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The Greatest IPL Performances 2008-2020

The greatest IPL performances, No. 1: Yusuf Pathan's 3 for 22 and 56 off 39 vs the Chennai Super Kings

It's the final of the first IPL. Enter the Blaster

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
We polled our staff for their picks of the top ten best batting, bowling and all-round performances in the IPL through its history. Here's No. 1
Harsha Bhogle tells a story of Yusuf Pathan and Shane Warne at the Rajasthan Royals. Pathan had been given a specific role by Warne in the inaugural IPL: to "take 'em on" and "dominate the start of the innings". When you truly try to fulfil that sort of brief, there are chances you will fail. Thirteen years on, it is a concept many batters still struggle to come to terms with.
On a night when Pathan had had one of these unavoidable failures, he sat in his hotel room moping, blaming himself for a defeat. He heard a knock on the door. It was his captain, Warne. "Mate, one man doesn't lose a game," Warne said. "The team loses it. Don't worry, sleep well."
Does one man win a game, though? It would appear so on the evidence of the final later that year.
Back in 2008 cricket was still only entering - with trepidation but without intention to look back - the era of T20 and data analysis. Most of the analysis at that time, though, was technical in nature: footage (from matches and nets), split-screens, etc. There was no exhaustive data bank on match-ups, or much else, to fall back on.
What we know looking back is this. Among those who faced a minimum of 80 balls in the middle overs that IPL, Pathan scored the fastest, at 10.58 runs an over. He started his T20 career, and the tournament, as an opener. Not that his rate of 9.45 runs per over in the powerplay was to be scoffed at, but he also averaged 80 in the middle overs as compared to 28.75 against the new ball. By the middle of the tournament he started playing in the middle order and he ended up facing 136 balls in that phase as against 73 in the powerplay.
Among those who faced at least 50 balls of spin, Pathan scored the fastest, at 12.82 an over. Again, it is not like he held himself back against pace. He might have averaged half the 62 he did against spin but he still struck the fast bowlers at 10 an over in the first ten balls. He did not need time to settle in nor did he slow down once in.
As a bowler, he went at 7.36 against left-hand batters and 9.96 against right-hand ones. He bowled 110 balls to left-handers, and only 59 to right-handers.
Warne is known to have come up with nicknames straight out of professional wrestling during his time at the Royals. Pathan was "the Blaster", whose stated role other than dominating the bowling was to bowl stump to stump - not cutting edge by modern standards, but Warne's cricketing brain didn't need too much data to make good use of Pathan.
Twenty-three of the 110 balls that Pathan bowled to left-hand batters were in the final; only one was bowled to a right-hand batter. Warne and Pathan outwitted the Chennai Super Kings, who did nothing to disrupt the Royals. CSK had four left-hand batters at the top, followed by three right-handers.
Pathan continued with his plan of bowling stump to stump. The lack of pace handcuffed S Vidyut, Parthiv Patel, Suresh Raina and Albie Morkel. The quicker, flatter deliveries got the wickets. Only two boundaries came off his four overs, leaving the Super Kings at 97 for 3 by the time he was done.
However, it was perhaps with the bat that Pathan made the more telling contribution of the final. By the time he walked in in the seventh over, the Royals were 42 for 3, chasing 164, and had one of the most economical bowlers of the tournament, Muttiah Muralitharan, to contend with still.
It turned out to be Pathan's most subdued effort with the bat in the tournament, pointing to the difficult nature of the surface. He hit no boundary in the first nine balls he faced, and only tried once. After he picked on L Balaji, hitting him for two fours in the tenth over, he was dropped off Murali. At 21 off 23 balls, he had brought the Royals to needing 75 off 45.
Then came the storm you had sensed for a while. Pathan had just charged at Murali and only managed to squirt the ball to the off side. Now, though, his footwork was precise and he lofted successive sixes.
It was Murali's second-most expensive over out of the 58 he bowled in the tournament. He came back to claim the eventual Player of the Tournament, Shane Watson, but before he was done, Pathan hit him for another six, and he took down Balaji once again, to leave a manageable task for Warne and Sohail Tanvir.
ESPNcricinfo's Super Stats metric rated Pathan's impact at 146.8, more than twice the next-best contribution by a Royals player. In the first final of what would go on to become the most competitive and prestigious T20 tournament in the world, Pathan produced a performance whose impact would be bettered in only two of the 12 finals since to date. There was no sulking that night.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo