Last week, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) took a decision to reprint scorecards for matches for the World Cup. Originally designed to tot up 400 runs per side these scorecards, which fans covet, will now be revised to 500 runs.
While mildly amusing, this development is also telling about where ODI cricket is headed as far as batting is concerned. Totals that seemed improbable not too long back are now being considered normal.
While I don’t recall exactly, it is highly unlikely that scorecards for the World Cups between 1975 and 2003 went beyond 300 runs per side. But a change had to be made when Australia and South Africa breached the 400-run barrier in the same match in 2006.
That was an epochal game at Johannesburg, it will be recalled, Australia scoring 434, only to see their smug confidence demolished by the Proteas who thrillingly made 438, winning by a ball to spare.
The belief that this match was a one-off and that 400-plus scores would be among the ‘rarest of rare’ was quickly disproved. In the years since 2006, 18 more 400-plus totals have been registered in ODIs, necessitating standardization of scorecards with 400 runs.
Among teams that have made 400-plus totals, South Africa are in the forefront having done it on six occasions, one ahead of India with five. But the more interesting dimension to this milestone comes from England, who’ve surpassed it four times in the last four years!
After a disappointing 2015 World Cup in which they were eliminated in the league stage itself, England reset their sights on ODI cricket, made several changes in personnel and have been a side transformed.
Currently ranked no.1 in this format, England boast a line-up of spectacular strokeplayers that have made scores of 300 look mediocre. In the ongoing series against Pakistan, they’ve scored 373, 358 and 341 to seal a series win with a match still to be played.
But victory wasn’t easy, for Pakistan have matched England blow-for-blow, scoring almost as many runs. The ease with which batsmen from both teams scored these runs is seen as having influenced the ECB’s decision to revise the fans scorecard.
Not just England and Pakistan, other teams in the World Cup also boast strong batting line-ups and power hitters: Russell and Gayle for West Indies, Warner, Finch, Maxwell for Australia, Rohit, Dhoni, Hardik for India to name a handful.
It is not just power-hitters that have made ODI scores heftier. Field restrictions and Powerplays are aimed at maximizing run-making, bats have improved, risk-taking and improvisations by batsmen have soared.
Perhaps the biggest factor in teams running up Himalayan scores this World Cup could be the pitches. Increasingly, administrators are in favour of having pitches that favour batting, and the World Cup would be no different.
Why batting tracks? Two reasons. First, spectators enjoy big hits and tall scores, and fan gratification has undeniable box office value. Second, flat pitches also ensure that maximum playing time is utilized, which helps broadcasters get full ‘value for money’.
This does not mean that bowler-friendly pitches can’t produce high quality, exciting cricket. After all, India defended a paltry 183 in the 1983 World Cup final to beat West Indies, which is now widely identified as a cathartic moment in cricket history.
Mega sports events, however, are strongly driven by commerce, so it is will be a surprise if bowler-friendly pitches will be obtained in the World Cup
What could make a difference, of course, the fickle English weather which, even in spells of cloudy weather, would give bowlers encouragement and test the technique and temperament of batsmen.
Everything else, however, suggests a run feast this World Cup. Does this mean 500 totals will be scaled? Seems a monumental task. But that is what was said for 400 too before it was overhauled first in 2006, and several times subsequently.
My advice would be to tighten your seat belts for some extraordinary action. And revise your scorecards to 500 totals, just in case!...