Batting power play is the latest innovation by the ICC to spice up the 50 over format. Over the past year when this new concept has been in place it seems like the teams have found this hard to comprehend. It seem like the teams have found it hard to determine how to use this new concept to their advantage. Previously the ODI format had a 15 over field restriction rule when the batsmen can go berserk trying to muster as many runs as possible within that period. This gave birth to the pinch hitters and unconventional openers in the mid nineties.
The 15 over rule has been there for ages now and it seems like the teams are still stuck in that time in spite of the latest changes in the power play rule. The current power play (PP) has been extended to 20 overs with 15 bowling PP overs and 5 batting PP overs. The first 10 overs of PP are continuous but the bowling captain can choose when to take the rest of the 5 bowling PP overs. Then there are 5 PP overs which the batting team can take as and when they please within the 50 overs. If the batting team fails to take it by the end of the 45th over it is automatically applied or forced on the batting team.
Sounds simple enough but when you look at the ODI games in the recent times, it seems like the concept is more complicated for the captains then it actually looks. The bowling team takes the easy way out by taking the PP at a stretch for the first 15 overs keeping the older format in mind. So it works out simple for them, since the captain need not strategize and is happy to get the PP away. But the batting PP is the one which has got the teams napping. In the recent times most of the teams have been either forced to take it or have taken it one or two overs too late.
I guess the problem comes with the age old adage in ODI cricket that the slog overs start from the 40th over. The teams wait till the 40th over to decide whether they want to take the PP or not. Sometimes it works but most of the times the teams lose too many wickets which makes the PP almost useless. For example in the recent ODI between India and Pakistan, India was 190 odd for the loss of 5 wickets with two settled batsmen at the crease. The required RR was just over a run a ball and a perfect time to take PP. Suresh Raina was taking risks with the fielders on the boundary which made no sense as the PP was available for the Indians to take. India for some strange reason wait and Suresh Raina gets out and by the time India decides to take the PP they are 7 wickets down, virtually making the PP useless.
So what is the ideal time to take the batting PP? This is something the teams should discuss in their meetings prior to the games. They have to work out a strategy as to when they should take it and in what situation. The best situation as far as I am concerned is when two batsmen are going strong and are well set take the PP and score 40-45 runs which will put enormous pressure on the fielding team. The best example for timing was again a game involving India, when Sachin and Yuvraj where blasting the NZ bowlers earlier this year. They decided to take the PP as early as 22nd over and blasted 69 runs in those 5 overs. Brilliant decision whoever made the call to take the PP that early. India ended up with 392 on the board.
But these things are easier said than done. It’s very difficult to determine what goes through a cricketers mind when he is at the middle and yes there are team instructions to follow as well. We don’t even know if the players in the middle are actually allowed to take that call or not. Probably the coach sends out a message to take the PP. whatever may be the scenario if we take a sample of 50 odd games in the recent times, we will see that most teams have wasted the batting PP. If the ICC isn’t smart about it, this concept will also die down as the super sub did couple of years ago.
I guess the best way would be to put the pressure on the captains by saying that they have to take the PP themselves before the 46th over is bowled and will not be automatically applied if they don’t take it. It will be assumed that the team has given up the right to take the PP and it should work to the advantage of the bowling team. I guess if such a rule is put in place, it probably might receive more serious thinking by the teams during their discussions and probably will become part of their strategy. Unless something is done to make it more interesting, I guess the ODI game will still follow the same old adage of 15 overs of field restriction and last 10 overs of slog and the innovations will have no effect.