Batting powerplays — a sudden jolt for 50-over cricket

2009-01-23 00:00

It is possible to rely too much on ideas and not enough on action, writes PETER ROEBUCK on the use of powerplays Down Under.

BATTING powerplays have woken up 50-over cricket. Previously spectators could nod off between the thrashing in the first 10 overs and the bash at the end. Not that there is anything wrong with snoozing. In its rightful place, sleep is one of the pleasures of life. No less a sage than the Swan of Avon described it as “nature’s sweet nurse”. But it is not common practice to bore sporting spectators so much that they drop into dreamland. In those middle overs even insomniacs were reduced to Sudoku, crosswords or, worse, conversation. All the more reason to create interest.

Until attending the recent engagements in Hobart and Melbourne, your correspondent knew nothing about batting powerplays. Frankly, it is hard enough trying to find cellphones inclined to develop legs without bothering about changes in cricket. In the past these alterations occurred about once a decade. Nowadays the laws are reviewed as regularly as petrol prices. Accordingly, it came as a surprise to find after about 40 overs captains, bowlers, fielders and batsmen having as many meetings as a chapter of the Women’s Institute that has just received an application for membership from Germaine Greer.

Of course, teams are not quite sure how to handle these five-over bursts with only three men allowed on the boundary. But then, it is early days. Readers not yet overwhelmed by clichés will be pleased to hear that trial and error has a part to play in these developments. So far the South Africans have been more advanced, but as former president Bush can confirm, intelligence is not always reliable, or intelligent. In Hobart the Proteas were so astute they forgot about playing cricket and it cost them the match. Goodness knows what happened in Sydney overnight – this column claims omnipotence but omniscience is left to the Sunday papers.

South Africa prevailed at the MCG in part because of their use of the batting powerplay.

Australia had wasted its chance. Afterwards Ricky Ponting said his batsmen had not used the wind properly and everyone laughed. But he had a point. Not many decades ago Vic Marks and I decided to attack a Kiwi spinner by lifting him back over his head and letting a stiff breeze take care of the rest. Next ball Vic charged down the pitch, swung lustily, missed by a foot and was stumped by a yard. Even wind is only an opportunity.

Anyhow, the Boks kept in range in the first stoush, and with the result in the balance and about nine overs left to play, claimed the five-over window. Assisted by woebegone fielding and erratic bowling, Albie Morkel took care of the rest. More than any other game, cricket grows in families.

Naturally the visitors felt pleased with themselves. Listeners to SABC radio were equally delighted. Apparently the ball-by-ball descriptions have persuaded some locals that Australia is at least partly civilised. Previously they had assumed that television commentators were a cross-section of antipodean society! Not that home supporters resented the victory. These South Africans have been popular and the hosts have enjoyed these close and sporting contests.

Doubtless the Proteas thought they had cracked it. Hobart taught them a lesson. Above all, it reminded them that batting powerplays cover only 10% of an innings. Superb bowling from Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini stopped the hosts cutting loose in their turn. Accordingly the tourists were chasing 250, about 30 fewer than expected. Determined to take a 2-0 lead the visitors paced their innings. But the pitch at Bellerive was different. No sixes had been hit in the Australian innings and far from accelerating they had slowed down as the ball softened. South Africa did not take that into account. Instead they kept wickets intact and waited for the powerplay. Moreover they decided to play their card late. Spectators kept watching and wondering and debating the issue. By the time it was taken, the required rate had risen to 10 an over. There was no margin for error. Then Nathan Bracken was every bit as taxing as his counterparts.

And so the match was lost. Admittedly it was close. South Africans might recall a contentious four leg byes awarded in the opening over when the batsman did not seem to play a shot. But it is no use crying over spilt milk. South Africa blew it. Probably the same applied the other way around in Melbourne. Anyhow 1/1 was a fair reflection of the series. South Africa had been better prepared and have played with more acumen, but it is possible to rely too much on ideas and not enough on action. The rest of the series and subsequent 50-over matches are eagerly awaited. Perhaps, after all, 50-over cricket is not a dead game walking.

•Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent based in the KZN midlands, who is currently following South Africa’s tour down under.

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