One Day International (ODI) Number 4192 was played on 14 July 2019. This was a milestone match. It was a World Cup final. After ending in a tie, it was the first ever ODI to be decided by a Super Over. And then it wasn’t really decided by a Super Over with the Super Over a tie. It then also became the first ODI to be decided by a boundary countback – and after the uproar from fans and players around the world, I dare say it will be the only ODI ever decided by a boundary countback. It was also about time England had a victory. This was the twelfth edition of the World Cup and, after having played in the first ever ODI back on 5 January 1971, England had never won the World Cup. Australia played England in that first ever ODI and they have racked up five World Cup victories so England have some catching up to do.

With all of that background, I thought it was time for me to have a look at some statistics from those 4192 matches and see if there is anything interesting in there.

When ODIs started, players representing their country in Test matches were handed the responsibility of playing for their countries in ODIs. It made sense. There was a bat, a ball and a cricket pitch. As teams quickly started to learn, five days of playing with no maximum number of overs to face is actually a little different to a maximum number of overs per team with the match concluded in the one day. In 1971, New Zealand’s average run rate in Test matches was 1.96. Australia and England, the combatants in the first ever ODI, scored in Test matches in that year at 2.32 and 2.54 respectively. The West Indies were virtually swashbuckling in 1971 scoring their Test runs at the rate of 2.73 runs per over (RPO). Note that all scoring rates are adjusted to equate to a 6-ball over with some countries employing 8-ball overs at the time.

The players had calculated that scoring faster was essential and the average run rate for the match in the first ever ODI was 3.84. Test opening batsmen went into bat in the ODI and took the shine off the new ball and played a slightly more attacking version of their normal cricket. In the first ten years of ODIs with more than two hundred innings played, only three times did a team manage to score at a run a ball or better.

The first thing that people talk about in the modern game is the faster scoring rate. With boundaries now closer to the pitch and a six requiring the clearance of a ten-centimetre advertising cushion set in three metres from the one metre high fence that used to be the boundary, it makes sense that more boundaries are going to be scored – particularly sixes. Add in the fact that bats have progressed in their technology and pitches are prepared for runs not wickets and it seems obvious that run rates are going to increase. Then there is the Sri Lanka factor. I remember watching ODI matches in the eighties. After fifteen overs, it seemed that a score of sixty with hopefully the loss of no more than two wickets was a team on the move. Remembering that a score of two hundred was typically seen as a winning score. Then came Sri Lanka – and in particular Sanath Jayasuriya. The Sri Lankans took the approach that the first fifteen overs was an easy time to score runs with a harder ball and the fielding side restricted in the placement of fielders so they attacked from the first ball. In what was seen as a major upset, the 1996 World Cup final was played between Australia – already a runner-up and a winner in previous World Cups and perennial easy beats, Sri Lanka. The combined average of the opening pair for Australia was 36.97 compared to Sri Lanka’s inferior 29.45 but Sri Lanka was more intent on attack rather than preservation. The combined strike rates told the picture of the progression in the game. Taylor and M. Waugh for Australia struck at a combined average of 70.8 whereas the Sri Lanka opening pair of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana managed to score 87.9 runs for every 100 balls. This started a revolution that is still being enhanced today with the endless pursuit of rapid runs to start an innings.

But what do the overall averages tell us. From 1971 through to the 2019 World Cup final, the average runs per over for all innings across all matches has seen a steady increase. Not many matches were played in the first few years but the average per calendar year for the first few years was 3.84 for 1971 then 4.04; 3.51; 4.65 and 3.95 for the next four years. It was not until 1980 that the average stayed above 4 RPO for all subsequent years. My recollection is that a score of 200 at a run rate of 4 was a typical target for any team. Keep in mind that this is when the West Indies were running rampant. During the early eighties, they controlled the world of ODIs like no team before or since but still the average run rate across the world only reached a peak of 4.67 in 1982. In the seven-year period from 1980 to 1986, the Windies had a win percentage of 79.4 per cent and a five-year win percentage of 81.2 per cent. The only other countries to come close to that are Australia in 2005 with a winning percentage of 78.3 per cent over seven years and South Africa in 2001 with 75.2 per cent. Current World Cup winners, England, only sit at 59.9 per cent over the past seven years and India in 2011, after having won the World Cup in that year, only sat at 60.4 per cent. The Windies had some serious firepower during this time – Viv Richards; Clive Lloyd; Gordon Greenidge; Desmond Haynes; Richie Richardson…they just kept rolling out batsmen made for ODIs. During this time of Windies dominance, Richards averaged 50.7 and struck at 90.7 – these are impressive numbers even by modern standards.

With the average RPO in 1980 at 4.13, the average for all matches per calendar year bounced around between 4 and 5 until 2005 when it finally made it over 5 with an average for the year of 5.1. The calendar year average hovered around the 5 mark – sometimes just below and sometimes just above until 2011 when the average for the year was 5.04 – and it hasn’t dropped below 5 since. The highest average for the year so far has been 2019 (up to the World Cup final) with 5.53. On average, the run rate has increased by 0.034 runs per over per year in the life of ODIs – but as with any average, there are some dramatic highs and lows. If we look at individual innings along that steady growth, there are some extreme outliers.

On the plus side, 2007 saw an innings at a run rate of 15.83. In 2015; 2014 and 2003 there were other individual innings with a run rate above 10. There are similar examples on the low side. In 1979 a completed innings showed a run rate of 1.11 then in 1992 we saw a run rate of 1.68 and in 2009 we witnessed the third lowest completed run rate of 1.77. Did this mean that suddenly run rates were on their way down? It was only two years earlier that we saw the highest individual run rate but, despite this low run rate in one innings in 2009, the annual average for 2009 was 5.12 compared to the annual average for 2007 of only 5.04. In any information such as this, individual information does not tell the story as well as the overall average or trend.

At this point I digress. Some people see a record low temperature at a random location on the planet and immediately declare that Climate Change is all bunkum or others see a one-off scorching hot day and declare that we have just witnessed all the proof that is required to support Global Warming. As with the cricket outliers, one hot or cold day does not tell the full story. The extremely worrying trend with Climate Change is the average increase in the temperature of the earth over more than a century of measurements. Now back to the cricket.

With so many matches played, is there a clear indicator of who will win a match based on items other than skill and commitment of the players.

Win the toss? If your captain wins the toss of the coin – which should be a piece of pure luck with a fifty-fifty outcome, then your chance of winning the game is…50.1 per cent. Pretty much the same as the luck of the way the coin falls.

What about batting first or second? After the advent of T20 cricket, the mantra from many teams is that they want to bat second as they feel confident in chasing down any total. What does the data say? In all matches played, if you bat first, your win percentage is 48.6 per cent so the chasing hypothesis has some credibility but if we break it up into daylight matches and day/night fixtures, we see some different data.

If the match is played entirely in the day, batting first drops your team to a 46.4 per cent winning result so there is a definite advantage in batting second – in the day time. In day/night matches, the advantage flips. Batting first in the sun knowing your opponents will have to use artificial light to bat suddenly increases your winning chances to 52.3 per cent.

I started looking for other components outside of the skill of your players and there is one component that stuck out as an obvious one – but the data supports what most people know. The home ground advantage gives you a 58.2 per cent winning chance.

Now to combine a few of those aspects. If you play at home, you win the toss, it is a day/night match and you bat first, you then have a 64.6 per cent winning chance.

Then I thought I should add some skill to the equation.

The average RPO across all completed ODI innings from 1971 through to the World Cup final has been 4.84. That equates to a score of 242 in 50 overs. We need to do just one run better than average for my first calculation. Based on the previous factors, if you play at home, you win the toss, the match is a day/night match and you bat first PLUS you score more than 242 runs, your winning percentage jumps to 78.0 per cent. Take the same equation but this time increase your score to more than 280 runs and your percentage just jumped to 84.1 per cent.

Go figure – it seems that skill and performance dramatically outweigh factors somewhat outside your control – such as the way a coin falls. Maybe that is a little like life – many people blame their outcomes on luck or external influences when the reality is you just need to score the runs yourself!

Tell me if there are other factors you think I should have considered.

Mathew Dickerson

Mathew Dickerson is not a retired Test cricketer or someone who has played sport for his country. Describing Mathew as an average club cricketer in his younger days is an insult to the standard of club cricket across this nation. Mathew has played and watched and been interested in cricket his entire life and likes to analyse data and facts.

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