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The art of T20 six-hitting: Why Pollard and the Pandya brothers are key to Mumbai Indians' dominance

That Mumbai are the best team at the death in a fickle format in a competitive league is down to these three - controlled - power-hitters

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
If you're a death bowler, Hardik Pandya is coming for you  •  BCCI

If you're a death bowler, Hardik Pandya is coming for you  •  BCCI

You watch it live, you watch the replays, and you see T Natarajan missed his length. And it happens, right? The yorker is a difficult delivery to execute, and if you err, you err on the fuller side because low full tosses are still hard to hit. It is just that Kieron Pollard can, you know, hit these low full tosses.
Except that Natarajan didn't miss his length. The definition of a yorker keeps changing over time, if you look at the pitch maps that the broadcasters show. Till not long ago, anything from the stumps to two metres down the wicket was considered a yorker. Perhaps they realised this year that a ball arriving at the base of stumps is a full toss, so they moved the yorker zone further away from the stumps to the 1m-to-3m zone. The popping crease is 1.22 metres from the stumps, so a ball landing on the popping crease and just beyond is still a yorker nailed.
Natarajan nailed two of those to Pollard only to be hit for boundaries. What you saw in live time was a low full toss, but it wasn't a yorker only because Pollard used his reach - no walking or charging - and all his timing and power, honed over hours and hours of range-hitting.
Then there is Hardik Pandya, whom you can shut down with a perfectly nailed yorker but without any margin for error. You go wrong either side by six inches, and he hits you for a six. Hardik has turned six-hitting into an art form where he hardly ever over-hits or mis-hits. If he doesn't get the right ball to hit, it doesn't faze him. He knows bowlers are going to make a mistake. Kagiso Rabada nailed two yorkers for a dot and a single, but he only had to err slightly with two other balls to be hit for sixes. On one occasion he missed the yorker, on the other, the hard length.
The only way to bowl to them perhaps is to bowl quick and hard lengths, and then mix it up with perfect yorkers, but the world doesn't have enough bowlers who can execute this flawlessly. Both Pollard and Hardik have shown that the moment you err even a little from that hard length, or are not quick enough with that hard length, boundaries across the world are not big enough. It is scary that they hit sixes while batting within themselves. The result? Hardik has hit a six every six balls to go with a four every 11 in IPL 2020. Pollard's six-hitting has been just as frequent, but he is even better with the fours, hitting one every ten balls. Despite having played fewer than half the deliveries that Ishan Kishan has, Hardik is challenging him for the most sixes hit this tournament. That all three belong to one team tells you why the Mumbai Indians have been so dominant.
You would have thought their opponents in the final, the Delhi Capitals' Rabada and Anrich Nortje, would have just the right ammunition - pace, bounce, hard lengths - but they have bowled 20 balls to these two for 33 runs and no wicket, including a six every five balls. This is classic Pollard and Hardik: the two bowlers seemingly most suited to bowling to them have bowled 11 dots out of 20, but have conceded four sixes as well. Even the slightest error has been punished.
Then there is the wildcard, Krunal Pandya. Take Mumbai's previous match against the Capitals for example. Krunal was promoted ahead of Hardik because the Capitals still had one over of left-arm spin from Axar Patel left. He and Kishan - both left-hand batsmen - against Axar would make it a bad match-up for the Capitals. They were happy to play out Daniel Sams and wait for Patel. The Capitals didn't trust Patel in this situation, and so used up two overs from Rabada and Nortje instead. Having forced the Capitals to use their death bowlers earlier than they would have liked, Krunal had done his job. He was free to hit the two main bowlers now: if he got runs, it was a bonus; if he got out, he had got Hardik an over from either Patel or Marcus Stoinis to face at the death. In another game, when Krunal wasn't required to tactically disrupt match-ups, he came out and smacked 20 off four balls in the last over.
While it is no surprise that Mumbai are the best team at the death, a knock-on effect of this is the freedom with which Suryakumar Yadav and Kishan can play. They know that if they have one slow over in the middle, or if they get out trying to dominate the opposition, they have the luxury of these three batsmen coming in in the last ten. Yadav's intent and execution has been way better than that of Virat Kohli, Manish Pandey and Shubhman Gill to name a few, but he can afford to fail because of Pollard and the Pandya brothers; others don't have that luxury. Yadav acknowledged as much after Mumbai beat the Capitals in the Qualifier 1.
Between the three of them, Pollard and the Pandya brothers provide enough power and chaos in the last ten overs to make planning for them a struggle for any opposition. Two of them are efficient and ruthless power-hitters. All three of them are seemingly selfless, unconcerned about averages and unfazed by dot balls. The two power-hitters have varying styles of hitting, which means the bowler has to adjust vastly to hold his own.
Even if Mumbai happen to have an off day in the final - which can happen - their team construction, especially Nos. 5, 6 and 7, holds truest to the spirit of T20 cricket. A defeat in a final will not change that, or the fact that because of this power-hitting they are the most dominant side in a fickle format in a competitive league.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo