Not many types of sport have been tinkered and tweaked with quite as much as One-Day International (ODI) cricket.
Whether it’s the introduction of gimmicks such as the Supersub rule that disappeared without a trace or the ever-changing field restrictions, cricket’s 50-over format is the sporting world’s chameleon, constantly adapting to try and keep up with the changing attitudes of fans and players.
Since England last hosted the World Cup 20 years ago, ODI cricket has evolved immensely, thanks in part to its noisy younger brother – Twenty20 cricket.
From turbo-charged strike rates to death-bowling strategies, the ODIs today make 50-over cricket from 1999 seem like a quaint relic of the past.
Here are 10 statistics that illustrate just how much ODI cricket has changed in the last two decades.
1. The rise of the specialists
In the late 1990s, the likes of England, Australia and New Zealand were already experimenting with white-ball specialists – players like Adam Hollioake and Matthew Fleming receiving most of their international caps in white-ball cricket. But after crashing out in the group stages of the 1999 World Cup, England were mocked for having a team of “bits and pieces” players.
Now, almost every team relies heavily on ODI experts, with many Test players discarded from 50-over sides for being too one-paced and rigid. White-ball specialists have now made up, on average, 35 percent of West Indies teams (compared with 11 percent between 1996 and 1999) over the past three years, 28 percent of Pakistan teams (two percent from 1996-1999) and 24 percent of India teams (seven percent from 1996-1999).
2. Power-hitting wicketkeepers
While the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Romesh Kaluwitharana starred as big-hitting wicketkeeper-batsmen during the 1990s, statistics suggest the majority of ODI glovemen were selected for their keeping.
Going into the 1999 World Cup, wicketkeepers averaged just 24.4, with a mere 9,865 career runs among them. Less than half batted in the top five.
Two decades later, being proficient behind the stumps is not nearly enough, with explosive hitting in the mould of Jos Buttler and Johnny Bairstow an absolute requirement rather than an exception to the rule. The 10 keepers at this year’s World Cup average 37.3, having scored 31,419 ODI runs among them.
3. Bat first in the day and chase at night
Strategies upon winning the toss have changed very little in 20 years. Captains still prefer to chase in day ODIs and bat first during day-night matches.
However, the win-loss stats suggest that they should actually do the opposite. In 1999, the chasing side had a real advantage during day ODIs, with a win-loss ratio of 1.3 compared with 0.7 for teams batting first. However, in 2018, bat-first sides had a win ratio of 1.08, while chasers dropped to 0.92.
With day-night matches, the conventional wisdom in 1999 was that batting second under the lights was a considerable disadvantage. The stats reflected this: sides batting first had a win-loss ratio of 1.5 compared with 0.68 for those chasing.
But in 2018, both sets recorded ratios of exactly one.
4. Sixes galore
ODI batsmen are expected to be aggressive to the point of psychotic, but nothing illustrates the rise in aggression more than the ever-increasing number of sixes per match.
In 1999, Lance Klusener was possibly the batsman in the world who specifically honed his six-hitting skills. Twenty years on, even a number 11 spends time on the hitting range.
“These days, players don’t mind seeing someone on the boundary and just hitting it over them,” said former England coach Andy Flower, who competed for Zimbabwe at the 1999 World Cup. “In days gone by, the general attitude would have been to find areas where people weren’t on the boundary.”
Between 1999 and 2003, there were on average four sixes an ODI. That figure rose to 10 last year. In 1999, West Indies players would clear the boundary just 1.73 times a match on average. That figure now stands at 7.6.
The average bat size (increased from 18mm in 1980 to 40mm today) and stronger and taller batsmen (nine of the top 20 six-hitters in history are 1.85 metres or taller) are seen as key reasons.
5. The rise of mystery spin
With the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble, fans in the late 1990s were very familiar with the wiles and wonder balls of so-called wrist/mystery spinners.
But while Muralitharan and Kumble were the only such bowlers in the top-10 ODI bowling rankings in 1999, come 2019, a whole series of bowlers of their ilk – Sunil Narine, Saeed Ajmal and Rashid Khan, among others, have made batsmen’s stay at the crease difficult.
Since 2011, spinners have consistently comprised at least half of the world’s top-10 ODI bowlers.
6. Strike rates
Following a group-stage exit in 2015, England’s management decided to focus on strike rates rather than totals to turn the team’s fortunes around. This approach has taken them to the top of the world rankings.
With teams increasingly taking a Twenty20 approach in 50-over cricket, strike rates have soared over the past decade. In 1999, the top five run scorers in ODI cricket had an average strike rate of 77.52. In 2018, this is 97.38.
And it isn’t just the likes of Gayle, Buttler and Kane Williamson doing the damage. The average strike rate of all ODI batsmen in the world two decades ago was 73.47. Last year, it was 92.18.
7. Spin the new ball
During the 1992 World Cup, New Zealand’s use of off-spinner Deepak Patel to open the bowling was considered revolutionary. While the strategy proved effective as New Zealand made a surprise run to the semi-finals, it took a while to take off.
During the 1990s, even Sri Lanka, with match-winning spinner Muralitharan in their ranks, would typically opt to open the bowling with the left-arm pace of Chaminda Vaas. In ODIs between 2003 and 2006 (no accurate data is available for this before 2003), less than two balls per match would be bowled by spinners in the opening 10 overs on average.
But fast-forward to 2019, and the opening match of the 2019 World Cup, more and more teams are realising that handing spinners the new ball is a useful strategy for dealing with big-hitting opening batsmen.
Between 2015 and 2018, spinners were bowling an average of 14 balls each match in the first 10 overs.
8. Mammoth totals
As strike rates rocket, big totals are becoming increasingly common. A score in excess of 250 seemed like a challenge in the past and 300-plus totals were rare.
In the 1999 World Cup, there were just three 300-plus scores.
In 2019, 300 will most likely be viewed as sub-par with most sides batting deep and teams capable of chasing down big totals.
In 2018, teams passed 300 no less than 16 times in ODIs.
9. Death bowling
Having death-bowling skills is a crucial component of success in ODI cricket.
Bowlers like India’s Jasprit Bumrah – who took more wickets than anyone else in the final 10 overs of ODI matches between 2015 and 2018 – are prized assets.
In the late 1990s, death bowling largely consisted of a series of yorkers but a lot of the times, it wasn’t really required. About 45 percent of the matches at the 1999 World Cup were done and dusted long before the final five overs.
10. Expanding coverage and colossal deals
Nothing illustrates the changing landscape of sport over the past 20 years more than the colossal amounts of money that have poured into the game.
In 1999, the BBC and Sky Sports bought the TV rights to show the World Cup in the United Kingdom for the relatively paltry sum of about $13m.
Five years ago, Sky forked out about $2.54bn for the rights to the 2019 Cricket World Cup, along with 17 other international cricket tournaments between 2015 and 2023.
Ticket sales have steadily increased from 626,845 in 2003 to over 1.1 million in 2015. The 2019 World Cup is expected to have even more spectators after the International Cricket Council (ICC) received more than 2.5 million applications in the online ballot.
Through all this, players’ salaries have ballooned. Former Indian captain MS Dhoni is reported to earn between $25m and $32m a year.
While the 1999 tournament was televised to somewhere between 80-100 countries, this summer’s competition will be beamed around the world to more than 200 nations, and an audience of billions.