In CWC15

  1-10 wickets lost 11-40 wickets lost Batting PP wickets lost 41-50 wickets lost
Overall 1.56 3.80 0.86 2.91
Winning teams 1.18 2.47 0.53 2.54
Losing teams 1.93 5.12 1.11 3.27

The Future: Intensifying The Revolution

As soon as something seems set, it changes once more. The landscape of modern batting is shifting beneath our feet.

For all the talk of inverse revolutions, perhaps it was apt that the tournament’s two finalists Australia (6.02) and New Zealand (7.18) were the only two teams to score at an average RPO of greater than a run-a-ball in the Mandatory Powerplay.

Australia and New Zealand may well drag the world with them from an age of specific attack into an age of first more sporadic, and then more intense, prolonged attack.

Throughout the 2015 World Cup the adage that teams should aspire to double their score from 30 overs became increasingly redundant as South Africa twice doubled their score from after the 35 over mark and just three teams who completed their 50 overs failed to double their score after 30 overs.

However, due to the influence of Australia and New Zealand, rather than teams extending their double-mark deeper into their innings it is possible that the point at which teams double their score is dragged back by a more top-heavy approach to innings-construction once more.

It is likely that rather than the final phase of innings intensifying much further, instead earlier phases will intensify as the risk of such attack becomes diluted by time and practice.

Inspired by the trail blazed by Brendon McCullum, the next few years of ODI cricket could well see a return to the top of the order of the pinch hitter.

But beyond that, assuming that ODI rules do not change drastically, then perhaps, eventually, as the risk of all out attack continues to be diluted by regularity, and the middle overs are increasingly squeezed, we are possibly only counting the days until rather than four phases in an innings there is instead just one phase. Attack.

Freddie Wilde is a freelance cricket journalist. @fwildecricket.

With inputs from Bishen Jeswant and Mazher Arshad.

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