ANALYSIS: Powerplay, “Boring” Middle Overs & Death Run Rates In T20 Internationals

On February 21st 2020, Australia and India faced-off in the opening match of the T20 World Cup in Sydney. Batting first, India got off to a flying start, as Shafali smacked Molly Strano and Megan Schutt for 29 off 15 balls; and although India’s run rate slowed down after Shafali was dismissed right at the end of the powerplay, that explosive start had put India in the position where they would go on to win the game by 17 runs.

A strong powerplay, followed by a weaker middle overs phase, has been a typical pattern for India in recent years, even before Shafali entered the fray. In T20 matches between the “Top 5” (Australia, England, India, New Zealand and South Africa) since 2016, their average powerplay run rate has been 7.2 runs/ over, slowing down to 6.7 in the so-called “Boring” Middle Overs.

This sounds like it should be the norm – after all, it’s in the name “power” play. However, India are actually the only team in the Top 5 where this is the case – everyone else strikes at a lower run rate in the powerplay than they go on to achieve in the middle overs – even Australia, with the likes of Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney up top.

South Africa’s opening match of that same World Cup, against England in Perth, was the complete opposite. Chasing 123, South Africa started at the pace of a funeral march, scoring at a rate of just 4.3 runs/ over in the powerplay; but came back to win the game at the death, scoring at 8.5 runs per over in the last 4 overs. (And actually it was even more “deathy” than that – they only took one run from the 17th over, hitting the required 33 off just the last 3 overs.)

Again this is a typical pattern for South Africa – they score slowly in the powerplay at 5.8 runs/ over, accelerate through the middle overs at 6.6, and then look to really make hay at the death at 7.4 runs/ over – the only team to hit at over 7 at the death.

Of course, to put things in perspective… (or as Indian and South African fans might be forgiven for thinking, “too much f****** perspective“)… cricket isn’t about winning phases; and although India and South Africa won their opening matches of that tournament, both were later beaten by Australia in the knockouts on their way to lifting the trophy at the MCG.

The middle overs might be stereotyped as “boring” but they last as long as the powerplay and death overs put together, and Australia and England, with the highest middle over run rates, ultimately make that count. It is no coincidence that the two teams who score at over 7/ over in the 10 middle overs are the ones with the highest win percentage in games between the Top 5, with a clear relationship between middle over run rate and winning games of cricket all the way down to South Africa, with a middle overs run rate of 6.6 and a win percentage of just 29%.

The middle overs might not have the glamour of the powerplay, or the cachet of the death; but they do, it seems, win you games of cricket.

Team Middle Overs RR Win %
Australia 7.6 69%
England 7.1 63%
New Zealand 6.9 41%
India 6.7 40%
South Africa 6.6 29%

All stats for fully completed (D/L excluded) T20 matches between the “Top 5”, 2016-21