How much is enough in a one-day match? Obviously, a 320-plus score, as the India versus Sri Lanka match on Thursday showed, can be below par. Sri Lanka won with eight balls to spare. So they could have managed a target of ten runs more without much fuss. The frequency with which 300-plus scores are being chased down these days does not exactly make Sri Lanka’s victory a surprise.
Why do the newspaper headlines then call it ‘unexpected’? Some described it as a ‘shock defeat’ for India. For those not in the know, Sri Lanka have chased down 300-plus scores at least five times earlier. They may not look a fancied side with rock star cricketers, but they defeated the mighty Aussies in the Test series last year, and earlier this year, they won a T20 series against the Australians. Yes, they started off poorly in the Champions Trophy with a 96-run defeat against South Africa, but that does not in any way make them minnows vis-a-vis India.
So let’s get out of the delusion that India were shocked. They lost it fair and square and they played poor cricket. Forget Shikhar Dhawan’s 128-ball 125, Rohit Sharma’s 79-ball 78, MS Dhoni’s 52-ball 63 and the apparently imposing total of 321, and it was largely a batting failure. How? Batting first on a friendly wicket, India were at least 30 runs short. When the pitch offers no support and scoring is easy, there’s little point blaming the bowlers.
Coming back to 300-plus scores, 300 is the new 250 in one-day cricket what with fielding restrictions – mandatory powerplay in the first 10 overs and not more than four fielders outside the 30-yard circle between 11th and 40th overs – and changed quality of bats. Batsmanship has also changed over the years with the arrival of a new generation of aggressive players and in response to the demands of the T20 format. Batsmen have learnt to be more creative with their stroke-making, discovering new areas to score runs. It has helped that pitches across countries have become more batsman-friendly.
Given these considerations, a score of 300 and thereabouts is not formidable any more. Teams chasing get enough time to strategise and build their innings. The way Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis went about consolidating themselves before breaking lose during their 160-run stand on Thursday was an example. Kusal Perera, Angelo Mathews and Asela Gunaratne were playing to the script, keeping the target and run rate in constant focus. A team with a decent batting line-up can always chase down 300-plus totals. They can make chasing an advantage.
What about the team batting first? They simply cannot further their innings without an imaginary target in mind and a strategy to reach there. Once they realise that batting is going to be easy and the same holds true for the opposition too, they need to set a target good enough to test the latter. So what should be the ideal target? One can never be sure what a safe one is but the team batting first on a helpful pitch should set eyes on 350. They should draw a strategy to pace their innings to reach there in 50 overs.
By this benchmark, India were 30 runs short. If you consider the big scorers, barring Dhoni, all of them scored at a rate of just about a run a ball. Certainly not good enough on a placid wicket. Take out the knock of Kedar Jadhav (13-ball 25) out of the mix, and you realise India have not done well at all. The next time they need to think their batting strategy better. Three hundred and a dozen more is no score to be happy about in modern day cricket.