Teams that score the most runs from the first ball of the over are more successful than teams that don't.
That's a statistic that English, Indian and South African fans may have missed, but not by the international coaches in the new world of every statistical nuance being uncovered by laptop analysts.
According to Scyld Berry, the English coach Andy Flower has noted the first ball figures. In 2009 South Africa scored an average of 0.92 runs (61% win rate), India 0.91 (61%) and England a feeble 0.73 (50%).
It's possible to prove almost anything with stats, but these ones do seem to instinctively feel right, and they can be applied to lower levels too.
Think about it from one of your games.
How good does it feel on the batting team to see the first ball vanish for a boundary? How much do heads go down in the field when that happens? The bowler might try a little too hard on the next ball, fire in a leg stump half volley and before you know it the over has already gone for eight with more than half of it yet to be bowled.
It's safe to say that targeting the first ball of an over is an excellent tactic.
How to target the first ball
The difference between international players and the way you approach the tactic will be slightly different.
With higher skill levels. more time to practice, better bats and flatter wickets the international batsman can feel safer playing in unorthodox ways to attack bowlers: walking down the wicket, hitting across the line 'baseball' style or switch hitting.
For most players at club or school level these methods will just end in failure. Try a front foot pull shot over midwicket on an overcast day with a treacherous English April club track under your feet. Even with perfect technique, if it doesn't catch you in the teeth it will probably lollipop up to the wicketkeeper.
Instead, the smart batsman looks to be aggressive while keeping the advantages:
- For the first ball at least think: "How can I score a boundary?" If you can't score a boundary think how you can make runs from the delivery in other ways.
- Play straight, drive off the front and back foot through the V with a high front elbow. This makes hitting length balls 'on the up' much easier.
- Adjust your body position to hit wider on the off or leg side rather than just bringing your bottom hand in. The latter simply reduces your hitting zone and chances of success.
- Make sure the non striker is looking to turn a defensive shot into a tip-and-run. Also treat every first ball of the game like you are trying to sneak extra runs at the end of the innings. In other words, run hard.
- Think about the angles. You can work away movement into the off side and in movement to the leg side more easily than trying to score against the swing or spin.
How to bowl the first ball
If you are bowling and you notice the opposition targeting the first ball of every over, there are things you can do to react. Attacking like this always carries a risk and you can exploit it.
- Treat it like you are bowling at the death. For just that first ball, forget that you are in the 20th over (or whatever) and treat it exactly like you are bowling at the death. Use your slower/quicker ball, bowl a yorker or anything else to stop the big hit being pulled off.
- If you are a quicker bowler, try a bouncer. A happy hooker might just put one down the throat of deep midwicket, a technically poor batsman might pop one up to leg gulley.
- Again if you are a seamer, ask the keeper to stand up. This puts pressure on the batsman and works especially well if they are walking down the wicket to you.
- If you are bowling spin, don't be afraid to throw the ball up over the eyeline and give it a rip. The batsman needs to play a very good shot to get it past your deep fielders and if you can deceive him with some drift and dip you with have your man.
As any statistical analyst will tell you, correlation does not mean cause. In other words, scoring more runs off the first ball doesn't mean you will be the best team, even if the best teams all score more. There is not enough data and too many other possible factors.
That said, targeting the first ball in a safe way is a good tactic. It focuses batsman's mind on at least one ball in an over and gets you off to a good start with the bat.
Have you ever tried this tactic? Does it work for you?
image credit: RaeA