England’s gung-ho v India’s pragmatism: A tale of two different batting approaches

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May
30

2:37 PM ET

This is the first World Cup where people walking into the stadiums will have scorecards – in which you tick off runs scored – running up to 500. Teams have invested in batting depth to give their main batsmen the freedom to try to turn ODI innings into 50-over T20s. Fielding restrictions have never amounted to less. Middle overs have never been busier. Totals have never been more unsafe. Those looking for balance between bat and ball are dreading going to Taunton and Nottingham. There is one team, though, that is not getting carried away.

At least twice in the lead-up to this World Cup, India have publicly spoken about the importance of old-fashioned cricket with the bat. These are telling statements by India’s captain and batting coach.

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“What makes the Indian team unique is that it’s consistently playing risk-free cricket,” Sanjay Bangar told Mumbai Mirror before departing for the UK. “And that’s because we emphasise on the ones and the twos. As a batting group, we are not obsessed over the number of boundaries we’ve hit. But we discuss strike-rotation a great deal. Which is why we’re able to eschew risks.”

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Inherent to this batting ethos is appreciation that ODIs haven’t yet become longer T20s. They find backing for that in data. Since the last World Cup, 54.22% of the runs in T20s (internationals and the big leagues) have been scored in boundaries. In ODIs, the number drops down to 45.5%. What’s more the contribution of boundaries to a team total in ODIs has stayed pretty much similar for a while. Between the 2011 and 2015 world Cups, 46% of runs came through boundaries.

General wisdom suggests that sides scoring more runs through boundaries end up winning T20 matches. This is where you will see the value of boundaries rising, though. Since the last World Cup, 79.29% of T20 matches have been won by sides that have scored more runs in boundaries. The number in ODIs is marginally higher, at 79.62%. And it is a jump from the 74.5 mark it straddled for the last eight years.

India might not obsess about boundaries, but they do end up hitting them organically. In the period leading up to this World Cup, they have scored fewer boundary runs than their opposition in only 32 of the 86 matches they have played. The number for England is 29 in 88. They have won only 10 each of these matches. It is clear: whether you obsess over them or not, the role of boundaries is becoming increasingly important even in ODI cricket, especially in high-scoring venues in England.

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If India and England score more boundary runs than their opposition, they win nine times out of 10. For Australia that number goes out to 7.5. It shows they are not able to complement the boundaries with other runs in the middle overs. India and England remain the two pre-eminent batting sides in the world, but their methods are completely different. England, on the other hand, are blessed with the coming together of wonderfully attacking batsmen who still score at a high average. Because there are so many of them – they have a possible five to eight of Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes – they can afford to keep going and start sooner than most.

Rate the 50 highest run-getters in ODIs since the last World Cup by their strike rate in the first 20 balls they face, and India’s first representation is at No. 14: Shikhar Dhawan. Virat Kohli is at No. 20. Indian batsmen who are quick off the blocks – Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya – haven’t played enough matches to be able to make this list, but they will be there at the World Cup. Each of the top six in England’s first XI is in the top 20.

And yet the top two run-getters in ODIs since the last World Cup are Indians: Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Dhawan is at No. 9. These three bat long enough and accelerate enough to make up for their slow starts. Batting approach should only be judged when teams are batting first because when they are chasing they bat according to the target. It is in judging and then getting to a par score that these two sides are different.

England race off the blocks; India take time. England’s average 10-overs score batting first is 55 for 1, India’s 44 for 1. India then tend to make up ground in overs 10 to 30, but here is a number: at the 30-over mark, India have gone at better than a run a ball only once in 11 innings; England do that once every four digs. They again take lead in overs 30 to 40 while the finishing kick tends to be similar.

There is a flipside to so much intent. Batting first, since the last World Cup, England have been bowled out once every three efforts. India have been dismissed only once every six matches. This is where India want pragmatism. They don’t want to be over ambitious. With their uncertain middle and lower order and not much sting in their tail, they risk losing the game in the first 25 overs if they go too hard. Yet, within themselves they have started to change things up since the Champions Trophy where they lost to Sri Lanka despite score 300.

There has been a clear change in intent in the middle overs and especially between overs 30 and 40, just before the extra fielder is about to go out of the 30-yard ring. The last-10 overs numbers have come down, but they will hope the return of Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav will address that concern.

Most importantly, though, neither side is obsessed: neither India with individual centuries and hence slow starts nor England with bringing up the first 500. It is their assessment of what a par total is. India believe they have reason to not aim too high because of their bowling attack. England think they need to aim higher because they don’t have the out-and-out wicket-takers. In the middle overs, defending a total, India take a wicket every 37 balls against England’s 41, concede 5.39 an over to England’s 5.89, and have superior death bowlers to boot.

India tend to go with least premeditation about what a par score should be, and are thus able to adjust their game should the pitch not be a pancake. England risk getting bowled out on slightly different surfaces – although underestimate their Plan B at your own peril – but on flatter pitches they do tend to end up with a score that wins them the match.

It is a fascinating coming together of two different extremes of batting approaches; all other teams fall somewhere in between. India have already thrown in the added mind games. Sitting next to other captains in the pre-tournament press conference, Kohli didn’t want to leave any doubts as to whom he was talking about when he said: “They seem to be obsessed with getting to 500 before anyone else. They smash it from ball one and for the full 50 overs. It could be pretty high-scoring, but 260/270 is going to be as difficult to get as chasing 370, 380 in a World Cup.

“I don’t see too much high-scoring in the later half of the tournament. Some teams might get on a roll, but you’ll see 250 defended as well as because of the kind of pressure that comes with it. When you get closer to the knockout phases, that is going to bring greater pressure and no one is going to go gung-ho from ball one. Generally teams will find a way, but I see pressure playing a massive role.”

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