As the cricket world cup comes back to England, from 1999 to 2019, there have been a few significant changes to the 50-over game. Swing isn’t a threat, 300-plus total chases aren’t demon-like and bowlers are unlikely to celebrate much; and these alterations are primarily because the batsmen have been pampered with stringent fielding rules, flatter tracks, bigger bats and the Kookaburra balls in this two-decade journey from England to England. In fact, in the 59 matches since the last world cup, 350-plus scores have been crossed 13 times in England.
The tone has been set by the hosts themselves, who have over the last four years, changed the manner of not only their ODI cricket but also led the way in showing how its played in the modern-day. They have led the way, scoring 16 350-plus scores, while all the other teams put together have managed 37 times. As Virat Kohli, India captain, put it, “These guys (England) seem obsessed with getting to 500. They keep smashing from the first ball and keep going.”
His Australian counterpart, Aaron Finch, doesn’t see things too differently either, where he pins hopes on batsmen having a merry time in the upcoming tournament. “If you look at the trajectory of the scores in the country in the last few years, it has kept going up and up,” he noted at the pre-world cup captains’ conference in London on Thursday (May 23). “We have been at the receiving end of the highest one. I don’t want to put a number on it (the highest total this world cup), because it is going to be so hard to tell. On some really good wickets, on some really small grounds, if the top orders get going for 50 overs, it can be anything.
It is a story told several times over in the last four years, and the climax of it all is expected to be the upcoming world cup. But even as talks of big scores and a possibility of 500 being scored in an innings looms large, Faf du Plessis, South Africa skipper, believes “There are a few X factor bowlers with all the teams who are going to play a pivitol roles.”
It is an important pointer, especially when the contest is so much about bat vs bat. In such a scenario, where big scores are expected to be a key feature, it could well come down to the team with a more potent bowling attack – one that can take wickets, that could have a stronger say. “Your bowling attack and the kind of wicket-takers you have in your resources is going to be important for all of us as captains,” du Plessis adds.
With the top order often doing the bulk of the scoring in the last few years, and the middle order often spending lesser time in the middle, playing the role of accelerators in the death, they could find themselves in alien roles in case of a top order collapse. It isn’t just limited to that. With teams that have a better death bowling arsenal, likely to be difference-maker, when every team has the resource to be on the aggressive with the bat.
Kane Williamson, New Zealand captain, too feels along the same lines. “We have spoken a lot about the batting, but a lot of it also depends on how the bowling attacks operate to keep the batsmen in check. There might be some freeflow play but we are playing a lot in similar grounds where the pitches and blocks might deteriorate, where some are suited for the bat, some will be suited for the ball.”
But for as much as the bowlers will have a part to play, captains believe they need to be kept motivated as they would be in the firing line at all times and could get demotivated as a result. “With good wickets come boundaries,” du Plessis said. “So you have to find a way to keep the bowlers nice and calm.”
Dimuth Karunaratne too agreed, and added, “We all need to do that (work hard to keep the morale of the bowlers up). We all saw in the last England-Pakistan series. It is not going to be an easy job.”
But much unlike what the run-record-breaking tournament this is predicted to be, Kohli believes the additional pressure of the tournament could hold back a few teams from going on the all-out attack that they usually do in bilateral series. “260-270 at a world cup is going to be as difficult to get as 370-380. Initially, some teams might get on a roll, but as the tournament progresses, you will see even 250 defended. That’s the kind of pressure the world cup gets.”