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The Balancing Act


(This piece, published roughly 10 days ago, part-predicts, part-explains the Indian batting's patchy showing in the series. We draw focus to this again in a very matter-of-fact, non-bragging spirit, of course.)

MS Dhoni's innings in the second ODI in Nagpur was far more important than what a casual observation of the scorecard suggests. Despite the awe-inspiring array of well-flexed batting muscle that was on display, the Indian team was constantly skating on thin ice. Even in as healthy a position as being at 206/3 in the 32nd over, the Indians were only two wickets away from losing three-fourths of their batting strength with 18 overs still to go. Here's how.

Most series' that
India plays are won or lost on the batting front. This is a statement that grows in relevance for the on-going Ind-Aus tournament, given the sort of pitches that have been (and will continue to be, even if the Kotla turns out to be an exception) on offer. If India has to win this it has to be on their batting. And therein lies a little weakness. The Australian batting is just slightly better equipped to handle a 7-match series than its Indian counterpart, because it is more balanced.

Every cricket team is made up of batting and bowling 'resources' that decide whether they win or not. The total strength of each team will come to 100%. A simple way to study the teams would be to see, percentage wise, how much each individual player contributes to the team's total strength.

Given that a typical ODI team consists of 6 to 7 regular batsmen (including batting all-rounders), the perfect balance can be said to occur when each batsman makes up between 10 to 15% of the team's strength, with the remaining coming from the tail. This suggests that everyone makes equal contributions and the team is not dependent on one or two players.

In that sense, both, the Indian and Australian batting line ups are fairly well-balanced, with no batsman contributing over 20%, whereas
England's (for example) is not. Flintoff and Strauss together contribute nearly 60% of the team's batting strength, so knocking just two batsmen over should see the opposition waltz home (an easy task given how often Flintoff's knee/ankle/shoulder knocks him over on behalf of the opponent).

Here's the story then, about the Indian and Australian line-ups.
India, despite its superstar cast, is still 'top-heavy'. If you get through the top 5 Indian batsmen, you have taken out 72% of India's batting strength. If you get the top 5 Aussie batsmen, you only account for 62% of their strength. In fact, for India, numbers 1, 2 and 3 (Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir) account for 44% of their batting power.

This reinforces the importance of Dhoni staying there till the end, especially after Gambhir got out in the 34th over. These statistics suggest that
India needs, at almost all times, a good start from the openers and number 3. It also suggests that India should not delay taking the batting powerplay beyond the 3rd wicket, since their strength drops dramatically from the 5th wicket onwards.

Australia have a slight advantage in this regard. This is chiefly on account of the fact that they have a stronger lower-middle order, especially with Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Johnson coming in at numbers 7 and 8. Marsh, in fact, is extremely important to the Australian batting line-up, contributing 14%, second only to Ponting and Hussey.

The point, in a nutshell, is this. Over the course of a 7-ODI series, you would back the Aussie batting to outlast its Indian counterpart, simply because they can produce the sort of performance they did in the first game - everyone chips in and the team gets a 300-or-thereabouts score - without anyone having to do anything exceptional.
India, on the other hand, will need a big, 100+ innings in every single game (barring freak occurrences like the tail wagging as much as it did in the 1st ODI, which is unlikely to happen again).

Of course, god knows they have 7 batsmen all capable of scoring that indispensable big-ton, which Australia don't...

(The percentage that each individual contributes to the team's resources overall can be calculated by determining each individual player's batting average and strike rate as a factor of the team's overall batting average and average strike rate, with provisions made for factoring top order batsmen and tail-ender contributions separately.)

(Click here to know more about Sreeram, and here to know more about Jatin)

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