The DRS is here to stay

Sachin Tendulkar rapped on the pads at a critical phase in the big India-Pakistan semi-final. The umpire raises his finger. The Pakistan team is jubilant. After a word with Gautam Gambhir, Tendulkar asks for a review. The review overturns the umpire’s verdict!

Surely that ball from Saeed Ajmal has settled the matter. It is almost certain that the 2011 World Cup has successfully ushered in the Decision Review System (DRS), at least in ODI cricket.

This is good news, especially because a full-blown DRS also includes the Hot Spot technology. The Hawk-Eye is great for lbw decisions, but we need Hot Spot for close bat-pad decisions. A combination of Hawk-Eye + Hot Spot will resolve most of cricket’s difficult decisions … except that really tough one to adjudge close-to-ground catches.

The only contentious issue deals with the number of unsuccessful referrals: a lot of commentators feel that a limit of 2 is just right; others recommend a limit of 3. I still believe that every appeal must eventually be referred.

An analysis by S Rajesh of Cricinfo shows that, on the average, 4 out of every 5 on-field umpire’s decisions were right. This also means that 1 out of 5 decisions was wrong, which is really quite unacceptable.

DRS also provides the best measure of an umpire’s performance. The WC experiment showed that Aleem Dar is indeed the best, and Daryl Harper and Asoka de Silva are not all that great.

The Powerplay adds complexity

In the good old days, the first 15 overs of an ODI game featured field restrictions: only 2 or 3 fielders were allowed to field outside the 30-yard line (which, in practical terms, translates to ‘only 2 or 3 fielders are allowed to field near the boundary rope’).

This meant that a batsman could safely loft the ball for a 4 or 6 as long as he successfully avoided those 2-3 manned spots. This usually meant an enhanced scoring rate, although it also increased the risk of the batsman getting out.

Later the rules were changed to allow 10 (fixed slot)+5+5 (variable) overs of field restrictions, with the first 10 overs of the innings having mandatory field restrictions. This didn’t change things much; most fielding captains opted to use the first 20 overs to finish off the restricted phase.

Then came the interesting twist: the batting side was allowed to choose the timing of one of the two 5-over field restricted phases (now called ‘Powerplay’). This surprise element dramatically changes the dynamics of the game; the fielding captain now has to build in this added complexity while making his on-field plans. For example, he doesn’t want his worst bowlers to bowl to the batting side’s best batsmen when they are nicely set.

Most commentators conjectured that the best time to take the batting powerplay was just after the 34th over. On paper, this made sense. A new (hard and non-reverse swinging) ball was available; so the powerplay could be used to add 20-25 easy runs to the batting side’s total.

The Batting Powerplay was thus seen as a T20 game briefly embedded in a T50 game. However, things didn’t quite pan out that way. Most batting sides got ‘greedy’, lost wickets and eventually panicked. The smart (default) option (that Sourav Ganguly mentioned) was to pretend that nothing had changed … and the emptier outfield would automatically translate into more runs.

The more timid captains chose to ignore the Powerplay, so that it was automatically taken during overs 46-50 when the batting side was perforce in the accelerated mode.

In the times to come, we are certain to find more intelligent responses to Batting Powerplays although we can’t quite guess what yet.

The magic of 260-280

My brother, Harsha Bhogle, has often talked about this. He argues that India is most likely to win if scores are in the 260-280 range. The crux of that argument is that the wicket must offer something to India’s slow bowlers (who – look at Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina, and Sehwag when his shoulder is fit – already add immense value as power hitters). A completely flat wicket, on the other hand, exposes our more modest pacemen and neutralizes the superior skills of India’s batting machine.

The scoreboards confirm this hypothesis. India defeated West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka when the scores, in each case, were in the 260-280 range. On the other hand, India almost lost to England after scoring 338 and lost to South Africa after scoring 296 (which should have been closer to 320-330 if there had been no batting collapse).

— This blog first appeared in April 2011 on www.castrolcricket.com.

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