As England piled on a massive 335 in the first innings of the fourth ODI in Dunedin, one hardly anticipated the carnage that would follow in the second. Just when one had assumed that the hosts would find trouble in levelling the series, in came birthday boy Ross Taylor, who played brilliant knock of 181 in just 147 deliveries that enabled the Kiwis to notch up a memorable win. While high-scoring games and chases hardly cause major surprises nowadays, the fact that New Zealand – a land that traditionally assisted the fast bowlers – is witnessing such scores more frequently than before. This is a worrying sign.
Just a few weeks ago, Australia blazed away to a 5-wicket win over New Zealand in the T20I tri-series, after the latter had made a mammoth score of 243 in the first innings. With David Warner and D'Arcy Short taking apart the experienced bowlers, the match was reduced to an easy chase. While these might amuse many, a follower of the game will vouch for the high runs in the recent past that have become quite a norm in the once-pacer friendly wickets. Since the beginning of 2015, targets above 320 have been breached 11 times in New Zealand in ODIs, and this fact gains more momentum when one realises that before 2015, targets above 320 had been hauled just 15 times since the first ODI was played in New Zealand in 1973.
This trend is just not limited to New Zealand alone. Since 2015, scores above 320 have been scored 79 times all over the world. 35 alone in bowler-friendly conditions like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England, with 400 being scored on seven occasions. Targets above 320 have been chased down eight times, with venues like Dunedin, The Oval, Durban, Sydney and Nottingham having witnessed these high-scoring run chases. All the above-mentioned places have been conventionally known to favour the bowlers and the string of high-scores at these grounds only indicate that flatter pitches, aided by the domestic T20 leagues, have started gaining importance.
For many who say that the high-scoring matches only facilitate an increased interest amongst the spectators are often mistaken. Often, once a batting side has piled on anything more than 320, the rival team is unable to put up a fight and end up collapsing due to pressure. Only in eight of the 79 games since 2015 has the chasing team come near the high target only to succumb. Targets above 320 have had exciting finishes sixteen times (eight successful chases and eight misses), while the others have just been lop-sided encounters.
Once a team ends up losing even a couple of quick wickets while chasing a big score, the match is almost over, and the general norm that high-scores garner interest seems to take a flip on such situations.
A major reason for the trend of high-scores that are being witnessed today is undoubtedly the International Cricket Council’s rules, wherein the fielding restrictions and the use of heavier bats, have further led to the batting team gaining undue advantage. Though the batting Powerplay has been dissolved, the usage of two new balls from each end ensures that the ball will be unable to garner any reverse-swing, something that had made the death overs a little more exciting for the bowlers. With the conditions becoming easier for the batsmen, it is the bowlers who have been suffering in the recent years and with players scoring as many as seven double tons in the ODIs since 2010, the impact on the bowlers is unfathomable.
Cricket has always remained a game that is defined as a battle between the willow and the cherry, but going by the recent results, it has tilted majorly towards the former. This will only increase in the disappearance of quality fast bowlers down the line, which in turn will hamper the skills and the technique of the batsmen going ahead. With the batters running riot on flat tracks and struggling on surfaces that have something for the bowlers, the standard of cricket is all but going to decline.