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Spin on the rise in IPL Powerplays

Sunil Narine exults after picking up a wicket BCCI

It took only one game in IPL 2013 to reinforce that spin will again have a big role to play in the tournament. Sunil Narine, the Player of the Tournament last year, and the most economical among all IPL bowlers who've bowled at least 250 balls, took another four-wicket haul and Man-of-the-Match award: since the beginning of last season, Narine has four such awards from 16 matches, a rate bettered only by Chris Gayle (five in 15).

Narine was clearly the star of the show, but Shahbaz Nadeem and Johan Botha, the two spinners for Delhi Daredevils, did a fine job too, with combined figures of 3 for 44 in 7.4 overs. In all, the spinners took 7 for 57 in 11.4 overs in the match; the seamers had combined figures of 6 for 196 from 27 overs. With the Eden Gardens pitch being a typically slow Indian surface, and likely to get more spin-friendly as the tournament progresses, this is one venue where spinners will continue to flourish. And there'll surely be a few other venues similar to this one, ensuring that slow bowling continues to be the flavour of IPL 2013, like in previous years.

A look at the overall economy rates for spinners in each season indicates that they adapted pretty well, and pretty quickly, to the requirements of this format. In 2008, they went at 8.19 runs per over, and were marginally more expensive than the seamers. The next year, in South Africa, their economy rate dropped to 6.76, much lower than the rate for seamers, and since then spinners have been more economical than seam bowlers in each season.

The difference in the economy rates between pace and spin in 2009 was surprising because the tournament was hosted in South Africa, a country where conditions have traditionally helped seam and swing. However, the IPL was hosted late in their season, by which time the pitches had lost much of their bite and had become slower, assisting spin. Since then, teams have slowly discovered that taking pace off the ball is a pretty good option in these 20-over bashes.

More significant than the improving economy rates, though, has been the gradual acceptance by most captains that spinners have a major role to play during the Powerplay overs. In the first IPL, spinners bowled all of 30 overs during the Powerplays over the entire tournament, and didn't do particularly well either, going at 8.73 runs per over while their seam counterparts conceded 7.44. Only two teams - Deccan Chargers and Rajasthan Royals - used at least five overs of spin during the Powerplays, and Royals were the one side for whom this tactic worked: Yusuf Pathan's five overs during the Powerplays went for only 28 runs and fetched three wickets. Eight Powerplay overs of spin for Chargers cost them 80 runs, and three such overs for Daredevils cost 43.

Compared to those numbers, the stats in the previous season of the IPL are a huge contrast. Spinners bowled 211 overs, a seven-fold increase over 2008. In 2012, they contributed almost 25% of the Powerplay overs, and though they didn't take too many wickets, their economy rate of 6.79 was slightly better than the seamers managed.

In the entire 2008 edition of the tournament, Super Kings bowled exactly one over of spin in the Powerplays - Muttiah Muralitharan bowled that over, and conceded seven runs. In 2012, Super Kings used spin in 33 of their Powerplay overs, with R Ashwin bowling 25 of those. The bowlers managed only three wickets in those 33 overs, but did a reasonable job of keeping the runs in check.

The team that used spin most often in the Powerplays in 2012 was easily Knight Riders. Their home games were at the Eden Gardens, and the slow pitch there was perfectly conducive to spin bowling. Knight Riders also had the slow-bowling quality to exploit these conditions: apart from Narine, they also had Shakib Al Hasan and Iqbal Abdulla, who were good enough to bowl spin early in the innings with a fairly new ball and with the field restrictions in place.

Royals bowled exactly 33 overs of spin as well during the Powerplays, but they managed more wickets, thanks largely to Ankeet Chavan, a left-arm spinner who took three wickets in 12 Powerplay overs.

The team that used the fewest overs of spin in the Powerplays was Kings XI: they had 11 overs of spin, which was still more than the most overs of spin used by a team in 2008 (eight by Chargers).

The table below lists spinners who bowled at least ten overs in the Powerplays in IPL 2012. Almost all of them have very good economy rates. The one exception is Johan Botha, who conceded 102 runs in the 11 overs he bowled in the Powerplays - an economy rate of 9.27, and with no wickets either. When not bowling in the Powerplays, Botha has nine wickets at an average of 21.66 and an economy rate of 6.50. Clearly he hasn't enjoyed the combination of new ball and Powerplays much. For several of the other spinners, though, it hasn't been much of a problem.