Batting order and its impact on a team’s success
Batsmen like W.G Grace, Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith have built an international fan-following due to their incredible batting careers. In addition to remarkable performance records, these players have one thing in common – they are all known as top-order players. Arguably, in the game of cricket, the batting order is something which is discussed at large and is of the utmost importance when it comes to the overall performance of the team. From fans to players and experts to coaches- everyone believes that the batting order can make or break a team’s performance in a match.
Generally, this order is divided into four parts: top order that includes the openers and batter three, the upper-middle order that comprises of batters four to six or sometimes seven, lower-middle order with batters seven and eight and the tail-enders comprising of batters nine to eleven.
The coveted no. 3 and the top order
Rahul Dravid ‘The Wall’: One of the most coveted No. 3 batsman of his time/ Source
“There is a lot of codswallop spoken and written about the No. 3 spot. For instance, some have said it’s the most difficult batting position when it is, in fact, the best place in the order to bat.”
- Ian Chappell
While the openers have to come with a different level of mental strength and technical prowess to be able to set the right tone for the rest of the match, batting at number 3 becomes slightly more challenging because the player has to adapt their strategy, game and mindset based on the performance of the openers.
In the past few decades, world cricket has produced some of the finest no. 3 batsmen, including the likes of Rahul Dravid for India, Kumar Sangakkara for Sri Lanka, Hashim Amla for South Africa and Kane Williamson for New Zealand.
However, on the other hand, Australia’s Ricky Ponting came out to bat just 19 times out of his 196 innings due to poor performance by openers. This was one of the main reasons why Australia dominated world cricket in that era.
Team India: Batting positions and performances
In the current Indian team, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan form the top order whereas Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya form the middle order line-up and players like Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah are the lower-order batsman.
The Indian team has been blessed with the performance of their top-order batsmen, primarily the top three – Rohit, Kohli and Dhawan who have done great for the team and that is why the middle order has not been through the acid test. Talking about the recent past, the low performance of the middle order was the prime reason for India’s exit from the World Cup 2019. This is a clear indicator of the fact that it is of the utmost importance that middle order should always be prepared because their performance can be crucial in knockout matches.
The contribution of both – the top order and the middle order is equally important, but the role changes a lot when we see them in different formats. In ODI and T20 cricket, top order is the one who decides the fate of the match because if you get a good start at the beginning then the match is set for power hitters like Ben Stokes and M.S Dhoni. Whereas, in test cricket, the algorithm changes. Not denying the fact that if the top order fires then it is good for the team, but we all know that test cricket is all about phases, so it doesn’t matter a lot. If the opening batsman has gone back to the pavilion early, number 3 can still salvage the game by making the best of the liberty of time that they don’t get in shorter formats of cricket.
Team selection and batting positions
The outcome of any match across the three formats of the game can drastically change depending on the selection of the playing eleven. A wrong selection may severely reduce the chances of a team whereas a strategic good selection may significantly increase it.
For example, Pakistan recently dropped two of their most experienced batsmen- Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik from the T20I squad to play against Sri Lanka. They lost the series in spite of being the number one side in T20I cricket. Pakistan’s winning probability would have significantly increased if they had retained these two veteran players.
Another example is from India’s home series against South Africa. The home team rested Jasprit Bumrah for the T20I series and were hammered in Bengaluru. If Bumrah had played the match, India’s chances of winning would have improved dramatically.
After selecting the best playing eleven, it is equally important to choose the correct position in the batting order. Rohit Sharma is a great opener in limited overs’ cricket. He was in great form in the ODI World Cup in England.
If India had decided to open with KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan and bat Rohit at number 4, it would have severely reduced the chances of winning for India.
Similarly, Virat Kohli is a great number 3 for ODI and T20I cricket formats. When India is chasing a big score, it is Kohli at number 3 who anchors the chase. If Kohli was pushed to number 4, it would affect India’s winning probability significantly. Thus, a wrong batting position may seriously hamper not only the individual performance of the batsman, but also the overall chance of victory for a team in a match.
Delving deep into batting positions and their overall effect on a match outcome
One of the most important elements that needs to be considered here is the playing conditions because in swinging conditions like England where the ball moves in the early part of the innings, the responsibility of the top order increases. They need to ace their batting during the first crucial hours so that if a wicket falls then the middle order can build the innings from there. But if teams are playing in Asia then the second and third day become important because at that time the pitch starts to turn, and teams should prefer sending skilled players who can play the turn.
Another fact that needs to be considered while slotting a batsman on any specific number is that the player behaves a lot like the batting position he is batting on. For example, if you send Ravindra Jadeja to bat at number 4 then he would react to the situation differently as compared to when you send him to bat at number 7. This is more like a perception game where the batting order is decided after keeping in mind the skill set of the batsman and the match situation.
Few players who have redefined the batsmanship in the last decade are Virendra Sehwag as an opener in test matches and Michael Bevan and M.S Dhoni as a finisher in the lower-middle order in shorter formats of the game.
Before, Sehwag arrived in the cricketing circuit in whites, opening in test matches had a certain formula wherein the job of the opening batsman was to eat the first session of the test match and then look to score runs in the next two sessions of the day but Viru changed it all. If the ball is outside the off stump, he flashes and flushes the ball hard for the boundary. He has a clear game plan if the ball is in the hitting zone. He hits it irrespective of the game situation.
Just like Sehwag, another Indian player who changed the demographics and the Maths of the cricketing world on how the game should be approached is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. With his calm head and street-smart persona, Dhoni took the legacy forward that was created by Michael Bevan once.
Commentator Ian Bishop once said that “If 15 runs are needed off 6 balls, the pressure is on the bowler, not on Dhoni”.
Relying on real-time data
According to a paper titled ‘Batting Order Setup in One Day International Cricket’ co-authored by Dr Masoumeh Izadi-Mercer- Research Lead at TVConal, metrics like batting average, economy rate, and strike rate does not adequately capture the richness of the underlying dynamics in cricket, especially in ODIs. Advanced metrics that indicate the batting pressure, consistency over time and over the batter’s career, and player’s contribution to a team’s success should be properly defined and incorporated in models.
Batting order plays a crucial role in deciding the fate of the match, but it is equally important to know the batting strength of the team and where the core of the team lies. Some teams rely a lot on their opening partnership, while some have strong medium order batsman whereas few teams think that they can chase any target because of their finisher. So, whatever may be the situation, the batting order will always play an important role and that is what the captain should keep in mind before going for the toss.
TVConal, a Singapore-based startup, tracks cricket matches and provides predictions for every single ball in real-time, allowing broadcasters and publishers to generate engaging content. By using a wealth of historical data on matches and players and employing machine learning and big data, they convert scorecard data into engaging game insights. The startup’s first-line product, CricAlgorithmics can predict the games and identify emerging batting performance indicators based on real-time data and its descriptive analysis.