India did not hit a single 300 in ODIs from 1971-95. It first achieved this feat in 1996 and then in 1997. From 1998 it has been doing it every year multiple times and the maximum 300s it has scored in a single year is 10. While India became the clear leader after scoring 300 more than 75 times, all other teams have been doing it on a regular basis too.
In fact India became the first country to chase 350+ twice and that too in the same series versus Australia. The series also saw 300 being crossed in every completed match while Rohit Sharma became the third ODI double centurion.
There are many reasons for this rain of runs that’s happening in ODI cricket nowadays, like…
1. The world is flat: There was a time when many pitches in the world favoured fast bowlers, but they slowly started going out of favour. It was found that spectators wanted higher scores and bigger shots.
So even if a ground favours fast bowlers today, it may be kept so for a Test match, but it is totally shaved off for an ODI. While pitches in the sub-continent totally kill the bowlers, those abroad aren’t that great for them too.
2. Powerplays: If you watched the first 15 overs of ODI matches till the 1980s then you could be forgiven for thinking it was a cure for insomnia. The target for teams was to save wickets and not make runs. ''50 in 15 is a good score'' was a commentator’s cliche.
Hitting was done only in the slog overs and some fans would start watching match from the 40th over. The ICC changed the fielding rules for the first 15 overs to promote big hitting.
Initially they did not see much success. Big hitters Kapil Dev of India and Ian Botham of England failed to up the tempo in the 1992 World Cup when sent up the order.
In the 1996 WC, the heavy hitting of openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana led to a revolution at the start of the game. We now had slog overs at the beginning and end.
Not content with that (because now batting slowed down in the middle) a Batting Powerplay was introduced that could be taken any time in the match! So basically the ICC has been tweaking rules non-stop to ensure that the batsmen go berserk throughout the innings and they have been quite successful in that regard!
3. Ball changes: Unlike the red Test ball, the white ODI ball goes soft as the innings progresses and gets more difficult for the batsman to hit. First they decided to change the ball after the 34th over, so that you could start hitting from the 35th over instead of the 40th.
Not satisfied with that, the ICC decided to introduce new balls at both ends, so that a single ball will never be more than 25 overs old. What about studying reverse swing for old balls? Forget it in ODIs!
4. The T20 effect: When ODIs were introduced, the pace picked up in Tests. It was but natural that when T20s were introduced, the pace should pick up in ODIs too. Thanks to IPL you have one long hitting season every year that has influenced the rest of the year.
5. Shot innovations: There was a time when you respected a good ball by your opposition bowler. It was an achievement to block a Yorker and not get out on it. Not anymore. When batsmen didn’t find shots in the manual that would counter good balls, they started to create their own shots.
There was Mohammed Azharuddin’s paddle sweep and more recently Tillakaratne Dilshan’s pallu scoop. Indian captain MS Dhoni’s helicopter shot is another “out of the stadium” shot. Thanks to this, dot balls are becoming rarer and rarer.
6. Free hits: The bowler is already punished for a no-ball by having his team concede an extra run and having to repeat the delivery. Not content with that, the ICC introduced the concept of a free hit, where the batsman couldn’t be out next ball and would invariably try to clobber it in the process.
7. Stricter wides: Umpires have also become much stricter with respect to wides. Many balls would never have been given wides decades back and it all means more extras and another chance for the batsman to clobber the ball.
8. Fast bowler fatigue: The year is packed with Tests, ODIs, international T20s and IPL matches. This is leading to fatigue and injuries more among the fast bowlers than anyone else. Kapil never missed a single international match in his life due to injury.
Gone are those days and fast bowlers like Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar had truncated careers. On the whole, all the changes in international cricket have hit the fast bowlers the most and they are not as effective as they used to be, especially in the limited overs format.
9. Video replays: That’s another thing which is helping the batsman more. In the olden days, batsmen would be surprised by bowlers especially on away tours. Now their body language is studied, how they hold the ball etc and are countered very effectively.
The biggest example is how Ajantha Mendis annihilated India on debut, but after studying him time and again the Indian management cracked his style and our batsmen blasted him so badly that Sri Lanka stopped playing him against India.
10. The psychological factor: From 1971 to 1991 a team batting second never ever scored 300. The first time 300 was successfully chased was in 1992 by Sri Lanka against Zimbabwe. The first time such a score was chased against a Top 8 team was by India against Pakistan later in 1998.
Till the 1980s, even 225+ chases were tricky and batting collapses were common in the second innings. With 250+, the captain was almost sure of victory. That barrier finally came down in the late 1990s and was totally shattered when South Africa chased 435 successfully with Australia in 2006.
Post-2000, a team has scored 300 batting second more than 65 times.
In fact, now 400 is the new 300, having already been achieved 10 times!
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.
He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/