T20 matches are often decided by the smallest of margins. Therefore, every run scored or saved is more likely to make a difference in the shortest format than in others. While the focus has always been on the batting and the bowling, fielding has flown under the radar in cricket's older formats. In T20s, where margins are narrow, fielding is more frequently in the spotlight as a decisive factor than it ever has been. So, with data sourced from Cricket21, we look at how the teams have fared in this discipline so far in the IPL.*
Better fielding sides do not always win, but they do have higher chances of success. Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab - owing to age and makeup of their squads - started the season as possibly the two weakest fielding sides. But midway through the season, both are among the top three teams in the points table. Super Kings, by their own captain's admission, are at best a safe fielding side, and not one of the top ones. That seems to have been enough for them so far, as they have taken their catches when it has mattered, and have dropped only four catches in 37 attempts.
Ravindra Jadeja, who has not contributed with bat or ball so far, has impressed with his fielding, taking all the seven catches that have come to him. While catching has played a part in Super Kings maintaining their position around the top of the table, Kings XI Punjab have had no such help: they have dropped twelve out of 39 attempts, and are at the bottom of the catching chart with a 69% conversion rate.
When it comes to ground fielding, though, Super Kings, like the Kings XI, have been below par: they have conceded 11 and 26 extra runs respectively. With half the tournament still to go, both teams would look to improve in this aspect of the game to ensure it does not cost them towards the end of the competition.
Rohit Sharma's Mumbai Indians have been the best catching side, having dropped just four catches from 40 possible attempts, while Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore have been the best fielding side, having saved 22 runs through some agile boundary fielding.
Sunrisers Hyderabad are touted to be the best fielding side, and they have justified that reputation to some extent with their ground fielding (second-best so far), but have been inconsistent with their catching. By virtue of being the best bowling side, they have created the most catching opportunities (50) among the eight teams, but they have been let down by their catching. They have dropped ten catches from 50 attempts.
Rajasthan Royals haven't fared too differently. Shane Watson, Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson went on to score either a half century or a century after being dropped by Rahul Tripathi. Tripathi has dropped four catches from four attempts. Catching will be crucial if Royals are to reach the playoffs in this tightly-contested season. Mujeeb ur Rahman , R Ashwin and Barinder Sran have bowled well but have dropped six catches between them.
The best catchers in the tournament have all been high-profile names. Andre Russell, Karun Nair, Jadeja, Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey, the Pandya brothers - Krunal and Hardik, Rohit Sharma, AB de Villiers, and Ben Stokes have had the most opportunities and converted all of them. Some of these players came into the season with the reputation of being the best catchers and have lived up to their billing. Their captains would do well to ensure that they are at the right positions to gobble up catches that gather greater importance as we progress towards the end of the tournament.
How does IPL compare with other leagues?
Earlier this year, the PSL had 82% of catches being taken, with the champions, Islamabad United, converting 90.4% of their chances. The BBL is known for its exciting ground fielding and catches, but last season's conversion rate was only 75.6%. The champions, Adelaide Strikers, were third-best with an 80% conversion rate, while a few teams that did not make the playoffs had a poor catching conversion rate.
The CPL seems to be a hard league for catching, with an overall conversion rate of only 72%. Like the PSL, the winners of the CPL, Trinbago Knight Riders, finished with the best catching conversion rate: 71.9%. Although this is just data from a single season, there are a few indicators to show that a good fielding side is likely to finish on the right side of the result.
*All statistics up-to-date till April 29, 2018