Sunday, April 08, 2007

Risk and Reward

Batting first in a one day international is a quite different thing to batting second. When you bat first, there is one thing that you must not do at any cost, which is fail to bat out the full 50 overs. Sides bat in orrder to bat at the fastest possible rate, but if wickets fall such that it looks like they may not bat out the full 50 overs, they slow down so as to minimise the risk of losing wickets.

However, when batting second, the risk is a different thing. Sides know exactly how many runs they have to score. The aim is not to make as many runs as possible, but to bat in such a way that the chance of not making the runs in the requisite 50 overs is minimised. When the target is a difficult one, this can make for exciting cricket, as exciting cricket must be played to make the target. When the target is a very easy one, then it can make for exciting cricket too, as once batsmen have their eye in it is in their interests to get it done as quickly as possible in order to avoid silly things going wrong, bad weather, or whatever.

Middling targets can make for boring cricket. Trying to get the runs too quickly can lead to wickets falling and the chance of a loss. Getting the runs safely and carefully involves less risk, but is less fun to watch. A lot of one day matches are like this, and these are why one day games can make for boring cricket. The middle 25 overs of such games are dull, as batsmen preserve their wickets and just stay in tough with the total. (Perhaps one reason Twenty20 cricket is a success is that these middle 20 overs are eliminated).

Which is to say that game I wam now watching is like this. As I speak, Austrlia are 2/179, needing a further 69 to win off 88 balls. The run rate required has been around 5.5 an over for the last 30 overs or so, although it has just dropped a little. Gilchrist and Hayden were out in the first 20 overs, and it was 2/89 off 19.1 overs. No problem, but it was best from there to just take the easy runs and not lose wickets. That was exactly what Ponting and Clarke did, getting their eyes in and keeping the run rate needed at just over five an over.

Since I wrote the above, Ponting has managed to get run out. With 15 overs remaining the run rate came down, and it looked like an 8 wicket victory with a couple of overs and another Ponting century was on the cards. However, the English fielding has been good all day (whcih justified the care) and Collingwood threw down the wicket at the batsman's end in the 41st over and Ponting was out for 86. This was annoying for him, but the bulk of the work was done. It is now 3/202 off 41.1 overs. 46 runs are needed off 53 balls. Symonds has come in instead of Hussey. Perhaps the Australians have an early dinner reservation. Still, very disciplined performance by Australia here.

Update:Symonds and Clarke got Australia home with no difficulty, by seven wickets with 2.4 overs to spare. Symonds scored 28 not out and managed a few clean hits that suggested that there is no trouble with his batting form. This is good, given that he may well be a key player for Australia in the final stages of this tournament. Clarke was really good today, scoring 55 not out and anchoring the innings after Ponting went. The Australians will be happy with today's result. It was in the end very convincing. England didn't bowl or field especially badly, but Australia were simply better. The one thing about this result for England is that the margin was relatively low in terms of overs remaining. Their net run rate will not take a huge hit, and this could still matter. That said, they do not look competitive with the best sides in the tournament.

Tomorrow we have Ireland v New Zealand. I think I shall spend the day sightseeing.

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