The return of finger spin
T20 trends are usually short lived since the game moves so rapidly and players and franchises keep innovating. The trend of wristspinners dominating the shorter format has been prevalent for the last four seasons. But have we seen a resurgence from fingerspinners this season? Have the two best fingerspinners of India led this charge?
The previous IPL season in which fingerspinners were hugely successful was in 2013, where they had an economy rate of 6.89. After a six-year hiatus, they're back this season, topping the charts for best economy rate, strike rate and average. At the end of 21 matches, both fingerspinners and wristspinners have got the exact same economy rate of 7.35. R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Mohammad Nabi have led the resurgence.
It is not that wristspinners are doing badly, fingerspinners are just catching up. Wristspinners may have become slightly predictable and batsmen/teams have been preparing to counter their plans. An indicator of this predictability is seen through the number of googlies that wristspinners have been bowling. In 2017 only 22% of their deliveries were googlies, while in 2018 it rose to 40% and remains the same in 2019. Although it is a wicket-taking option, batsmen are slightly more prepared for the googly now.
On the other hand, fingerspinners have lowered their speeds compared to last season. So far this IPL, fingerspinners have bowled 34% of their deliveries at less than 90kph, compared to 26% last year. This could also be due to the slowness of some of the pitches in certain venues such as Delhi, Chennai and Jaipur.
'Dhoni's finishing method' isn't for everyone
In 21 matches so far this season, 10 have been won by the team batting first and 10 by the chasing team, with one ending in a tie. Only thrice has a captain won the toss and decided to bat first. In spite of chasing being the preferred option, a lot of teams have failed to get past the line. The common trend across all these losses is the fact that teams have not capitalised in the Powerplay. They have looked to keep wickets in hand and then make up in the last three or four overs by taking the match deep.
In the 10 losses, the Powerplay run rate (7.73) and middle-overs run rate (7.60) are very similar. Barring Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad - they both have two ultra-aggressive openers - no other team has looked to capitalise in the first six overs. Twice, Rajasthan Royals have failed to complete chases from positions of strength, against , Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings. They scored at only 7.8 per over between overs 7 and 16 and then could not make up the deficit. In another bizarre chase, Kings XI Punjab scored only 69 runs between overs 7 and 16 without losing a wicket against Chennai Super Kings . Delhi Capitals too, have failed on one occasion against Kings XI and just managed to get over the line against Knight Riders through a Super Over.
If this approach sounds familiar, it is because it's the MS Dhoni method of taking the game deep, putting the opponent under pressure and seeing who blinks first. However, even Dhoni fell woefully short in the game against Mumbai when they scored just 74 runs between overs 7 -17 for the loss of just two wickets. The only side that has managed to finish on the right side after taking such an approach so far are Knight Riders, thanks to freak hitting performances from Andre Russell, who has twice got them out of jail, taking the team home when they needed 53 runs off the last 18 balls. In the coming weeks, teams chasing should look to start with more intent and maximise the Powerplay to close the match early, like how Knight Riders did against Rajasthan Royals
Is it time for spin to slow things down in death overs?
The death overs (17-20) remain the most crucial phase in a T20 match. So far this season, the first-innings' death overs run rate is at an all-time high of 11.53. The run rate over the past two seasons in the same phase was 10.3 and 10.5. Incredibly, in eight out of 21 innings this season, teams have scored in excess of 50 runs in the last four overs. Even a death-over specialist like Bhuvneshwar Kumar has conceded 79 runs from his five overs, while the likes of Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj , Prasidh Krishna and Siddarth Kaul have all gone in excess of 13 runs per over.
Pace bowlers are going at 12.08 runs per over, while the spinners are going at just 8.33 runs per over. However, the spinners have bowled only 14% of the overs in this phase so far. Quality spinners like Rashid Khan, Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine have been successful in keeping the runs down, and often, getting the big hitters out, while going at less than eight runs per over. Teams need to come out with efficient strategies to counter this onslaught. Bowling spin at the death has its own risks, but early indicators are that it could be relatively less costly than bowling pace in these crucial overs. Will teams look to try something unorthodox or continue to back their specialists?
Royal Challengers' cup of woes spills over
While the importance of fielding has been stressed enough in the IPL, the standard of catching has been below par this season. At the end of 21 matches, Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings continue to top the charts with conversion rates of 95% and 91% in the field, having dropped just one and three catches from 20 and 32 attempts respectively.
Royal Challengers Bangalore are at the bottom of the points table and there is a reason for that: they pouch only 58% of their catches. They have dropped 14 out of the 33 possible chances. Virat Kohli, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj and Parthiv Patel have all dropped two catches each.
In fact as per ESPNcricinfo's Luck Index after 21 matches, Tim Southee and Navdeep Saini are among the top five unlucky bowlers. Royal Challengers' ground fielding has also been poor, accounting for 29 misfields/fumbles - again, the most for any team.
Due to his accuracy in reading trajectories and estimating the ball's path, the DRS had recently been referred to as the 'Dhoni Review System' in memes and on social media. Little wonder then, that Dhoni's Super Kings have made the best use of their review calls. In the first fortnight, 29 reviews have been taken so far in 21 matches. The Super Kings have more successful reviews than unsuccessful ones: 2:1. Kings XI is the other team to have utilised DRS well. However the remaining teams are still figuring it out.