Cricket's Ship of Theseus: A decade of the IPL

It is ten years to the day the IPL began in 2008. Ten full years since Brendon McCullum smashed 158* for Kolkata Knight Riders, the same side that took the field on Wednesday to face Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur.

IPL and T20 cricket, though, like the Ship of Theseus, are the same only in name, with almost every single component from that first game having been dismantled and tinkered with over the years. Today, it feels like a whole different sport from where it all started off. Here's a trip down memory lane, and how things have transformed since that April evening in Bengaluru.

Match-ups, analytics and micro-stats

Brendon McCullum gets dismissed roughly once every 17 balls against spin bowling. Thanks to this nugget, sides now regularly start off with their best spinners against him. Back in the day, Royal Challengers Bangalore started off with Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Ashley Noffke and Jacques Kallis. Three right-arm quicks, a left-arm quick, lots of pace on the ball early on, just as he likes it. There were hardly any slower ones from the seamers, nor any spin in the bowling attack until the ninth over of the game.

You wouldn't blame their think-tank, since there just wasn't enough T20 data to identify McCullum's weakness in 2008. Sure, a scan through his ODI numbers revealed a potential weakness against the slower bowlers, but by the time left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi came on to bowl, McCullum had raced to 58 off 36 balls. Today, Joshi would almost certainly have opened the bowling, just like Axar Patel successfully did last week, getting McCullum out for a duck in the first over.

Ten years on from that day, a spinner opened the bowling to target Chris Lynn's weakness and get rid of him, and pace bowlers trundled in from the other end to target (opener!) Sunil Narine's weakness. Some of these punts work out, some don't, but there is a lot more thought behind every single decision made in 2018.

Adapt or perish: no room for slow coaches

A chase of 223 in a 20-over game. The chasing side, back in 2008, sent out Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid to open, and they managed a combined 8 off 19 balls. That's over 42,000 first-class runs and years of experience batting together, but in a relatively unknown format, chasing an unfamiliar 10-plus run-rate from ball one, they came a cropper.

Today, Ajinkya Rahane, himself a first-class giant and not the fastest of starters, has had to adapt his game and take on the role of the dasher, racing to 36 off 19 balls in the Powerplay. It is an innings that might have fuelled comments like "threw his wicket away" back in the day, but right now, that's the quintessential T20 opener's knock: perform or perish, or perform and perish, while always accelerating.

Sunil Narine opening the batting regularly feels like T20 cricket's equivalent of 1990s ODI pinch-hitters. It is not a one-off move any more but a calculated punt from franchises, and in the company of Chris Lynn, Knight Riders have got a made-for-T20-cricket opening combo. Both spend most of their time on the T20 caravan around the globe, hardly ever play first-class cricket, can shift multiple gears at will and change matches within a few balls.

Spin for the win in the Powerplay

Seven out of 12 Powerplay overs on Wednesday were bowled by spinners, with offspin and legspin and left-arm wristspin used to deny batsmen pace and slow down progress. It is a tactic now widely employed in T20 leagues around the world, and in the IPL's 11th season, being put to use by every franchise.

Sample this: we are just into the 15th game, and spinners have already bowled nearly double the number of Powerplay overs (61.2) than they did in the whole of the 2008 IPL season (31.1). All of this is the result of in-depth analysis, focus on player-versus-player match-ups, and at a larger level, increasingly widespread acceptance that T20 does not conform to standard cricketing wisdom and tactics.

Boundary-line tightrope walks: child's play

Ben Stokes' catch by the boundary line off a full-blooded Robin Uthappa swipe to long-on is another widely discussed change the T20 game has brought about. Relay catches and boundary-line wizardry is now the norm more than the exception, and fielding by the ropes is now a specialist position against batsmen increasingly finding it easy to clear them.

That it was an Englishman taking the catch - Stokes was one of three playing this game along with Jos Buttler and Tom Curran - was fitting, for that is the other radical shift from the early days. England have the largest overseas contingent with 12 players in IPL 2018, compared to none in 2008.

Oh, how far we've come, from the smash-and-grab world of 2008, to a game where conventional methods are thrown to the wind, and on-field decisions are dictated by clinical number-crunching and analysis more than ever before.