Less than a week into the World Cup, it is becoming clear that this will be the first edition of the tournament suffused with the breath of Twenty20 cricket.
The IPL was born in 2008. Other leagues, of varying quality, mushroomed across the world in its wake. When the 2011 World Cup was played, it was still too early to discern the extent to which Twenty20 influenced (or would influence) the 50-overs game. Already, though, this tournament – and its rich harvest of runs – is making clear how the shortest format of cricket has redefined the modern ODI.
In the 2011 final, India chased down Sri Lanka’s score of 274. It was the biggest successful run chase in a World Cup final. Merely four years ago, 274 seemed a total that was more than respectable, a total that was seen as one which could possibly win a game.
No longer. A few months ago, Rohit Sharma scored 264 in an ODI against the West Indies. AB de Villiers scored an ODI hundred from 31 balls. We have had six totals in excess of 300 in the first six games of this World Cup. Of those, one (304/7 by the West Indies) was not enough to win. Another (300/7 by India) may well have resulted in defeat had Pakistan kept their wits together.
No total seems safe nowadays. There were only four successful 300+ run chases in ten previous World Cups. We have already had one in this edition before a week has been played. Four weeks remain. You can see several more coming.
It is not merely the numbers. The approach to batting has changed. Certainly the shortened boundaries and heavier bats of the modern game aid big scoring. But batsmen are infusing the ODI with shots from the Twenty20. Think of Glen Maxwell reverse sweeping for a six in Australia’s match against England. And every team has at least one player who can bring to bear on the final stages of an innings the frenetic urgency and clout of the Twenty20 game.
Which is why the last ten overs of an innings will be the most decisive phase of the game in this World Cup. Every team is looking to keep wickets in hand and belt the ball around in the final ten overs, to treat the final ten overs like the second half of a Twenty20 innings. Not so long ago, scoring at a run a ball seemed commendable; now, anything is possible.
New Zealand scored 102 in their last ten overs against Sri Lanka. Australia made 105 in their last ten against England (including 61 off the last 30 balls). South Africa scored 146 off the last 60 balls against Zimbabwe. And the West Indies lost in spite of making 124 in the last ten overs against Ireland.
Somewhat buried under the euphoria of India beating Pakistan is the fact that India made 83 in their last ten overs. They scored 27/5 in the last five and 8/3 off the final 12 balls. Pakistan imploded. If India, traditionally weak in terms of bowling in the death overs, bat like this in the final overs, stronger teams will be quick to snatch the advantage and snuff out India’s challenge.
With the introduction of white balls and coloured clothing and pinch hitters, the last World Cup played in Australia and New Zealand 1992 saw the birth of the modern 50-overs game. This one will reveal to us how far that game has come, and what the ODI will be like in future.
(Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. His most recent book, After Tendulkar: The New Stars of Indian Cricket, is in stores now. He is also the author of two internationally acclaimed books about how cricket defines India, You Must Like Cricket and All That You Can't Leave Behind; the novel, If I Could Tell You, which was a finalist for the Hindu Best Fiction Award; and the fatherhood memoir, Dad's the Word. Soumya Bhattacharya's book, After Tendulkar: The New Stars of Indian Cricket, is in stores now.)