The highest score in one day international cricket history is 481, scored by England against Australia on 19 June 2018, at home against an Australian team who, only three months prior had lost their two best batsmen in Smith and Warner to a self-imposed ban for involvement in ball tampering, and in that match were missing all of their best bowlers. Yet still they couldn’t manage 500, so what will it take to get there?
Australia’s all-time great, and quite possibly the greatest wicket keeper to ever live, Adam Gilchrist, says that Australia, now buoyed by the return of their two best batsman, and with a team dynamic that has seen them win 7 overseas one day internationals in a row, will break that barrier, the first team to cross 500, in the World Cup itself, and it’s not without merit.
If England could score 481 against Australia, then what could they score against a weaker team, or a team with a poor bowling line-up, like perhaps Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Afghanistan? The grounds are small, the fields fast, and such enormous scores could well be attained.
Anyone who has played any one of a number of computer cricket games would know how easy it is to get big scores. Just line the bat up perfectly and time the ball perfectly and you can get a 6 off every delivery. Off 50 overs, with 300 balls, 1800 is possible. 500 is just 10 runs per over, a two off every ball, easily scored in a computer cricket game. It’s a run rate that is fairly easy to attain in 20 overs as well, where 200+ scores are relatively common.
The difficulty is not the run rate but the wickets in hand. To score so many runs they would need to score at blistering pace from beginning to end, with maximum risk, but to be fortunate enough to not lose wickets. The likes of David Warner and Aaron Finch, if in form, could surely obtain it, if only they didn’t get out. Perhaps Glenn Maxwell could too, and maybe even Steve Smith, but if they are down to 9, 10 and 11 then that run rate is much harder to obtain.
On 12 March 2006, in Johannesburg in South Africa, Australia were the first team to score 400, going all the way to 434, beating the previous record of 398 by a whopping 36 runs, and yet they lost. I remember watching the match live on television and thinking that they could have scored more. Australia lost just 4 wickets in setting up the total and took few risks towards the end. Another 40, 50, 60 or even 70 runs could have been obtained had they pushed themselves further. That could have been the first 500. They just thought that they had enough.
We have now had 20 scores of more than 400 and we know well that 400 is not enough. While the 434 is to date the only occurrence of 400+ being chased down, Sri Lanka went mighty close in 2009, getting to 411 while chasing India’s 414.
South Africa have scored 400+ the most times, 6 times, India have done it 5 times, England 4, Australia and Sri Lanka 2 each and New Zealand once, and these would seem the teams most likely to crack the 500 mark. The suggestion that Australia would be the first would be fitting, as Australia were the first to cross the 400 mark, in a match that, had Australia pushed themselves a bit more, they probably would have won, and may have crossed both 400 and 500 marks then.
The problem with the 500+ prediction is that no team has done this before, and 481 isn’t particularly close. That 481 was scored against Australia, yes, but a weakened Australia in both batting and bowling, but most importantly in spirit. We are heading into a World Cup reduced to 10 teams, an important tournament, the most important in cricket, with no really weak teams, where the prospect of giving up and leaking runs seems all the less likely.
That’s not to say that it can’t happen so much as it is unlikely. 400 may happen, if a blistering Indian attack go all out against a weakened Bangladesh or Sri Lankan bowling outfit, or perhaps even against Afghanistan. England might even do it, perhaps even Australia. South Africa, the team with the most 400+ scores, may do it too, though without A B de Villiers in the team it seems somewhat unlikely.
The problem with going for 500 is that it requires risks to be taken before you know that risks can be taken, and if the bowling is good then the team can be bowled out cheaply and it can cost a match you might otherwise win.
In the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand scored an incredible 393 and, buoyed by Chris Gayle, West Indies were well ahead of the run rate, right up until they were all out for 250 off just 30.3 overs. West Indies were the bigger hitting team, and yet they lost badly, because you still need to keep wickets in hand in order to win. To score the 393 required Martin Guptill’s incredible 237 off 163 balls, including 24 4s and 11 6s. Gayle’s 61 off 33 was quicker, but nowhere near as good.
In a World Cup with just 10 teams, wins are going to be more important than milestones like scoring 500. Several teams could be on the border between making the semi-finals and not making it, and trying to score 500 at the risk of being all out cheaply may not be worth it, not when a comparatively low score of 350 is probably going to be enough.
West Indies could have won that 2015 World Cup quarter final against New Zealand, had they just scored a bit more slowly, and kept wickets intact, while Australia perhaps could have scored 500, or at least won, back in 2006, had they just pushed themselves. As for the 481 scored by England against Australia, even with the weakened team it is unlikely that they would have scored 400 had Australia been playing with confidence.
The particular set of circumstances that would allow a 500 to be scored are more like Johannesburg in 2006 than anything in England, and it just seems very unlikely.
If it does, though, it will probably be amazing, especially if their opponents threaten to chase it.