This World Cup will be unrecognisable from the last time it was played in England in 1999.
No major sport has tinkered with its rules as ceaselessly as one-day international cricket.
Since 1999 many rules have been introduced and subsequently been scrapped: batting and bowling Powerplays, with teams given the option of when to implement fielding restrictions; changing the ball after 35 overs; and a supersub, a 12th player able to bat and bowl.
Yet the new rules that have endured have overwhelmingly favoured batsmen. From bowlers being permitted only two fielders outside the 30-yard circle in the first 15 overs, and then five thereafter, now bowlers are allowed two men out in the first 10 overs, four from the 11th to 40th and then five for the final 10. After bowlers bowl any no-ball — a high full toss as well as a front-foot no-ball — batsmen now get a free hit.
Perhaps the most significant change concerns the ball. From 2012, two new balls have been used in ODIs, so the ball stays hard for batsmen to hit, and bowlers can seldom generate reverse swing. Crucially, this ball is a Kookaburra, which seldom deviates much: the 1999 tournament, when the ball swung prodigiously, was the only one in which the Dukes ball was used.
Since 1999, the story of ODI cricket has been of norms recalibrated, with a cocktail of better batsmen, better pitches and rule changes combining to raise scores. What was once unobtainable has become almost mundane: England chased down more than 300 twice in ODI history up until the end of the 2015 World Cup. They have done so nine times since.
In the first innings, international teams made a 300-plus score every 11.5 innings in 1999; since 2015, teams batting first have made 300-plus every 3.5 innings. Overall, the average first-innings total has increased from 219 to 247 in 2018. If this seems rather less of a rise than feels right, one explanation is that soaring scores compel teams to take more audacious risks earlier and keep attacking if they lose early wickets — occasionally, even England have imploded.
Twenty20, of course, has been central to this story.
The format has induced batsmen to hit further and earlier. In lieu of sides having a couple of renowned six-hitters, almost an entire team's worth is now standard.
The norm in sport is for one skill to rise and then another to rise to counter it. Something very different has happened in ODI cricket: batting has evolved at a faster rate than bowling.
This is not all down to T20: after all, bowlers have played the format too, and have been able to import the same chicanery they use in T20 to stop ODI batsmen.
For a sense of how much the game has changed, consider that Michael Bevan, a World Cup winner in 1999 and the best finisher of his age, hit only one six every 443 balls in his ODI career. Bevan's mastery lay more in sharp singles and well-placed twos.
The pressure to score faster means that such players do not really exist today: even Joe Root, nominally the most sedate batsman in England's top six, scores sixes three times as frequently as Bevan, and fours 1.5 times more regularly.
- Telegraph Group Ltd