Why is it so much easier to chase down a T20 target?

It would not be surprising if, in the year 2025, we looked back at T20 totals of 150 the same way that we look back at ODI totals of 220 today.

Published - April 27, 2017 06:32 pm IST

T20 cricket is enjoying a much steeper rise in scoring rates than ODIs have, thanks largely to the proliferation of lower-middle order all-rounders. | PTI

T20 cricket is enjoying a much steeper rise in scoring rates than ODIs have, thanks largely to the proliferation of lower-middle order all-rounders. | PTI

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The ongoing tenth edition of the IPL marks the 15th year of the T20 game. More than 6,000 T20 games have been played in leagues all over the world. Patterns of play have changed over the fifteen-year history of the 20-over contest. In recent years, chasing teams seem to have developed a systematic advantage. They have won 55% of the nearly 900 T20 games played since the start of 2016.

The chart below shows the scoring rate (from the bat per 120 balls faced) in the first and second innings of T20 games by year. One would expect the scoring rate in the 1st innings to be higher since chasing teams have to score only one run more than the opposition to win, while teams batting first can win by any number of runs. Since 2014, the scoring rate for chasing teams has kept pace with that of teams batting first. In 2017 (over 194 games at the time of writing) it has surpassed the scoring rate for teams batting first. This has occurred only once before, in the first year of T20 cricket in which only 48 games were played in all. 110 chasing teams out of 194 have ended up on the winning side.

 

This improvement in success rate for run-chases is found in chases of all sizes. The chart below shows run-chases grouped by required scoring-rates. For much of the history of T20, targets between 7 and 8 runs per over (from 140 to 160) have been evenly contested. The chasing side has won about 50% of the time. Since the start of 2016, chasing teams have been increasingly successful in chases of this magnitude. Improvement is seen in more difficult run-chases as well. The success rate in run-chases requiring 8-9 runs per over is now approaching 50%.

 

These recent changes are due to modest improvements in scoring rates in all batting positions. However, the most significant changes are seen in the lower-middle order in recent years. This development is not dissimilar to the prevailing preference for power-hitting in the lower-middle order in ODI teams. The World Cup–winning Australians of 2015 were particularly well-equipped in this regard with an array of quick-scoring bowling- and wicket-keeping all-rounders. Other top ODI teams have followed their lead, with the result that a new crop of power-hitters has become available to T20 franchises.

 

It is premature to assume that scoring rates in T20 cricket are settling on a new normal. But it is worth considering the history of how ODI scoring rates developed. The average number of runs scored with the bat over 300 balls faced in the 1970s was 206. This increased steadily to 219 in 1980s, 229 in the 1990s, 245 in 2000s and 258 in 2010s. It has taken just over 4,000 ODIs and 47 years to obtain a 25% increase in the average score.

A hit to the boundary produces four runs, and one which clears the boundary on the full produces six runs. These units of scoring place a ceiling on the extent to which scoring rates can increase in cricket. Recent recommendations about instituting new rules to limit the size of cricket bats could also influence the rate at which scores increase.

On the other hand, the franchise system is likely to accelerate the increase in scoring rates as it enables teams to acquire or release players from all over the world according to their needs. This creates leagues with far greater parity than say the league of Test-playing nations in which each team is strictly limited by nationality. This greater parity ought to create stronger incentives from teams to pursue marginal benefits through tactical innovations and broader strategic shifts. It would not be surprising if, in the year 2025, we looked back at T20 totals of 150 the same way that we look back at ODI totals of 220 today.

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