Freddie Wilde analyses the battle for the first Powerplay in the first innings in this World Cup.
One major trend already emerging from this 2019 World Cup is a clear and obvious preference among toss winners to choose to field first. In 14 of the 17 matches that have had a toss the toss winner has chosen to field – this proportion of 82% is the highest ever in a World Cup.
Since the 2015 World Cup 48% of toss winners have chosen to field first meaning this significant preference is unique to the tournament, rather than being part of a cyclical trend.
The bar chart above shows how the 18% of toss winners choosing to bat first is the second lowest ever in a World Cup behind the 1979 tournament when only 14% of toss winners chose to bat.
The clear preference for fielding first has not translated into results. So far chasing teams have won 53% of matches.
The driving force for teams choosing to field first in this tournament appears to be the combination of a fresh pitch and an early 10.30 am start – and perhaps buying into the idea of ‘classical’ English conditions – which has persuaded captains to bowl first. Indeed in 12 of the 17 matches when the toss winners have chosen to field first the winning captain has justified his decision by making reference to one of these factors.
Analysis of ball-tracking data shows that this justification does not live up to scrutiny. The average swing and seam in the first ten overs of either innings is almost identical. Bowling first has not produced any more lateral movement, either in the air or off the pitch.
Of course this might partly be explained by the bowlers who have been bowling those overs. However, using CricViz’s unique PitchViz models which evaluate conditions by adjusting for the bowler, we can show that PitchViz Swing and Deviation figures are also almost identical in both innings.
Swing and seam in cricket remain mysterious areas of the game. It is a common assumption that fresh pitches, cloudy skies and early starts encourage lateral movement, but in this World Cup at least, that has not been the case.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the relative similarity in conditions batting teams have fared very similarly in the first Powerplay in both innings – in fact teams batting first have been marginally more successful, averaging 44.25 runs per wicket compared to 42.63 batting second.
Admittedly finding early lateral movement is not the only justification for fielding first, even if it is the one most regularly referenced by captains. Most notably choosing to chase avoids the difficult conundrum of working out what represents a par score on a certain pitch and at a certain venue. Just because the ball is not moving as much as expected in the first ten overs does not mean teams should necessarily not field first – although it is something that they should bear in mind.
However, perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learnt from this is not for the bowling team but for the batting team.
What is particularly interesting is that despite conditions not being notably more difficult in P1 in the first innings batting teams are playing with significantly more caution in that first period. Shot-type analysis shows that in the first innings teams are only attacking 30% of deliveries compared to the second innings where they attack 37%. Generally in ODI cricket teams that bat second are fractionally more aggressive than teams batting first – most likely because they are more aware of conditions – but typically that gap is smaller than we have seen in this tournament.
The large gulf in this World Cup can most likely be explained by the same factor that is driving teams to bowl first to such an unusual degree: that is the assumption that conditions will assist seam bowlers in the first ten overs.
However, ball-tracking analysis shows this is not the case though and raises the possibility of batting first teams batting with more positivity in the first ten overs to better maximise the fielding restrictions in that phase.
As the World Cup wears on it will be interesting to see if teams that bat first dare to bat with more aggression at the start of the innings as they begin to understand that the earlier start does not appear to be providing the bowling team with any discernible advantage.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket