The general trend has been to take advantage of the field restrictions immediately after 34 overs, when a harder, whiter ball comes into operation; oftentimes, though, teams have opted to leave it till the very end, not taking the third Power Play until after the 45th over when, in any case, going for broke is the name of the game.
The approach to the batting Power Play is still a work in progress. On flat sub-continental tracks, the Power Play could well be the decisive phase of a match, which means the drawing board will have to be extensively used in the lead-up to the World Cup. On surfaces where there is little lateral movement, it’s easier to hit through the line and cash in on the slightest indiscretion in length and direction. Consequently, how and when it’s used will have a huge impact on what scores teams can pile up.
The batting Power Play is a dynamic innovation, necessitating captains to think on their feet. Occasionally, they spring a surprise and force their opposite numbers to rejig plans by calling for the Power Play at a completely unexpected stage. By and large, however, they have opted to adopt a conservative approach, but when the Power Play is taken, they go in with unreasonable expectations.
Teams are perhaps guilty of expecting too much from that five-over phase when only three boundary-riders are allowed. Smug in the knowledge that the slam-bang option is still available, they get into a ‘work-the-gaps’ routine in the middle stages of the innings. The loss of a well-set batsman early in the Power Play increases the pressure on both the other set batsman and the newcomer; consequently, teams end up floundering when a little prudence would have helped them make better use of the field restrictions.
It’s only very rarely that the Power Play is employed with the dynamism it calls for. South Africa did so, with devastating effect, in the first one-dayer of the ongoing series in Durban. AB de Villiers and JP Duminy had been allowed to do their bidding by Mahendra Singh Dhoni even though South Africa had been reduced to 82 for three. Instead of merely pushing the ball around and milking the singles, the Protean think-tank imposed further pressure on India by summoning the Power Play after 27 overs.
By then, the pair had added 66 in 81 deliveries. The next 30 balls produced a whopping 45, apart from forcing Dhoni to recall his two most potent bowlers, Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel, out of turn. The consistent fall of wickets meant India’s death bowling wasn’t severely tested, but Smith had pulled off a masterstroke by calling for the Power Play as early as he did.
India have floundered in the Power Plays over the first two games. In Durban, they took it between overs 30 and 34 when they were already 128 for six, and scored just 23 for three. At the Wanderers, they chose not to employ the Power Play when Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni were well set, and lost wickets in a rush in that period, four for 14 between the 42nd and 46th overs hurting them badly.
“In a game like the Wanderers one, you do feel the pressure of scoring runs,” Dhoni conceded. “We were less than 140 around the 35th over. So when you look for 250, it means you have to cash in on the Power Play. Sometimes, you lose wickets and end up getting nothing.“The batting Power Play is always considered a license to hit, but it is important to not hit every ball because if you lose two or three wickets, you hardly earn anything from the Power Play. It’s important to take it at a time when you have two settled batsmen, and look to score as many runs as possible but not lose too many wickets.”
That’s the balance teams are striving for – between scoring what they consider enough and losing not more than one wicket. 40 for one is perhaps par for the course, but it’s unlikely that we will get too many pars!