Need for speed
The strike rate has become such an integral part of limited overs cricket in modern times. Our expert explains its importance as a measure of performance.
Many decades ago, I used to drive a small scooter to the market. Driving it was pretty simple: you kicked it to start, and drove it always at full throttle. Sometimes, if you were going uphill, the scooter refused to move forward even at full throttle.
Today, I am often required to take a plane from Bangalore to Kolkata. I know that this flight will take 2h 15m, give or take 10 minutes depending on the mood of the winds.
Both the scooter and the Airbus A320 are doing about the best they can. That scooter could never have travelled at 60 km/h, and it is impossible for the A320 to take me to Kolkata in say one hour. In each case, the vehicles have reached the limits of their potential; it would be foolish to expect any further excitement from them.
Now let us look at the batting strike rate in limited over matches. In an earlier blog, we had discussed how strike rates have gone up in all forms of cricket in the last decade. But what we didn’t talk of is how much higher strike rates can rise. Today the par strike rate in ODIs is 90, and in T20 it is about 130. It is tempting to predict that in five years these rates will respectively go up to 125 and 200. And they could continue climbing even after that …
The potential of the strike rate to grow, unlike the speed of an A320 aircraft, is immense. That’s what makes limited overs cricket such an exciting future prospect.
I was watching Virender Sehwag bat at Kochi on April 30, on a treacherous pitch that he later euphemistically described as “not easy”, and was amazed at the way he manipulated the strike rate. If we return to our driving parallel, Sehwag was initially content to drive at 40-50 km/h, but, when there was need for speed, he effortlessly accelerated to 200 km/h. In the last 15 balls he faced, Sehwag batted at a strike rate of 327!
What Sehwag confirmed was that the strike rate is highly elastic; you could easily stretch it from 100 or 300 or even more. Think of it this way: although the par (average) score in a T20 game today is 160, the theoretical maximum (after discounting no balls) is a staggering 120*6 = 720! The elasticity available is indeed immense.
When we lustily cheer sixes scored by a Sehwag, Pollard, Gayle or Pathan, we are applauding both the spectacle and the breach of expectation. A part of the thrill is that these batsmen are defying known boundaries and apparently doing the ‘impossible’. Everyone finds this sort of thing fascinating.
Indeed that’s the only way to explain why IPL franchise owners pay astronomical sums of money to a Pathan, Pollard or Uthappa (who find it hard to even get selected for their national teams). A simple statistical calculation will show a very strong positive correlation between a player’s IPL fee and his batting strike rate.
I have personally no doubt that, in the years to come, a batsman’s ‘defining statistic’ will be his strike rate (it can’t be a co-incidence that every performance measure of a batsman, e.g. the ‘Batting Momentum’ in the Castrol Index, now considers his strike rate). We used to venerate high scores from batsmen; in the future, we will venerate their high strike rates. If the tragedy of yesterday’s Don Bradman was that he failed to average 100 in Tests, tomorrow Bradman may well be bemoaned for his inability to average a strike rate of 300.