Match Analysis

How LSG mastered the art of defending totals

Since their inception, LSG have won 15 of the 18 matches in which they batted first

How good are Lucknow Super Giants at defending totals? Since their inception in IPL 2022, they've batted first in 18 games, winning 15 of them and losing just two, which gives them an absurd win-loss ratio of 7.500. Rajasthan Royals, the second-best team at defending totals by that metric, are way behind them at 1.444, with 13 wins and nine losses.
And LSG have never lost when they've batted first and got to 160. Sunday night's game against Gujarat Titans was the 13th and latest example of this, and the win typified, in many ways, just why they are so good at defending totals.
Find the perfect home ground
It's never easy to build such a formidable bat-first record, but it gets a little easier if you play your home games at the IPL's most challenging batting venue. Whether it's the low, grippy black-soil pitches LSG usually play on or the quicker, higher-bouncing red-soil surface they occasionally use, Lucknow is seldom a straightforward ground to bat on, and consequently to chase on.
LSG captain KL Rahul is aware of this.
"Yeah, it's a good record to have, obviously, but also it's where we've played, the conditions we've played [in]," he said at the post-match presentation on Sunday. "The last time we played here in Lucknow we all saw how the wickets were, it's a very low-scoring wicket, low-scoring ground, so we've defended quite well there, and having that home advantage obviously helps a little bit.
"And yes, the bowlers have come through the ranks in the last couple of years. You've seen the same guys playing last season as well, and they've adjusted to their roles, and they're reading the wickets really well, and that's something that I try to speak to them a lot more off the field, and even at practice and even in the nets, just to try and get them ready to make the right choices in the ground when the pressure is on. I think they're doing that really well, so yeah, hopefully we can continue this."
But this is not even half the story, because only four of LSG's 15 bat-first wins have come in Lucknow. They've defended and won on a variety of away and neutral grounds as well.
Make par-plus totals
MS Dhoni coined the term "par-plus total", and it came to stand for something of a defining philosophy. The teams he captained at Chennai Super Kings tended to have strong spin attacks suited to the conditions at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, and they tended to bat in a way that made sure they usually put up totals that their bowlers could work with, even if their batters didn't always set your pulse racing.
LSG, whose reliance on spin at their home ground is an ongoing tribute to Dhoni's CSK sides, have tended to be very good at getting to the par-plus total. Out of the 18 times they've batted first in the IPL, they've only crossed 200 twice, but they've only ended up with less than 150 on one occasion - in a rained-out game.
Often, LSG's totals have been built on an old-fashioned and increasingly polarising approach, with Rahul setting the tone as their polariser-in-chief: he's their leading bat-first run-getter with 626 at an average of 52.16 and a strike rate of 139.42. He played another old-fashioned innings on Sunday, a 31-ball 33 that helped stabilise LSG after they had lost two early wickets, with Marcus Stoinis going only slightly harder while scoring 58 off 43.
Is it the ideal approach to batting first in T20? Probably not, but if you have a bowling attack designed to defend par-plus totals - as LSG do, and Royal Challengers Bengaluru (for whom Virat Kohli often plays a similar, and similarly polarising role) do not, particularly in their home conditions - it has its merits, especially in a tournament where you can be the fourth-best team and get into the playoffs.
Build a smart, skillful bowling group
In their first season, LSG often stacked their line-up with allrounders - they had Jason Holder, Marcus Stoinis, Krunal Pandya and K Gowtham in this game against Rajasthan Royals, for example - and while it sometimes left them with too flexible a batting order, with their middle-order batters never really settling into defined roles, it made their bowling extremely versatile. Given their plethora of options, they could, for example, easily hide the left-arm spin of Krunal if two left-handers were at the crease.
The introduction of the Impact Player in IPL 2023 reduced the value of having so many allrounders, but it has helped LSG's quest to always have a plethora of bowling options. It has, for instance, allowed them to play three spinners without compromising on their seam attack - Amit Mishra made a few appearances as their third spinner last season, and M Siddharth has been their powerplay spinner this year.
Siddharth is an interesting bowler, a left-arm spinner whose stock ball with the new ball is the swinging arm ball. It's a hugely useful defensive weapon against both the right-hand batter (whom it can cramp for room) and the left-hand batter (against whom it can be used to shut out the leg side, especially while bowling from around the wicket).
All this makes Siddharth a typical LSG bowler. Their lead spinner Ravi Bishnoi is a unique legspinner who loves bowling to left-hand batters, and Krunal is a non-traditional left-arm fingerspinner who has mastered the art of survival via clever use of angles and speed of delivery.
"All three spinners have been key for us," Rahul said. "Sid coming in this season has done really well, plays a really crucial part when he bowls with the new ball. It's obviously not going to be easy for a youngster to come in and bowl in the powerplay, and he can go for a bit of runs, but he's shown great temperament and he's given us that steady bowling in the first 2-3 overs in the powerplay and picked up one wicket, but his job is more to restrict the batsmen and not let the team get off to a flying start, which he's doing really well.
"KP obviously is very experienced - he's played IPL for so many seasons and he's a very very smart bowler, he knows what to do - and Bishnoi obviously, played with him for so many years and he just keeps getting better and better."
LSG also tend to pick seamers with solid defensive traits - Naveen-ul-Haq and Yash Thakur, for example, like bowling cutters and cross-seam deliveries into the wicket - while also usually being able to call upon one or two with genuine wicket-taking ability - Mark Wood, Dushmantha Chameera and Avesh Khan in the past, Mohsin Khan and Mayank Yadav this season.
The nature of bowlers LSG have makes them particularly good through the middle overs, as the above graphic suggests (this is across all matches, whether batting or bowling first). Controlling this phase is often vital while defending totals, as LSG showed on Sunday too. Having got to 54 for 1 at the end of their powerplay in their chase of 164, Titans collapsed through the middle overs on a tricky pitch, against the constricting bowling of Krunal, Bishnoi and Thakur.
Be lucky
It's important to remember, of course, that four of LSG's 15 bat-first wins have been achieved with a margin of six runs or fewer - one hit, in other words, could have changed the result - and two others by margins of 12 and 10 runs.
LSG's win-loss ratio of 7.5, then, is slightly deceptive, and a reversion to the mean can't be too far away. But there's no denying their excellence at defending totals, and the method behind it.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo