Spinners prove a knotty problem
Rules of thumb usually take time to evolve, but most captains in the second edition of the IPL have quickly agreed on one thing: if you are well set as a batsman, whatever you do, do not get out to a spinner. The thinking is that the next man in, invariably needing to maintain a run-rate of eight or nine an over, will struggle more with his timing against the slower bowlers than the quicker ones. It has become a rule of thumb for a good reason. Just ask Delhi Daredevils.
Tonight at the Wanderers they were going very nicely, thank you, on 127 for 3 after 15.4 overs and needed a further 37 off 26 balls with David Warner and Dinesh Karthik both entrenched. Teams win Twenty20 matches more often than not from such positions, but MS Dhoni, the Chennai Super Kings captain, knew what he was doing. And what he was doing was bowling his spinners.
Warner, who was beginning to flag after earlier hitting Albie Morkel for 15 in four balls, had a huge swing at the slow left-armer Shadab Jakati, missed, and was smartly stumped by Dhoni for a 40-ball 51. Still, a target of 37 off four overs was gettable. Except now Dhoni brought back Muttiah Muralitharan in place of L Balaji. Mithun Manhas, presumably knowing who he would rather have faced, failed to score off his first three balls then heaved at his fourth and was bowled. The over cost a single: 36 needed off three.
Jakati continued. Karthik reached fifty by lifting him over long-off, where S Badrinath should have been flush up against the boundary, but then slogged Jakati's next ball to a jubilant Murali at deep midwicket. Three balls later Pradeep Sangwan was bowled by Jakati aiming a mow. In 14 deliveries against the spinners, Delhi had lost 4 for 6. The rest was a formality.
When county cricketers worked out about two years into the Twenty20 Cup that spin bowlers were the not-especially-secret weapons of the 20-over game, the feeling was that their potency was based on their ability to take the pace off the ball. Now they are being used to make incoming batsmen feel claustrophobic by challenging them to work the ones and twos and biff the boundaries from the word go. Bowlers who wouldn't get a look-in in first-class cricket are suddenly being asked to do a job.
Batsmen, by contrast, have to strike an increasingly fine line between keeping up with the asking rate and not losing the wicket that could bring the house down - as happened tonight. "Any new batsman is going to find it difficult with Murali in the attack," said Gautam Gambhir, Delhi's stand-in captain. "The over he bowled which cost one run was the turning-point in the game."
But that downplayed the role of Jakati. Dhoni felt Chennai were chasing the game until his left-arm spinner came on to bowl, and praised him because he "mixes his pace well and isn't afraid to flight the ball. The wickets here are quite worn because it's the end of the season, so the spinners are getting more purchase as games progress. Also, batsmen feel they should be going after the slow bowlers from the start. Spinners have a big role to play in this year's IPL."
Delhi, still joint-top of the table with Deccan Chargers, who also lost today, learned that lesson the hard way today. Expect Daniel Vettori to return to the side any time soon.
Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer