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Sunday, June 07, 2020

IPL: After a point, non-violent openers need to be kamikaze monks

In the ninth edition of IPL, openers have played studied knocks, ensuring there are no early wickets and not looking as valuable as they did.

Written by Harsha Bhogle | New Delhi | Updated: May 6, 2016 3:51:43 pm
Indian Premier League, IPL, IPL 2016, KKR, Kolkata Knight Riders, MI, Mumbai Indians, RPS, Rising Pune Supergiants, Virat kohli, Kohli, MS Dhoni, Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahane, Cricket In IPL 9, KKR openers Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa have ensured that there are no early wickets. (Source: BCCI)

The IPL is nine this year, still a child as leagues around the world go, but one where you can now see changes popping up here and there, especially in the way it is played. Indeed, every couple of years you see something that makes you wonder: is this how it is going to be? And then, bowlers and batsmen get wiser and everyone has to discover newer subtleties in this frenetic game.

I saw Shaun Pollock bowl the slow loopy bouncer for the first time in 2008. Lasith Malinga and Sunil Narine were innovators but difficult to replicate and so the next innovation was the wide yorker, flirting with the wide marker. Brett Lee bowled that as well as anyone. The slow yorker from Dwayne Bravo was a landmark. For a while, the left arm spinner was the staple, much like the leggie is now. People like David Miller and Kieron Pollard, and MS Dhoni in run-chases, revolutionised the notion of how many could be got in the last few overs and AB de Villiers told the world, in the IPL two or three years ago, the full extent of what was possible with the scoop behind the wicket.. And now, Virat Kohli is telling us that match-winning knocks are possible playing a more adventurous version of the orthodox game so many were weaned on.

This year, something else is demanding attention. Openers playing studied knocks, ensuring there are no early wickets, are not looking as valuable as they once did. This is especially noticeable while batting first and is likely to force a major relook at the role of the opener. Let us, for the purpose of this article, look at three innings, each played by outstanding batsmen who you would give anything to have in your side. By traditional thought, these would look like valuable innings and yet, for all the good intent within them, they probably ended up contributing to the side’s defeat. Typically these are high scoring matches where it is sometimes difficult to judge what a good score is.

Playing against the Mumbai Indians, the Kolkata Knight Riders got 174-5, an innings strike rate of 145. Gautam Gambhir, a top leader and in fine form, got 59 from 45 balls a strike rate of 131. I have chosen this as the first example because the difference is not as glaring, yet crucial. That meant there were 75 balls left and even though the rest of the batsmen collectively scored at 153, KKR lost easily.

Playing against KKR, RCB made 185-7 at Bengaluru, a ground notoriously difficult to set a target on and so, one that needs a greater effort batting first. The master of the run chase, Virat Kohli made 52 from 44 balls, a strike rate of 118. It meant that to end up with an innings strike rate of 154, the rest of the batsmen had to collectively score at 175. They lost with almost an over left.

Even more dramatically, at Pune, the Rising Pune Supergiants made 195-3 and still lost. You could argue the bowling wasn’t good enough or you could look at Ajinkya Rahane, a fine young cricketer, making 53 off 45 balls, a strike rate of 118. The rest of the batsmen scored at 189 and it still wasn’t enough.

Each of the batsmen in question could argue, with some justification, that they had ensured there was no early loss of wickets for it is well known that if you lost three wickets in the power play, you almost certainly don’t come back into the game. But that creditable objective comes with a limit. Beyond a point, a strike rate of 120 starts producing diminishing returns. And so the modern thesis; that the 120 SR batsman, plays a valuable role upto a point and, actually, drags the team down thereafter. So, at what point does it make sense for the 120 SR batsman to actually get out, having exhausted the value he can provide to the side?

It is a tricky one because conditions are different at different venues. If you are playing a 160 game, you can, maybe, play the stabiliser’s role a bit longer but I think it is fair to say that in a 180 game, even 30 balls is too many. It means you are forcing the rest of the side to bat at 160, which is not unknown but still a bit stressful. Maybe 25 balls is the time to assess the situation. It means you are about 7-8 overs into the innings and if you haven’t lost more than one wicket, you have enough resources left. Rather than begin to rotate the strike around, not a bad thought inherently because you are putting a more aggressive batsman in, you are probably better off starting to belt the ball around as well as you can because you are now in a nothing to lose situation. If you hit a couple of sixes, great but if you get out, no sweat either!

I believe the kamikaze approach from a hitherto non-violent person could also perk up overs 8-11 where a lot of teams lose momentum. It could also lead to lesser resources wasted in the dug-out. Maybe, that is the legacy of this year’s IPL then. The need to be the kamikaze monk!

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