Cricket: Power play strategies lack nous

By Andrew Alderson

The third - and usually batting - power play shapes as the key strategic ploy at this World Cup.

How and when to use this one-day innovation is still hotly debated. With just three fielders allowed outside the circle, batsmen can feel compelled to hit a boundary every ball.

This is compounded by the fact it is routinely used to assist the final 10-over slogfest, rather than as a strategic run-rate accelerator.

The most logical time to use the batting power play, if teams have specialist batsmen at their disposal, is in overs 36-40 - right after the ball change, which is often harder and more likely to zing off a bat.

It is better to use the power play then, than as a default mechanism to conjure up desperate late runs.

The first seven World Cup matches saw the third power play used just once to decent effect inside the first 40 overs - India batting against Bangladesh in the opening match.

Centurions Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli put on 203 for the third wicket and took the power play from the 36th over. They made 48 without loss during the five-over period out of the team's 370 for four.

The only other instance was Canada invoking it out of desperation in the 28th over against Sri Lanka.

The 10 other relevant innings took the power play between overs 41 and 50.

One argument suggests it makes more sense to use it even earlier, before the 25th over, if two form batsmen are scoring freely.

The often hurried nature of using the power play in the final 10 overs means teams force the pace unnaturally and wickets can tumble. There are already examples at this tournament.

Bangladesh lost three wickets for 30 starting in the 43rd over, chasing 371 to beat India. They fell 87 runs short. England edged past the Netherlands but lost two wickets for 34 from their power play in overs 41-45 on their way to hauling in 292 for six.

The batting power play is an innovation that has rejuvenated the 50-over game but does not solve boredom seeping in during the compiling stage of an innings from overs 21 to 36.

It is mistakenly seen as an exercise in smash and bash which can end in a batsman being dismissed early and momentum squandered. It is arguably perpetuated by the Twenty20 myth that players need to produce big scoring shots every delivery to have influence.

The optimum is probably more like scoring 40 runs in overs 36-40; increasing the scoring and conserving enough wickets for the remaining batsmen (preferably bigger but intelligent hitters) to find gaps and dominate in the closing 10 overs - when a bowling side can make tactical blunders about who bowls when.

- Herald on Sunday

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