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Match Analysis

Short proves sweet for Gujarat Titans' pace quartet

Shami, Ferguson, Dayal and Joseph shared six wickets in a successful defence of 156, and five came off the shorter lengths

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
23-Apr-2022
Andre Russell's day against Gujarat Titans began with short balls, nearly ended with a short ball, and eventually ended with a short ball. He almost pulled off a coup with 48 off 25 in Kolkata Knight Riders' chase of 157 but he eventually fell to a ball that Titans used generously and smartly against the Knight Riders batters: the short ball.
The Titans bowling attack has already been among the best in the IPL this season, among the top wicket-taking pace units, among the most miserly in the powerplay, and boasting the best economy rate in the death overs.
On Saturday they showed they were also among the smartest of attacks.
Russell's only over, the last of the Titans innings, had already shown the perfect length to bowl on a pitch that had a bit of up and down bounce, and on which the ball was stopping a little and making it difficult for batters to get their timing right. Russell mostly bowled short or short-of-length balls, and bagged four wickets in the space of six deliveries by making the batters target the longer square boundary.
Thanks for the idea, Titans might have said, for a few minutes' later, their fast-bowling attack came out with a clear plan: to bowl short and quick, without caring a great deal about cutters and variations. They had the attack to pull off such a plan, with the experience of Mohammed Shami, the left-arm angle of Yash Dayal, the pace of Lockie Ferguson, and the bounce of Alzarri Joseph. And some of the Knight Riders batters, such as Nitish Rana and Sunil Narine, came into this match with question marks over their handling of the short ball.
It took Shami just four balls to test the middle of the pitch, and it worked immediately, with Sam Billings top-edging a pull to give Titans a first-over breakthrough.
At the other end, Narine started with a first-ball four, but as soon as Dayal went short, he began hopping, mistiming a pull and sending a leading edge in the air only to fall short of midwicket.
When Narine got the strike back in the next over, Shami was steaming in. He began with a short ball - obviously - outside off and Narine couldn't even get close to it. Then, hanging back while expecting another short one, he got into a tangle against a back-of-a-length delivery that he only managed to tuck into the hands of short fine leg. Shami had bowled eight balls and picked up two wickets.
Out came Nitish Rana. Until this game, his record against fast bowlers off short or short-of-length balls wasn't great, according to ESPNcricinfo's data: 24 dismissals, a strike rate of under 125, and an average of just over 19. Shami must have known this, and he went around the wicket immediately to target the left-hander's shoulder area; all Rana managed was a single off the first three balls he faced.
For the next over, the fourth of the innings, on came Joseph, the tallest member of the attack. The second ball he bowled put Rana in an awkward position to pull, and nearly brought him a wicket, but the top-edge fell just wide of midwicket.
If Rana and Shreyas Iyer survived that over and thought they could catch their breath, they were mistaken, as Hardik Pandya brought on Ferguson. The speedster began with a yorker, probably out of habit, but his next ball was short of a length and it produced a wicket: at 149kph it was too quick for Rana, who poked, squared up, and edged behind. Knight Riders were 16 for 3.
Dayal switched ends after the powerplay, and his first ball of that over was short of a length again, and its line, stiflingly close to off stump despite the left-arm-over angle, forced Shreyas into an uncertain jab that he edged behind.
Knight Riders were 34 for 4 in the seventh over and Rashid Khan hadn't even come on to bowl yet. And it could have been game over in the 13th over when Dayal came back for his third and seemed to have bounced out Russell, getting him to fend awkwardly and having him caught at short fine leg, but the bowler had overstepped by a long way. Had it been a legal delivery, Knight Riders would have been 83 for 6.
Brendon McCullum, the Knight Riders head coach, later admitted their batters needed to make technical adjustments to negotiate such skillful pace and bounce.
"First and foremost, Gujarat Titans' bowling line-up is very well balanced," McCullum said at his post-match press conference. "They've got some raw pace, a bit of bounce, and some left-arm variety. The way they bowled today, I thought they attacked us the way we expected them to, which was more back of length and around the shoulder region. Unfortunately, we weren't able to counter that.
"In the end, bounce can be your friend or foe depending on whether you're able to fight it. We've got to find a way to be able to find it and come out with a couple of technical things to try and use the pace rather than go against it. Granted, though, it was very good bowling, they operated really smartly. We still gave ourselves a chance though we weren't quite able to execute. It's a fine line as well, there's a lot of those kind of balls which could have easily called one [bouncer] for the over in which case it would have changed how they were able to bowl at us. That's the nature of the game as well and credit to Gujarat."
Later too, Dayal, Ferguson and Shami used the short ball liberally against Russell, not shying away even when he dispatched them for boundaries. Russell almost single-handedly brought the equation down to 18 from the last over, and when Joseph began it with a near-yorker that disappeared for Russell's sixth six, he went back to the short ball. This time, Russell didn't connect properly with his pull, having to drag the ball from well outside his eyeline, and Titans' go-to weapon - finally and aptly - had dismissed Knight Riders' most dangerous batter.
In all, the Titans quick bowlers sent down 54 short or short-of-length balls, conceding just 65 runs and picking up five of the six wickets they bagged in total.
Knight Riders already had the worst record against short and short-of-length balls off fast bowlers before this game, and Saturday's defeat only made it worse. They have now lost the most wickets (20) to such balls, they have the worst scoring rate against them (7.23) and the worst average (15.55) as well.
McCullum, assistant coach Abhishek Nayar and mentor David Hussey will have some work to do with their batters before Knight Riders' next game.
With stats inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo