IPL 2017 April 20, 2017

Why T20 teams can afford misfiring superstars

An increased allocation of resources in a short format allows teams to invest heavily in impact, albeit inconsistent, players that can break T20s open
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A higher rate of Chris Gayle's fifties lead to wins for Royal Challengers, than even Virat Kohli's half-centuries © BCCI

Between the CPL last year and his 38-ball 77 against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot, Chris Gayle had an extended run of ordinary T20 form. Over three different franchise tournaments, in 17 innings, he scored just 329 runs at an average of 19.35 and a strike rate of 116.25. He went through a similar phase in the last World T20 in India, leading into the previous IPL. He scored 32 runs in eight matches in that period, never once reaching double figures, and still played in 13 out of 16 matches for Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Murmurs outside the franchise gained momentum with every Gayle failure. People wondered if Gayle was done, but there was no chance Royal Challengers weren't retaining him despite the year he had had. It was unlikely they were going to bench him for too long this IPL either. It says something about the impact Gayle can have when he comes off - 70s in three innings in under 40 balls - but it says much more about the T20 format. With six to seven batsmen available over 20 overs, teams can simply afford a misfiring batsman who can have the kind of impact Gayle has when he comes off.

It is not limited to batsmen. Bipul Sharma is a tall left-arm spinner. He was born in 1983 in Amritsar, played some cricket for Punjab, then moved to Himachal Pradesh, and is an IPL champions medal holder. Since April 18 last year, he has played 10 matches for Sunrisers Hyderabad, including the last year's final, but chances are, you would not have noticed him because he has bowled just 21 overs and batted only 39 balls.

However, Bipul got the wicket of AB de Villiers in last year's final, and was taken off immediately. He has got Brendon McCullum out twice. His batting, at No. 8, is a bonus. Out of his 10 matches, two have been against Royal Challengers, three against Gujarat Lions, and two against Kolkata Knight Riders. He has been the ultimate tactical pick. Sunrisers select him for specific match-ups against certain batsmen. They are also satisfied if those batsman get out early and Bipul ends up doing nothing. Only thrice has he bowled more than two overs in an innings despite an acceptable economy rate of 8.04 over this period.

Sunrisers can afford Bipul for the same reason Royal Challengers can afford a misfiring Gayle. While you still need 11 fielders in the format, the duration of a 20-over match allows teams the luxury of carrying a player or two. It is usually batsmen, but the presence of Moises Henriques - a proper allrounder - in the Sunrisers XI opens up a bowling slot too.

The IPL is filled with Gayle-like sporadic match-winners. Knight Riders invest in Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav even though they hardly bowl and get only a few chances to bat. Even when their first-choice opener Chris Lynn is injured, they don't all move up one spot; Knight Riders want them to be the fail-safe that provides the top order the freedom. They can afford to do so because they rarely need all their batsmen to contribute.

Kieron Pollard had been struggling for form, but Mumbai's persistence paid off when he struck a 47-ball 77 against Royal Challengers Bangalore © BCCI

At arguably the most successful IPL franchise, under the watch of arguably the most successful IPL captain, S Anirudha managed to get in 25 matches to face 153 balls and not bowl a single delivery. Chennai Super Kings won 18 of those 25 matches and lost six, a much better win-loss ratio than their overall 1.593. Unlike Bipul, Anirudha wasn't even a tactical pick. Knowing MS Dhoni, he was probably just pushing the limits of the format. And The format allowed them to.

Johnson Charles is an unadulterated slogger in T20s, who has had about nine special innings in his 98 T20s. One of those was in the semi-final of the World T20 last year, in a tournament that he didn't do much outside that innings, apart from superb ground fielding. Yet such is the nature of the format that his selection was considered a success. Consistency is not as important in this format as impact. A team of six batsmen who come off once every six innings but score at a strike rate of 175-plus is likelier to do better than a team of six consistent batsmen, who score well every second innings but at a strike rate of close to 135. Gayle has already had more impact on this tournament than, say, Shikhar Dhawan, who has had a start in five of his six innings but has a strike rate of 120.58.

Especially in a long league like the IPL, expect franchises - they can be ruthless when making selections - to give players like Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Yusuf more leeway than they would get in any other format. They are not paid big bucks for consistency but for impact. For example, a higher rate of Gayle's half-centuries results in wins than, even, Virat Kohli's: 68% to 62%. Three out of four Pollard fifties end up in wins. The big hitters might not succeed as often, but that doesn't bother franchises because they don't need to succeed as often. Their failures can be accommodated because there are only 20 overs to bat and only so many batsmen can fail in a given match.

Even conservatively speaking, four batsmen, four bowlers and two allrounders are plenty for a 20-over match. If an innings comprised 40 three-ball overs or 30 four-ball overs, there would be merit in playing more bowlers, but not in this format. Currently, there is at least one surplus player in every team. For some teams that player is a batting fail-safe, for some he is a big hitter, and for others he is the floating bowler. It has resulted in longer ropes for T20 superstars such as Gayle, and careers for tactical picks such as Bipul.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on April 23, 2017, 2:50 GMT

    The point is very valid, it is the nature of the beast that failure will occur, but in Gayle's case, he is being paid far more for these failures, and more failures than others.. and as far as his contribution to team dynamics and mentoring, that is non existent.

  • Sreekanth on April 22, 2017, 8:14 GMT

    And yet SRH has won multiple IPL trophies, and RCB hasn't won any.

    you logic fails when you expand it over a season the most important thing to have in a T20 is a good dependable bowling attack, that delivers 70-80% of the time. then most good batsmen can take the team to victory.

  •   Cricinfouser on April 22, 2017, 7:07 GMT

    very good article. Good analysis and insight!

  • Anurag Bhide on April 21, 2017, 12:04 GMT

    Fail to understand the presence of Srikanth Anirudh here. Was he the "batting fail-safe" that you mention in the last line. Personally I always felt Subramaniam Badrinath was precisely this batting fail-safe for CSK in the early years. He only came to bat when they lost a couple of early wickets, to stabilize things and build a platform for Dhoni, Morkel, Bravo etc. If Vijay, Hussey and Raina got off to good starts and they crossed the 10-over mark for the loss of only 1 wicket (as was the case most of the time) then he never needed to bat. Needless to say, he also did not bowl.

  • Arvind on April 21, 2017, 3:54 GMT

    @kshitij_sri You are talking about a completely different topic. RCB lining up big hitters is only useful if those big hitters actually perform, and when a team consistently carries a load like Stuart Binny, their big hitters have to give more than 120%.

    Anyway, even in your example of SRH, their bowlers are good enough to be not a load on the team (unlike the load typically carried by RCB), their big hitters perform reasonably consistently, so they too are left with a few slots for the loads to take up.

    I am actually wondering if it would be a good idea to allow a team to list only 8 "proper" players in the starting 11, with the remaining 3 slots (typically occupied by loads) to be given to fans via some contest, similar to the contests they now have to get the captain's signature on their balls, and so on. Of course, the fans may not actually field, but can be replaced by "substitute" fielders.

    It would be yet another of those gimmicks to "promote" the game.

  • Vaidyanathan on April 21, 2017, 3:35 GMT

    All ok, but S Anirudha as a misfiring superstar, compared to Gayle and Johnson Charles. Really?

  • Siddharth on April 20, 2017, 21:18 GMT

    @CRICINFOUSER I think its because Dhoni has always been a safety first captain. He would rather secure a 150+ score that he can play with than go for broke for a match-winning 180+ score and risk a batting collapse. But with Smith in such excellent form Dhoni should either open or come at 7 and just throw the kitchen sink cause he still has the power

  • Manan on April 20, 2017, 21:14 GMT

    Agree 100 oercent. Inpact is more imp than consistancy. Indian impact t20 eleven should be 1) R Pant 2)Rohit 3) Kohli 4) S Raina 5)Y Pathan/S Iyer / Kl Rahul6) H Pandya 7)K Pandya 8)Jadeja 9) bhuvi 10)shami 11)bumrah

  • Sanjay on April 20, 2017, 20:44 GMT

    Super article, Sid. Thought-provoking.

  • KSHITIJ on April 20, 2017, 18:40 GMT

    @WALKINGWICKET11 I understand that the bowlers have no mercy in T20 cricket. But if it was so simple as you say, RCB should have won at least 1 IPL trophy as they literally play 'part-time bowlers' (like Negi or Binny). But instead, teams with stronger bowling lineups dominate the league like SRH, KKR, MI. SRH's win last year showed that if you 2-3 consistent batsmen and an excellent bowling attack, that's much better than having loads of hitters like RCB but with a weak bowling attack.

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