By The Numbers: As The World Cup Teams-fresh - Mid-overs > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - In Numbers: How the World Cup Teams fare - The middle overs
With the World Cup in the horizon, Cricbuzz - in a three-part series - investigates how the teams have fared at various stages of an ODI match in the current World Cup cycle (since April 2015), namely Powerplay, middle overs, and death overs. You can read about the Powerplay phase here.
Next up, the middle overs (11 -40).
The one format whose future ICC has been deeply concerned about for a considerable amount of time is the 50-overs one. The middle overs were the biggest point of concern as it was the most sedate phase in an innings. They tinkered with the rules of the format multiple times in the previous decade, like distributing the mandatory fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs to the middle phase, allowing lesser number of fielders outside the 30-yard circle and the use of two new balls which would help the ball to maintain its hardness and enable batsmen to score faster.
The ODI rules went through a turbulent phase between 2005 and 2015, before settling in on the current set coming to effect from July 2015. ICC did away with the catching fielders in the first ten overs, got rid of the five-over block of batting Powerplay, and reinstated five fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs of an innings.
The dynamics of the middle overs game turned around completely in the last four years - from being the most sedate phase of an innings to being perhaps the liveliest phase. The T20I-sation of the 50-over game has affected this phase noticeably. England have been at the forefront of the batting revolution by packing their middle order with big hitters. It took a while for the bowling fraternity to respond to the challenges posed against them and the eventual response came in the form of wrist spin - sticking to the old and effective adage that taking wickets is the best way to restrict the scoring.
Teams batting in overs 11 - 40
Teams have managed to score at a better clip than they do in the Powerplay with the rate of dismissal roughly remaining the same. England once again lead the batting parameters as they did in the Powerplay, scoring at nearly run-a-ball at an average runs-per-dismissal which is dwarfed only by India. Their three opening batsmen - Alex Hales, Jason Roy, and Jonny Bairstow - all score at a strike rate in excess of 100 in the middle overs after getting well set in the first ten. They all have relatively low balls per dismissal, but it hasn't deterred them from their 'throwing caution to the wind' approach.
Their middle-order batsmen Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes, and Jos Buttler, all score better than a strike rate of 90, with Root trading higher balls-per-boundary ratio for a lower dot-ball percentage. While England's fast-paced approach has reaped rich dividends for them in recent times, there are a few notable exceptions of them getting bowled out well inside the full 50 overs, especially when conditions are not conducive for expansive shot making.
Despite England being the frontrunners of the new approach in the middle overs in ODI, no side has dominated this phase as much India, be it with bat or ball. They score at 5.54 per over and lose a wicket every 10.2 overs - two overs more than the next best and about 19 balls more than the global average. This is the phase where two of their best batsmen, arguably two of the finest ODI batsmen of the era, thrive and prosper.
Leading run-getters in overs 11 - 40
Virat Kohli is the leading run-getter in this phase, scoring 3186 runs - more than 700 runs ahead of second placed Root - at an astonishing average of 91.03 and a strike rate of 98, getting dismissed once every 93 balls. Rohit Sharma, his vice-captain, has done one notch better - 2257 runs at an average of 112.85 and a strike rate of 103, getting dismissed once every 109 balls - nearly thrice the global value for rate of dismissal.
As mentioned in the Powerplay piece, once Rohit gets past the initial ten overs, it's often tough to dismiss him. He has been dismissed inside the Powerplay 36 times in 71 innings but out of the 35 times he survived the first ten overs, he batted through the middle overs and made it to the death overs ten times. This is part of India's strategy where the top three - Shikhar Dhawan completing the trio - bats the bulk of the overs to set up the platform for the lower order comprising of Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav to explode in the final ten. In the 50 matches which featured the trio together, they have faced nearly 62% of the total deliveries India batted.
Teams bowling in overs 11 - 40
The one ilk of bowlers that have dominated the middle overs are wrist spinners. The top nine wicket-takers in the middle overs are all spinners with seven of them being wrist spinners. Adil Rashid is the leading wicket-taker in ODIs in the last four years with 127 wickets, of which 97 have come between overs 11 and 40. Rashid Khan has been nearly unplayable as his figures suggest - 80 wickets at 17.29 and a wicket every 28 balls, even though a large chunk of his wickets have come in largely helpful sub-continental conditions against weaker opponents, unlike something that he would be up against in England in June.
India, the doyen of spinners, were reluctant to buy into the wrist spin approach in the beginning and preferred the tried and tested duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to do the job as they did for the previous six-odd years. The inflection point came in the finals of Champions Trophy at the Kennington Oval in June 2017 when an unfancied Pakistan side beat the pre-tournament favorites India to lift the trophy. The Ashwin-Jadeja duo conceded 137 runs from their combined 18 overs and failed to pick a single wicket in that match.
In the tour to Sri Lanka that followed, India rested (read dropped) both Ashwin and Jadeja and opted for the inexperienced duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. In the final ODI of the series, India fielded two specialist wrist spinners in the playing XI, something they'd never done in the 900-odd ODIs before. There was an immediate impact - in the 32 ODIs India played since April 2015 till the final of Champions Trophy 2017, they had bowled out opponents 12 times (five of those were against Zimbabwe) and in the 54 ODIs since, they did so on 23 instances. The number of 300-plus totals they had conceded came down from 12 in 32 games, to seven in the 54 matches since.
Kuldeep has picked 67 wickets at 23.01 while Chahal managed 51 at 28.51 with the economy rates reading 4.67 and 4.81 respectively. India's overseas series wins in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia were all on the back of the strong performances in the middle overs by the Kuldeep-Chahal pair. The duo has complemented each other well as the numbers testify. In the 27 matches which both featured, Kuldeep has essayed the role of the wicket-taker with Chahal often being the one who keeps it tight at the other end. Kuldeep's average in middle overs improves to 21.85 from 25.75 in the matches he bowls alongside Chahal.
While the wrist spinners have flourished in their trade in the last 48-odd months, the left-arm orthodox spinners have turned out to be a more restrictive option, often used as a defensive foil to the attacking wristies at the other end. Mitchell Santner, Shakib Al Hasan, Ravindra Jadeja, Imad Wasim, and Axar Patel - the leading left-arm orthodox spinners - have made sure batsmen find it hard to score runs off them, even as the wickets have been hard to come by.
The pitches across the world of late are habitually flat in nature, and with little assistance from the track for their variations to come in to play. Credit to them, it must be said that this kind has found out a way to remain relevant thanks to their ability to put brakes on scoring by bowling tight lines in addition to being useful lower-order batsmen.
Talking about seamers in the middle overs, the two most successful pacers in the middle overs in the last four years are Pakistan's Hasan Ali and England's Liam Plunkett. 44 of Ali's 77 wickets in this period have come in the middle overs, a stat that made him a vital cog in Pakistan's success in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Ali was the leading wicket-taker of the tournament with 13 wickets, of which nine came in the middle overs, where he conceded at just 3.09 runs per over.
Plunkett was the mainstay of England's bowling in the middle overs with his cross-seam variations before his returns dwindled in the last 18-odd months - 32 wickets at 34.84 till December 2017 and ten wickets at 48.30 since.
Leading wicket takers in overs 11 - 40
South Africa have done fairly well with the bat in these overs across the four-year period but there has been a severe dip post AB de Villiers's retirement. South Africa's runs per wicket in middle overs of 45.83 till December 2017 has nosedived to 33.49 in the 16 months since and they lose a wicket every 38 balls since 2018, compared to 50 in the period before.
All the middle-order batsmen strike at a rate of well below 90 - Faf du Plessis 89, David Miller 85 and JP Duminy 75 - and they are still finding ways to plug the AB-sized hole in their middle order. De Villiers had a strike rate of 101.58 in the middle phase and had the rare ability of striking frequent boundaries (Balls per boundary 10.00) along with turning the strike over (Dot ball % of 39.67).
Barring a reversal against India at home in early 2018, South Africa have done fairly well winning 16 of the 21 ODIs since De Villiers called it a day, including bagging all the five series they played. It is the bowlers paving the way for their success in this period, with the likes of Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada being instrumental in taking wickets in the middle overs. Tahir has taken 71 wickets at 28.68 (ER 4.53) while Rabada has 37 victims at 27.78 (ER 4.65) in the last four years, and the duo is coming into the World Cup with impressive IPL outings behind them.
New Zealand's batting numbers can be largely attributed to the batting colossus in Ross Taylor, towering above most other batsmen in this phase. He has been in vintage form in the last four years, averaging nearly 69 with the willow, only behind that of Kohli's 78. The middle overs are his fiefdom where he averages 91.96 and gets dismissed only every 111 balls. He is the anchor around which the rest of the batting revolves as testified by the stat that Taylor averages 50-plus per partnership with each of the other New Zealand top order batsmen who made it to the World Cup. With Kane Williamson and Tom Latham batting either side of Taylor, they have three good players who can play out spinners in the crucial middle phase - a rarity among non-Asian teams.
However, New Zealand have struggled to replicate their PowerPlay success with the ball in the middle phase. They average 38 in this phase and concede at 5.39. While Santner has been good at controlling the flow of runs, his 44 wickets have come at 40.25 apiece. Leg spinner Ish Sodhi has also struggled for wickets, taking only 30 wickets at 40.70 apiece and goes at 5.44 per over. All their seamers - Boult, Southee, Henry and Fergusson - average more than 30 runs per wicket and concede at more than five-an-over between overs 11 and 40.
Pakistan's numbers are similar to New Zealand but the problem for them in the middle overs has been the similar kind of batsman stacked up together in one line-up. Babar Azam (SR 83.56), Shoaib Malik (86.12), Mohammad Hafeez (85.54) and Sarfaraz Ahmed (80.42) are all middle-over accumulators. They lack an enforcer in the middle overs among the plethora of sedate players mentioned above. Imam-ul-Haq does redeem himself from a slow Powerplay start where he strikes at 62, going up to 91.40 in the middle overs. He has been dismissed in this phase only seven times out of 15 innings (Balls per dismissal - 121.3) making him the anchor of the line-up. Pakistan would be served better if they can separate Imam and Babar from batting together as both play the same kind of game which often results in a slow-moving scorecard.
The top left of the graph is mostly top order batsmen who are the anchors in the sides which explain their low strike rate traded for a higher balls per dismissal. One exception here is MS Dhoni - who bats predominantly at five and six. Among the 46 batsmen facing 1000-plus deliveries between overs 11 and 40 since April 2015, Dhoni's strike rate of 68.22 is only ahead of Asghar Afghan (63.01). While Dhoni's 'start slow and take the game deep strategy' works well in low scoring games or if the team loses wickets upfront, it could prove detrimental to the team's cause in games where teams score big, which is more the norm than exception in white-ball cricket these days in English conditions.
The bottom right is mostly either opening batsmen or big hitters - a combination of high strike rate and high frequency of dismissals. While pinch hitters have gone out of fashion in ODI cricket, the strategy of promoting batsmen like Glenn Maxwell, Thisara Perera or James Neesham, who can use the long handle up the order in the middle overs, could help to upset opposition's plan of bowling spinners through the middle overs.
The top left is restrictive bowlers who aren't predominantly wicket-takers, and this is the range where most of the left-arm orthodox spinners occupy. The bottom right is bowlers who get wickets but can be expensive while the bottom left consists of the best of the bowlers. Wrist spinners like Adil Rashid and Adam Zampa have given their respective teams breakthroughs in the middle overs despite leaking runs.
The bottom left is the cream of the bowlers - the wicket takers who are hard to score off. Plenty of wrist spinners find themselves here, making them invaluable assets in the present day ODIs. Teams like Bangladesh and West Indies have often lagged behind because of the lack of quality spinners at their disposal who can make or break a game in these middle overs, while Afghanistan has been well served by the impeccable duo of Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi.
** All stats updated till 30 April 2019
(Part three of this series will explore how India's well thought-out strategy of maximizing the balls faced by the top three makes a difference in the death overs, especially when one of the three bats through the innings)
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