Matches (20)
T20 World Cup (4)
WI Academy in IRE (1)
T20 Blast (14)
SL vs WI [W] (1)
Match Analysis

The two Starora overs that defined the IPL final

SRH's opening duo of Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma had been dynamic, but they were stopped in their tracks with the title on the line

They're called Travishek because it's the easiest way to combine their names, but it also makes sense because Travis Head takes first strike for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Abhishek Sharma starts at the non-striker's end. Almost as a rule.
Before the final of IPL 2024, there had only been three exceptions to this. Abhishek had taken first strike twice against Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and once against Lucknow Super Giants. On all three occasions, an offspinner had bowled the first over.
On Sunday, against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Abhishek took first strike for the fourth time this season. This time he wasn't facing an offspinner.
He was, instead, up against Mitchell Starc.
You could understand why Head might have felt less than enthusiastic about the prospect of facing Starc with a new ball. Just watch this. And that's a video from six years ago. There was also this, of course, from last Tuesday in Ahmedabad:
Over all the years they have come up against each other, Starc has rattled Head's stumps with full, fast balls bending past the outside edge, and rattled them with balls threatening to shape away before nipping back past the inside edge.
For most of IPL 2024, Starc had looked like a bowler not quite in full control of the complicated mechanics of his run-up and delivery. The ball wasn't coming out of his hand in quite the way he would have liked it to and was landing in the slot, meeting the middle of bats rather than swerving and ducking past their edges. By Tuesday, however, he seemed to have found that elusive thing they call rhythm. Right in time for a meeting with his old sparring buddy, Head.
It fell to Abhishek, then, to negotiate Starc and the brand-new white ball.
Abhishek could have been out three times in Starc's first four balls. There was a swing and miss off the first ball, and a poke and miss off the second, both regulation balls from a left-arm swing bowler that left the left-hand batter outside off stump. Then, Abhishek opened his bat face, steered the fourth ball to the left of deep third, and took a chance on a tight second run. A better throw may well have beaten his dive.
Looking back at how Sunday night unfolded, might SRH have preferred to have lost Abhishek to any of those three balls, in any of those routine ways, rather than the way they actually did? Like, psychologically?
I mean, here's how it happened:
Yes, KKR social-media admin person. That was, in all likelihood, the ball of the season. It was angled into the left-handed Abhishek, and it pitched around middle stump. It would likely have missed leg stump if it had continued along its initial trajectory, but it began to shape against the angle just before it pitched, with devastating consequences.
It clocked 139kph, and that doesn't sound hugely impressive when you pit it against the mid-to-late 150s balls that Gerald Coetzee and Mayank Yadav have bowled this season, but 139kph is blindingly fast when the ball swings like that. Particularly when it swings from that length. The length that freezes batters' feet and squares them up. The length that shaves paint off the top of the stumps. The top, on this occasion, of off stump.
You need all those inadequate words of description, because Starc, when asked about it in his post-match press conference, only had this to offer: "Not much to it. Run in, try and hit the stumps, try to swing it. That's what I've tried to do for the last 14 years. Doesn't always happen. I've been lucky enough that it's happened twice in the last two games, with Trav as well.
"I mean, that's part of my experience that I'm supposed to be bringing to the group is to start us off and lead the way [with] powerplay wickets. We've seen how important they are through the tournament. We were fantastic in the powerplay again today, as we were in the first qualifier against them.
"It's always nice to bowl a ball like that, but there's nothing special about the plan: just run in, try and bowl fast, swing it, and see if one can hit the top of the stumps. It's nice when it comes off."
With time, with distance, with a little less recency bias, we may be able to pick out other candidates for ball of the season. When that happens, our selection is likely to include another work of top-of-off artistry from a KKR bowler: Vaibhav Arora to Shai Hope at Eden Gardens.
It was similar to Starc vs Abhishek, sliding past the outside edge to light up the bails, except it was from a right-arm bowler to a right-hand batter, and it was seam movement rather than swing.
Both Starc vs Abhishek and Arora vs Hope showcased a key piece of KKR's title-winning jigsaw. KKR took the joint-most powerplay wickets of any team in IPL 2024, and their 27 came in 14 innings as against Rajasthan Royals' 15.
Starc took 11 powerplay wickets, and Arora nine. KKR finished the season with two of its top four wicket-takers in that phase.
IPL 2024 was - it still feels weird to use the simple past tense rather than the present perfect - the season of the stratospheric total, and the two finalists were the teams that reached for the stratosphere most often. But where KKR's batting explosions could come from anywhere in a line-up of immense power and depth, SRH's owed theirs, for most part, to a turbocharged opening pair and a six-hitting machine in the middle-order.
After SRH won the toss and opted to bat on Sunday night, KKR's clearest path to victory was to take these three out as cheaply as possible, and the top two as quickly as possible.
Starc, with Abhishek in his sights rather than Head, had done half that job. The surviving half of Travishek now took strike to Arora, bowling right-arm over.
Over the last couple of years, as Head has dominated a World Test Championship final, a World Cup semi-final, a World Cup final and an IPL with his daredevilry, a theory has developed around how best to bowl to him, particularly early in his innings: angle the ball into him from right-arm around or left-arm over, and cramp him for room. Head likes to stay leg side of the ball against the fast bowlers and free his arms, and he's bloody good at doing that - under no circumstances, then, should you give him any semblance of room.
Before Sunday, Head had fallen four times to fast bowling in the powerplay this season. He had been out once to the right-arm over angle, when Chennai Super Kings' Tushar Deshpande had slanted the ball across him and got him to hit towards the longer off-side boundary. He had been dismissed three times by the ball angling into him from left-arm over.
Arora began from right-arm over, in theory Head's preferred angle. It can be a difficult angle to bowl from if you're bowling to someone like Head, because there's only a tiny sliver of a line you can bowl without either offering room or straying onto his pads. It's particularly tricky if, like Arora, you swing the ball away from the left-hander.
In those circumstances, Arora bowled the perfect delivery. It started some way outside leg stump, and then began to swing, pitching roughly in line with leg stump and reaching Head when it was just about in line with off stump. Head's feet tend not to move all that much even when he plays some of his best shots; it can even be an advantage when he can free his arms and swing cleanly with a vertical or horizontal bat. This ball, though, drew a defensive response, and it mattered that his back foot was stuck in its initial position. He followed the ball with his hands, showing only half his bat face.
Head has enjoyed days when he has offered similar responses to similar balls early in his innings and survived. Cricket can be like that, with the slimmest margins between the play-and-miss and the edge to the keeper.
On another day, Head may have survived this Arora ball, and forced him to go back and bowl another ball, and another ball, all the time contending with the small margins of bowling to a champion.
On this day, it was Arora who ran towards his KKR team-mates, arms extended, as if to show just how much this wicket meant to the balance of this match. "Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much."
This IPL final was 12 balls old. KKR were already in front, by a significant margin. The tournament's best new-ball pair had won a decisive victory over its scariest opening partnership.
Move aside, Travishek. Make way for Starora.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo