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Hit Sixes, Win World Cup?

Nitin Sundar |March 6, 2019, 4:26 PM IST
Hit Sixes, Win World Cup?

West Indies won the 2016 World T20 on the back of a simple, but powerful premise: the team that can hit sixes more often, and more easily under pressure, wins more often. They packed their side with an army of on-demand six-hitters - Chris Gayle. Lendl Simmons. Johnson Charles. Marlon Samuels. Dwayne Bravo. Darren Sammy. Andre Russell. They outlasted India in the semi-finals, chasing 192 with the help of 11 sixes. India had hit just 4. In the final, England managed 5 sixes while setting a target of 156. West Indies were bottled during the chase, but we remember the name of the man who blasted four consecutive last-over sixes to win the thing.

Three years later, all signs seem to suggest that the ODI World Cup this summer in England could follow a similar blueprint.

Close your eyes for a minute, and try to recall your favourite moments in limited-overs cricket. Chances are that a lot of them will be the sixes. Tendulkar upper-cutting Shoaib Akhtar into a sea of blue and green; Viv Richards’ gum-chewing, cap-flipping, hook into the stands; Javed Miandad launching Chetan Sharma’s final ball into the history books; MS Dhoni, twirling his bat after lighting up the Wankhede with a thump into the bleachers. Sixes are what make cricket box office: the paying spectator comes to watch sixes, and maybe catch one that is hit in his or her direction. Nothing connects a fan to the action the way a six does.

Wickets may be the currency of Test cricket, but the six establishes the batsman’s dominance over the bowler in coloured clothing. There is an air of finality to a wicket; the batsman is defeated and done for the day. He doesn’t have to deal with the baggage of his failure until the next time he walks out to bat - better prepared, and in most cases facing someone else, atleast at the start. It’s not the same with a bowler who has been hit for a six - he needs to come back immediately with a better plan, against the same opponent, now dominant, and with the game tilting ever so slightly in the other side’s favour.

How difficult must it be to come back from that? Very! Which is why batsmen often get on a roll against a bowler they have just taken for a six. Ask Jos Buttler, who went from 50 to 150 in a flurry of mind-boggling maximums in the recent six-fest that was the fourth ODI against West Indies. Or Hardik Pandya, who seems to have made a habit of hitting sixes in triads. The six emasculates the bowler, gives the batsman the confidence to chance his hand again, and before you know it, it is raining sixes, and the contest has swung decisively.

Sundar table of sixes

Sixes are being hit more alacrity than ever in one-dayers. In 2007, for the time ever in ODI history, more than 10% of the runs were scored in sixes. The next time this happened was in 2012, the year the dam truly broke. Since then, the contribution of sixes has constantly headed upwards, peaking at 12.2% in 2018.

The conditions surely have a part to play - England, New Zealand, and to a lesser extent, India and Australia have hosted several six-fests in recent years. Even the Caribbean pitches, which for years produced slow, scrappy one-day games, enabled a barrage of big hits in the recent England series. But the pitches are only half the story.

What’s also changed is the batsmen’s risk appetite, as well as their sheer skill in hitting sixes. Modern batsmen set themselves up for the six in all circumstances. Rohit Sharma and Martin Guptill attack the new ball off the front foot, allowing them to loft through the line. In Rohit’s case, his extraordinary hand-eye coordination also allows him to swivel and pull off the front foot if the bowler drops short.

Glenn Maxwell switches his grip and opens up areas in the ground that are unmanned. Gayle, Buttler and Pandya stay deep in the crease with open stances and muscular grips, allowing them to dunk pretty much any length straight down the ground. Their methods and their weapons are so good that sixes these days generally clear the boundary with plenty to spare. In a sense, the extra fielder out in the last 10 overs only encourages batsmen to go for sixes instead of ground shots - the extra man can’t take catches 20 rows back!

So far in 2019 - sixes have constituted an eye-popping 14.5% of all runs scored. That’s a whole 2.3 percentage points higher than 2018, which was the most ‘sixy’ year in ODI history. Messrs Gayle, Buttler, Thisara Perera and co may have something to do with this trend, and there is no sign of their hunger abating. The 230-odd chase, such as the two most recent ODIs between Australia and India, will be exceptions and not the norm.

Here’s a punt then, nice and early - the team that hits most sixes during the World Cup in England this year, will end up winning the tournament. Who is betting against this?

(Nitin Sundar is a full-time cricket tragic who yearns for the return of the wonderful ODI jerseys of the 90s. He is stuck in a Bangalore traffic jam and tweets @knittins)

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

Pos Team P W L T/NR PTS NRR
1
IND
9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
2
AUS
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
3
ENG
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
4
NZ
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
5
PAK
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
6
SL
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
7
SA
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
8
BAN
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9
WI
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
10
AFG
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more