Limited Overs Cricket Should Change to “Balls Remaining” for 2nd Innings Winners

In cricket reporting worldwide, if the side batting first wins, then the margin of victory is quoted in runs. It’s a marker for how far ahead the first batting side was. Traditionally, this unit of measure for the side batting second has been “wickets remaining.” The marker for the side batting second is the number of batsmen remaining in the dug out waiting for their turn to bat. The implication is that the few batsmen the side batting second needs, then the more dominant their performance.

There are a couple of reasons why this approach rarely conveys the level of closeness of a limited-overs contest. And as those have become shorter – from fifty, through forty, and now to twenty overs – there is a new metric of batting dominance. With the time to bat significantly decreased in a Twenty20 match, scoreboard pressure is a real phenomenon, and it can be seen playing on batsmen’s minds as the Required Run Rate trends towards 12 per over (two runs per ball). And secondly, the need to bat fast has altered the range of viable techniques such that a number 7 or 8 batsman can be expected to smash a quick 20.

Consequently, a team winning by 2 wickets is not necessarily “scraping through” as might be thought when reviewing a Test Match outcome.

Instead, the better indicator of the closeness of a match that has been won by the team batting second is the number of balls remaining. Not batsmen. A side can win the game by 10 wickets (as happened in the 2017 IPL when the Kolkata Knight Riders beat Gujurat Lions) but to understand the dominance you need to see that KKR scored the required runs with 33 balls remaining. That’s 5.3 overs, in a 20 over innings. It’s a thrashing.

Compare two other results from the same series:

  • Rising Pune Supergiant beat Mumbai Indians by 7 wickets (1 ball remaining)
  • Kings XI Punjab beat Royal Challengers Bangalore by 8 wickets (33 balls remaining)

Look only at the result, excluding the parentheses. Are these both thrashings? You would be excused for thinking so, based on the traditional reporting approach. In each case, the winning team conceded only a couple of wickets. But the Pune game was much more exciting because although they still had massive depth in batting available, they needed 119 of the 120 balls to reach the line. It was a nailbiter, that Mumbai took right down to the wire.

Rewrite them thus:

  • Rising Pune Supergiant beat Mumbai Indians with 1 ball to spare (for the loss of 3 wickets)
  • Kings XI Punjab beat Royal Challengers Bangalore with 33 balls to spare (for the loss of 2 wickets)

Now the first of these games reports much more in concert with the excitement of watching it.