For all the money splurged on swashbuckling openers and doughty finishers, this IPL has again proved that T20 is still very much a bowler’s game. Some teams have accepted it and amended their approach. Some are still catching up. While individual highs like Sunil Narine bagging the best economy for so many consecutive years or Kagiso Rabada finishing as the most incisive fast bowler will make it to the season’s highlights reel, they rarely influence a team’s final position. For that you need the sum of combinations to be greater than their parts, something Gujarat Titans, Rajasthan Royals, Lucknow Super Giants and Royal Challengers Bangalore achieved consistently in this IPL.
At the heart of their performances that ensured qualification to the playoffs was the determination not to let bowlers go on the defensive. Instead they challenged the theory that stopping runs was more important than taking wickets in T20. Pacers cranked it up to unnerve batters and used the bouncer liberally while spinners were asked not to hold back from giving the ball more hang time.
Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin were given the freedom to challenge batters in the slog overs, and so were Mohammed Shami, Prasidh Krishna and Avesh Khan, even when fielding restrictions were in play. Power play run rates took a hit as a result, while some matches were turned on its head despite favorable equations for the chasing team.
Orthodox spin – once seen as the first casualty of T20 – got great backing in this IPL but no team improved in this aspect like Rajasthan Royals. Chahal and Ashwin were hands down the most successful bowling pair this season. Sharing 37 wickets at an average of 22.4, they have not only been consistent in ensuring eight safe overs every innings but also pulled off some improbable wins.
For example, against Kolkata Knight Riders, Chahal came on to bowl with KKR needing 40 off the last four overs. End of that 17th over, Chahal had the chase off the tracks with four wickets, including a hat-trick – each wicket coming off fuller lengths that lured the batters into playing forward.
This could hardly have been predicted from a bowler whose figures until then had read 3-0-38-1. KKR also probably scored a self-goal by not being more watchful to deal with Chahal’s guile. The leg-spinner’s attacking lines and Ashwin’s shrewd variation lends a balance that is every bowling captain’s dream. It has allowed their fast bowlers Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna – they have taken eight wickets each in the power play at an economy of 6.94 and 6.55 respectively – to stay aggressive knowing they have the seasoned spinners to fall back on. For a team that rarely had great spinners after Shane Warne, Royals’ transformation has been one of the season’s highlights.
Similarly, Royal Challengers Bangalore almost always keeled over due to their batting-heavy squads in the past. This season, they drafted in the right set of bowlers to complement Harshal Patel’s slog-over mastery, turning into a top side. The acquisition was tricky though as RCB had retained Mohammed Siraj, who is not having a season to remember. But with 57 crore in their initial purse, RCB’s changed thinking was evident when they spent 29.25 crore on Patel, Wanindu Hasaranga ( 10.75 crore each) and Josh Hazlewood ( 7.75 crore, the same price they paid for skipper Faf du Plessis). After the league phase, they share 57 wickets (avg 18) – striking every 14 balls to justify their hefty price tags.
Another side that thrillingly tilted towards fast bowlers was LSG. With pacers Avesh Khan, Mohsin Khan, Jason Holder and Dushmanta Chameera, they have the resources to bowl any point in the innings. Mohsin’s searing pace upfront and Avesh Khan’s variations have often made up for some expensive overs from Holder and Chameera.
Where LSG really excelled, especially early in the tournament, was in getting the best out of left-arm spinner Krunal Pandya. Till he was with Mumbai Indians, his bowling potential wasn’t probably realised. LSG gave him the responsibility to keep the middle overs under control. Krunal did more than that, ending with an economy of just 6.64 across 34 overs in 11 innings. That with Mohsin’s phenomenal economy of 5.93 and 29 wickets in the slog overs – the most by any team – helped LSG stay afloat despite setbacks in some games.
No bowling side proved as well rounded as Gujarat Titans though. The first piece of their puzzle was sorted when they got Rashid Khan for 15 crore. Titans went for Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Alzarri Joseph and Yash Dayal as out-and-out quick options with skipper Hardik Pandya as the back-up who could bowl at least two overs. Not just in overall economy (6.94 for Rashid, 7.77 for Shami and 7.79 for Hardik), Titans have proved to be exceptional with the new ball too, taking a tournament-leading 25 wickets in the powerplay. By following it up with strong displays in the middle-overs (37 wickets) and the slog phase (23 wickets), Titans made sure they didn’t take the foot off the pedal.