Who will win ICC World Cup 2023? Answer lies in what wins World Cups

Average scoring rates, winning form and match experience 24 months ahead of a World Cup have emerged as the primary factors that determine the ultimate winner of ODI cricket’s biggest prize.

Published : Sep 30, 2023 17:39 IST , CHENNAI - 9 MINS READ

The top three contenders – England, India and South Africa – will have a point to prove.
The top three contenders – England, India and South Africa – will have a point to prove. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES/THE HINDU/REUTERS

The top three contenders – England, India and South Africa – will have a point to prove. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES/THE HINDU/REUTERS

‘Anyone willing to bet on 500 runs being scored in an innings this World Cup? I’ll give 1:4 (Rs. 500: Rs. 2000) odds,’ a message pops in a  WhatsApp group. 

It’s that time of the year, or warming up to that time, when seasonal fans, the hardcore, armchair experts, analysts and bookmakers will stake a boisterous prophecy on the new champion of world cricket. 

Investments will be personal, blind, bold, oddly articulate, and amply fortuitous. 

For all the clamour about the burgeoning international calendar and mushrooming franchise leagues, ODI cricket has somewhat found its footing at the right time. England nailed down its preparations by annihilating New Zealand in a four-match series. The finalists of the 2019 World Cup will meet again at the world’s largest cricket stadium - the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad - in the opener of the 13th Cricket World Cup.

Elsewhere, South Africa thrashed Australia 3-2 in an engrossing run-fest while the Asian teams opted for a bout of depression in stormy Sri Lanka with the Asia Cup. India regained the continental title after humbling the host in the final. While the weather held back the Subcontinent teams, the quality of cricket that ensued on the tacky Lankan pitches was promising. 

So, who is poised to win the 2023 Cricket World Cup?

Taking cues from English analysts and authors, Ben Jones and Nathan Leamon’s seminal work in the book ‘Hitting Against the Spin’, we arrive at three distinct factors that have historically backed successful teams in their performances at the World Cups. 

Contrary to popular belief, batting depth trumps bowling and emerges as the most significant factor at the ODI World Cup. According to Jones and Leamon, teams’ habitual  average scoring rates, considered from 24 months before a World Cup, emerged as the primary factor in determining the likely top four (semifinalists). It is followed by the winning form in the past two years and the overall distribution of  match experience through the 15-member squad. 

While the game and its followers have gone high on data and technique, three fairly straightforward concepts emerge as key in the high-pressure tournament. 

Performance since 2019 World Cup

The World Cup comes at a time when the average scoring rates have fallen (from 5.32 between the 2015 and 2019 World Cups to 5.21 since the 2019 WC). The general interest and context of eight-hour engagements, with two T20 World Cups and the World Test Championship wedged in between, has also witnessed a dip.

Batting Strength (average scoring rates) 

Assuming the historical trends continue into a seventh-straight World Cup, a period of two years - from September 5, 2021, to the last engagements before the tournament - is analysed.

Avg. scoring rates, winning form and match experience in 2019 World Cup cycle

Credit: Hitting Against the Spin

Scoring Rates 

England emerges head and shoulders above the rest on the primary metric of average scoring rates, leading the pack with a rate of 6.24 runs per over. The stability and consistency in hitting make it one of the most dangerous sides. 

Since the start of 2022, England’s top seven have struck at an average of 99.99 runs per 100 balls - a staggering feat only bettered by South Africa (101.55) in the same period. In the 24-month cycle, the Proteas remain second, averaging 6.12 runs per over. India stands third, just short of the run-a-ball mark, at 5.98.

Winning form 

Pakistan tops the charts in terms of win percentage with just six defeats across 24 completed games since September 2021. While Babar Azam’s side racked up series wins at home over Australia, West Indies and New Zealand, an underwhelming Asia Cup campaign, where it fell short of the final, has hampered the team’s momentum. 

India ranks second with a near-65 per cent success rate, although it has played nearly double the games Pakistan has, winning 29 of 45. Interestingly, England stands seventh on the charts. However, it must also be noted that its full-strength squad has seldom played the 50-over format regularly in the period, owing to greater commitments in other formats.

Squad experience

Squad Experience by sportstar

A balanced distribution of experience or the presence of considerable heavyweights in the 15-member squad has historically proven useful at the World Cups. England’s 2019 World Cup-winning squad had nine players with 75+ caps. Though it has shrunk to seven this time, England poses a healthy average of 75.53 caps this year.

Boosted by its stalwarts Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli and an overall stable core, India possesses the most experienced squad at this World Cup, averaging 96-plus caps. Jumping a rung from the 2019 edition, India will have eight players with 75-plus caps under its name this time.

Digging deeper

Adding on to Jones and Leamon’s statistics, we take a closer look at the batting depth - the key predictor of success at the World Cups - of the teams in the post-2019 World Cup cycle.

Phase-wise batting (since 2021)

Scoring rate in overs 1-10

England has obliterated historical charts in terms of PowerPlay batting since its rekindled ways began after the 2015 World Cup. Though its full-strength team has scarcely lined up together in this cycle, the defending champion continues to top the scoring rates in the first PowerPlay against the two new balls with a rate of 5.87 runs per over. Australia and India are the only two teams which remain in a comparable range, establishing their top-order strength.

Scoring rate in overs 11-40

England, incredibly, surges ahead in the middle-overs (11-40) with a staggering strike rate of 6.16 rpo in the phase since 2021 - the only team to cross the 6 rpo mark. South Africa’s middle-order firepower propels it to the second spot with a rate of 5.81, while India ranks third at 5.75. The remaining teams have struggled to punch above average, marking a stark difference from the top three.

Scoring rate in overs 41-50

South Africa’s admirable hitting takes tremendous shape in the death overs, striking at more than eight-and-a-half runs per over in the final 10. Pakistan ranks second (8.06) but is clearly a fair yard behind the Proteas. England, India and Australia remain in a middling yet appreciable range, despite better presence in the first 40 overs. 

‘Hitting against the Spin’

Scoring rate vs spin in 11-40 (middle-overs)

A key batting factor in the upcoming World Cup in Indian conditions will invariably be tackling spin in the middle-overs. Even though it has not played considerable matches in the Subcontinent in this period, England heads into the tournament with the best control over scoring against spin in the middle-overs (11-40). With an enviable run rate of 6.19, England stands miles ahead of South Africa and India, who have not fared badly for themselves, with scoring rates above 5.75 against spin in the phase. 

The perfect order

An order comprising the top seven batters with a high average and strike rate and negligible standard deviation (a statistical measure of the difference of individual entities from the mean value) is likely to head into the World Cup with minimal headaches. Since the beginning of 2022, South Africa has boasted the highest batting average and strike rate of its combined top-seven batters. As shown in the chart, India ranks second while Pakistan, England and Australia follow in that order.

Only three teams have acquired a 40-plus average – India, Pakistan and South Africa. In this, the Indian batting order records the lowest standard deviation of batting average (10.50), signifying a stable core. Pakistan (bat average: 40.6) and South Africa (bat average: 42.77) take the second and third spots with a mean deviation of 11.68 and 13.07, respectively.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh shows the least deviation of average among its top seven. However, it is to be highlighted that its batting order reflects the weakest lineup among the 10 teams, with a combined average of 28.73. 

In terms of strike rate, India once again establishes a stable core with an average batting strike rate of 95.63 and a standard deviation of just 4.78, implying more batters in its top seven are capable of striking in a similar range. Four other teams — Australia, England, Pakistan and South Africa – have recorded a 90-plus strike rate for its top seven. 

Although South Africa possesses the highest combined strike rate (101.55), its standard deviation is also the highest (15.75), reflecting an order relying on the striking abilities of a select few. South Africa’s top three cumulatively manage a strike rate just below 89, while its middle-order (no. 4-6) batters score more than 114 runs every 100 balls.

Meanwhile, the Indian top-three scores at a brisk rate (98.99), just shy of 100. Its middle-order manages approximately 92 runs per 100 balls, more or less effectively continuing the momentum set by the top-order. 

On the other end of the spectrum, Sri Lanka depicts the least deviation of strike rate in the top seven. The Lankans, however, only gather 87 runs per 100 deliveries - the sixth-best in the pool. 

The winner

England and South Africa hold the edge over the scoring rates, but their winning form heading into the World Cup stands on middling grounds. South Africa ranks just about average on match experience and batting in the first PowerPlay. However, the Proteas have exerted dominance in the latter stages of the game alongside England. 

India marches into the World Cup with the second-best winning form and hosts the most-experienced squad. They have invariably ranked within the top two to three sides in phase-wise batting. Australia and Pakistan flicker with potential but lag behind across facets.

The top three – England, India and South Africa – each have a point to prove. Can the 2019 winner defend its crown? Will India break a decade’s ICC title jinx? Can the Proteas dump the chokers’ tag for once and make their first World Cup final? 

Make a calculated punt!

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