It’s impossible to watch a cricket game these days without hearing a player (normally the captain) or more likely the commentators, talking about a cricket par score. Let’s explain what exactly that means in the context of an ODI match at the Cricket World Cup.
Think of golf. A shorter hole where you can normally get the ball on the green in one will be a Par 3 whereas a longer hole where you’ll need at least two big hits to get it anywhere near the green, will usually be a Par 5. In other words, the score you’d be ‘expected’ to get on that hole is a reflection of how hard the hole is to play.
A cricket par score means how many runs you’d be expected to score batting first on that day, at that ground, in those conditions. Here are some factors to consider.
What affects a cricket par score?
As ever in cricket, the wicket is key. A good wicket- also sometimes known as a belter or a road– allows batsmen to time the ball nicely. They don’t need to be afraid of irregular bounce or the ball sticking in the wicket, so boundaries (where you really score the runs) should be pretty easy to come by.
The better the wicket, the bigger the cricket par score. The trickier the wicket, the lower the par score will be.
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As a general rule, small grounds with short boundaries point towards high-scoring games and therefore, a high par score. It means that timing the ball nicely in the Powerplays will result in a lot of boundaries at the beginning of the innings and that when the big-hitters- Glenn Maxwell, Jos Buttler, MS Dhonii etc- get themselves in, they don’t even need to nail their hits to see them fly over the boundary rope.
Then again, there’s also something to be said for huge grounds like the MCG in Melbourne where there’s so much open space available that you can run lots of twos and threes. But in general, it’s small grounds that should create high cricket par scores.
As a general rule, bright sunshine makes for higher-scoring matches with rain, drizzle and overcast conditions making it harder bat in because the call could swing or move around off the pitch if there’s moisture in it. The sunnier it is, the higher the par score is deemed to be.
Somewhat bizarrely, the commentators seem to give less importance to the players on the day than they do on the conditions. It’s almost like the wicket, conditions and dimensions of the ground are all that matters. We’ll consider why this is strange in a second.
Let’s take England batting first as an example. We all know what a brilliant batting line-up they have so surely the Par score when they’re batting on a nice wicket should be much higher than if it were say Sri Lanka batting first.
Similarly, a strong bowling line-up like Australia’s should mean that the Par score of the team batting first should be lower than if it was the West Indies bowling first, who aren’t a great bowling line-up.
But very often the commentators are less interested in who’s playing than the conditions.
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Why a cricket Par Score should be taken with a pinch of salt
The other thing the Par Score estimate doesn’t take into account is individual brilliance or…individual incompetence.
A commentator says 280 is a par score when Australia bat first against India. Fine. They have to make some sort of guess, it’s their job.
But when David Warner comes along and scores 100 off 65 then surely the par score goes out of the window. Similarly, if Jasprit Bumrah bowls the best he’s ever bowled, the par score will be considerably lower.
How about if Australia are unusually fortunate and of the 12 genuine edges they have, only one is caught and the other 11 go for four? What if Virat Kohli takes three freakishly good catches?
Any one of these factors will make a mockery of the Par Score total, meaning that one of the flaws of the Par Score estimates is that it treats cricketers like robots who are expected to perform to an exact level, no better, no less.
Of course, the commentators would say that all those factors are somewhat taken into account when guessing what the par score is but still…
So what’s a cricket par score these days?
That’s impossible to say because an ODI played in grey conditions at Headingley is a completely different scenario to a lovely wicket on a sunny day in Bangalore. That’s what makes cricket so interesting: no two games are the same.
What we can start by saying is that it’s a lot higher than it used to be. Let’s take Edgbaston for example. Back in the famous 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa, the Aussies defended 213. That day, their 213 was considered about par. Yes, South Africa should have chased it but even if they had, it would only have been with a couple of balls to spare.
South Africa making a mess of chasing Australia’s total and crashing out in the 1999 semi-finals.
These days, the Par Score would probably be about 100 runs more than that. But why is that?
The first reason is that wickets tend to be better. The second is that batsmen these days are stronger, more muscular and use heavier bats, meaning the ball is hit harder and further. Add the emergence of T20 cricket where everyone bats more aggressively and the fact there are so many more scoring areas thanks to new shots and you start to see why busting 300 is often seen as a minimum Par Score.
What does it means in terms of betting?
Let’s go back to the Australia v India example. After 5 overs the Par Score is deemed to be 280. As we’ve said, working out a par score isn’t an exact science but it’s as good an indication as you’re going to get about how the team batting first did.
If they scored 250 it’s 30 less than what it ‘should be’ and India are in the driving seat because they have less to chase than they should. But if Australia score 310 then that’s 30 more than what was expected and you know India will have to bat pretty well to chase that.