Hit and Run in the middle- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

CHENNAI: On Wednesday, when Glenn Maxwell came out to bat for Australia against Netherlands at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, New Delhi, the scoreboard read 266/4. Number of balls left in the game — 66 (11 overs). By the time he walked back to the dressing room in the final over of the innings, the scorecard read 393/7. Maxwell 106 runs from 44 balls — fastest hundred in the history of the tournament. They would finish with 399/8 before registering a massive 309-run victory.

To put the numbers into context, Australia scored 133 runs in the last 66 balls, 106 coming off Maxwell’s bat. That is 79.7 per cent of the team’s runs since he came out to bat. A perfect example of what a middle-order explosive batter can do for the team.

Since the start of this World Cup, the conversations have been around winning the contest in the middle-overs. While that has not happened, teams with explosive middle-order batters have thrived. Now, almost all teams try to pack their middle-order with big hitters or batters who could run away with the contest. This World Cup has been no different and there are different reasons for it. Take India, for example, their top-order has been so explosive that the No. 5-7 hasn’t had to do that much. There was a fifty here and a fifty there, but largely it is the top three who are running the show for India — that Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are among top run-getters sums it up.

Not all teams have the luxury though. Some have relied on the middle-order to give them the necessary boost. Table-toppers South Africa are one among them. Off the 1908 runs scored by them so far, 966 have come from batters 4-7. That is about half the runs made by them. To put it into context, second-placed India have about 30 per cent of their runs coming from their middle-order. Now, this alone does not represent success. For example, Pakistan, too, have almost half their runs from the middle-order and yet they find themselves at the bottom half of the table.

Two things separate South Africa from others. A) Their top-order is flourishing and the middle-order are complementing them. B) Unlike other teams, their middle-order strikes at 127.27. Aiden Markram (356 runs, 59.33 avg and 115.96 strike rate), Heinrich Klaasen (300 runs, 50 avg, 149.25 SR) and David Miller (167 runs, 41.75 avg, 119.28 SR) have hit a new gear in a way that they have made South Africa look invincible, especially while batting first. Whether it’s upper cutting Haris Rauf or hitting bowlers over cover-extra cover, Markram is batting like he is living up to his ‘talent’ tag. Klaasen, on the other hand, is batting in middle-overs like Rohit Sharma does in the power play. It does not seem to matter what the line and length is, if it’s in his range, Klaasen has deposited it into the stands, especially over midwicket region.Their captain Temba Bavuma knows the significance of their contribution too.

“Aiden can play both roles. Klaasen, I think he’s in the league of his own at the moment, the way he’s hitting the ball. We’ve got David, and also got Marco Jansen who’s also finding his feet in terms of clearing the boundary. That explosiveness we have in our middle-order obviously helped us to be really destructive in the death phase. But I think it’s all due to all the foundational work that is done by the guys at the top,” Bavuma said in Chennai.

If Markram and Klaasen have set a template of their own, there is someone like Maxwell who bats in his own axis. He hits the ball like a golfer, vertical bat, straight down the ‘V’. At the same time, he also exploits the ‘V’ behind the stumps like no other. During his record-breaking century against Netherlands, 35 percent of his runs came in the ‘V’ behind and 34 in the front. His hitting areas are clear for the opponent too, but what’s working for Maxwell is how he is making the line and length irrelevant when he gets going.

Ask him about the method behind his madness, Maxwell would say: “I don’t really lap, I didn’t really go inside out over cover; I didn’t sort of give my stumps away too much. Yeah, I reversed a couple of times but that’s only because I sort of had a read on what they were trying to do and the field was up in that position. I didn’t really try to take a fielder in that position and I knew if I could play one or two, I’d get a different type of ball. Then I could cash in on that. I just felt really clear at the back end. I was able to stand quite still. I felt like I hit the ball where it needed to be hit.” On Saturday, too, Maxwell’s 24-ball 41 proved to be a significant boost when it seemed like Australia were losing the momentum against New Zealand. Almost half his runs came in the ‘V’ on either side.

Batters like Klaasen, Maxwell, Markram might not be single-handedly shaping the fortunes of their teams. What they are doing, however, is ensuring that their respective teams are running away with the contests once the platform is set. The points table paints a clear picture. And so does the story of teams with middle-order batters who have not come to the party — defending champs England’s middle-order averages 18 with a SR of 88.9.The bottomline, in a World Cup that has been high-scoring, is that it all comes down to having such explosive middle-order batters firing in the arsenal.

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