Although the bowling and fielding at the 2015 Cricket World Cup was generally exemplary, it was batting that reigned supreme – runs came thick and fast. Indeed, it would appear 300 has become the new norm of One-Day Internationals. At the last Down Under World Cup in 1992, the average run rate was less than 4.4. By 2007 in the West Indies, it was 4.95. In 2011 it crept above five for the first time. In 2015 it has threatened to surpass 6. No less than 28 times did a side post 300-plus score. The there was Chris Gayle’s mark of 215 posted against Zimbabwe, after which Australian captain Clarke admitted to the press a future individual score of 300 it isn’t out of the question. 300. In an ODI.
Though a longstanding complaint of test match obsessed purists, the recent dominance of the bat in ODIs exemplified at the World Cup is chiefly the result should have been an admittedly well-foreseen perfect storm: the confluence of fielding restrictions, shorter boundaries, weapons grade bats, and Twenty20 era flair and aggression.
First instituted in 2005, only four fielders (instead of five) may now stand outside the twenty-seven meter circle. Boundaries have also been shortened by a mandated three meters in an effort to increase player safety.
The ever-growing influence of T20 cricket and the Indian Premier League is also a contributing factor. Greater aggression and imagination – sometimes but not always in lieu of technique – are necessities in T20 cricket. The reverse sweep, switch hit, and upper cut are all unorthodox shots used with increasing frequency. Of course, it would be wrong to say it is only the likes of Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pieterson that play such a shot. Sangakarra, Tendulkar, and de Villiers, all outstanding test cricketers, have employed such shots to great effect as well. The point, however, is that a T20 match requires the player to think aggressively, attack consistently and improvise in a way very different to that of the fifty over format or test cricket.
Lastly, it is perhaps the evolution of batting technology that has had the largest and most egregious effects on limited over cricket. Technologies have made for bigger, thicker, and heavier bats whose faces meet the ball with far greater power. Edges are also more likely to go for six than in previous years. The conditions in which batsmen grew up often affects their preference in bat choice. A lower bounce on the subcontinent means an Indian or Bangladeshi is likely to prefer a heavier bat, whereas the higher bounce found down under at the likes of the MCG leaves batsmen in search of lighter bats. New bat technology, however, means even the lightest bats produce greater power than the heavy bat of someone like Garfield Sobers.
Yet, this is hardly the impassioned call to revolution of a nostalgic purist. The popularity of Twenty20 cricket and the IPL in the past decade has left the sport in a constant flux of change, and, while undeniably disorienting, that’s OK. We are not at a divisive crossroads and test cricket is not dead. Australia could have fielded an attack with three left-arm speed bowlers and one left-arm spinner. They didn’t, of course, but Brendan McCallum’s captaincy at the 2015 World Cup was demonstrative of the fact that the most successful ODI teams strike a balanced combination of orthodox competence and a little outside the box ingenuity.