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Feature

Five players who have changed perceptions this IPL

The IPL offers a chance for established players to reinvent themselves and fit into new roles

Dustin Silgardo
31-Oct-2020
Suryakumar Yadav's 79* included 37 runs in the 'V' behind the stumps, Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2020, Abu Dhabi, October 6, 2020

Suryakumar Yadav has scored nearly half his runs this season behind the wicket  •  BCCI

The IPL offers a platform for unknown players to establish themselves, but it also allows established players to reinvent themselves and fit into new roles. Here are five names who have done exactly that this season.
Suryakumar Yadav
Yadav has been a key player for the Mumbai Indians since 2018, but while he passed the 400-run mark in both 2018 and 2019, he struck at just over 130 in those years, giving him the reputation of an anchor. Yadav's role was to build the innings steadily and ideally get dismissed before the death overs, allowing Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya to up the scoring rate. This season, Yadav has not just averaged 40.22, he has scored at 155.36. He has counterattacked in the powerplay and also shown an ability to accelerate in the death overs. He has struck at 235 between overs 17 and 20 this season, faster than Pandya and just a shade off Pollard, who has struck at 241.09 at the death. Yadav has all the textbook shots and scores a lot of runs with drives through the off side, but he has also used the lap and ramp shots effectively, scoring nearly half his runs behind the wicket this season. The change in gears is significant for Yadav's India hopes, as the national side has a stacked top order but needs middle-order batsmen who can score quickly in the middle and death overs.
Shikhar Dhawan
With KL Rahul's stellar form in T20s and upcoming talents such as Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw and Sanju Samson impressing every IPL season, Dhawan might have been worried that he would lose his place in India's T20I squad. While he has been consistent in the IPL, scoring 350-plus runs every season since 2016, his season strike rates have at best been in the mid-130s. This season was a similar story six games in - his strike rate was 122.22. Then he switched gears, scoring two fifties and two centuries in his next four games, all rapidly, to leave him with a strike rate of 147.64 for the season, his best in IPL history. What has been most impressive is that Dhawan has not adopted the approach he and most other openers usually do, which is to begin cautiously and then accelerate. He has instead attacked in the powerplay, scoring at 154.92 in the first six overs since the Delhi Capitals' seventh game. Remarkably, he has managed all this without significantly increasing his six count, instead using timing and placement to strike fours.
Mohammed Shami
During his time at the Delhi Daredevils, Shami struggled to become a regular member of the playing XI due to a combination of injuries and being seen as a Test and ODI specialist. Since joining the Kings XI Punjab last season, he has changed that perception. Shami finished with 19 wickets last season and already has 20 this season after 13 games. Where he has improved further this season is in his death bowling. He was expensive at the death in 2019 and continued to be so in the early part of this season. However, he turned things around in one Super Over, against the Mumbai Indians. Whereas earlier Shami had relied on short-of-length deliveries and changes of pace at the death, here he bowled six straight yorkers to defend just five runs and force a second Super Over. Since then, he has become more confident in bowling his yorker at the death and has developed into a threat both early and late in the innings.
Chris Gayle
This season Gayle has put paid to two caricatures: that he is a fading force and that he cannot succeed anywhere but in the opening position. Once regarded as the world's best T20 batsman, in recent years an ageing Gayle has shown signs of slowing down. He has not been able to score quickly with the consistency he once did, and his poor fielding and running between the wickets have made sides doubt whether he merits a place in their XIs. In the 2018 auction Gayle received just one bid - and that was after his name came up the third time. While he did average 40-plus for the Kings XI in 2018 and 2019, between the last IPL and this one he had averaged 24.40 in 20 T20s and struck at 137.46. With KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal getting runs at the top this season, it looked unlikely Gayle would get many games. However, in dire need of points, the Kings XI took a gamble on him at No. 3, though Gayle had only played six innings there in his 405-match T20 career. In six innings so far, Gayle has hit three fifties and played a key role in his team's comeback from the brink of elimination.
Ben Stokes
The most expensive player in the 2018 auction, Stokes underwhelmed with the bat that year and in 2019, averaging less than 20, with no fifties. This season, the Royals sprang a surprise by casting Stokes in the role of opener - where he had batted just five times in his 113-match T20 career. Stokes is seen as a finisher in white-ball cricket, but batting in the middle order, he often struggled to get going early against spin. Opening has allowed him to start against pace, and the results have been two match-winning knocks: 107 not out off 60 balls against the Mumbai Indians and 50 off 26 against the Kings XI. Those two innings have kept Rajasthan in the hunt for a playoff spot.
*All stats as of 30 October, 2020 (till after Kings XI vs Rajasthan Royals)

Dustin Silgardo is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo