T20 batting 101: A crash course from KKR
Ten wickets over 120 balls. The value of a wicket has never been lesser in cricket, and the best T20 batting sides are those that maximise their resource utilisation. Kolkata Knight Riders have been at the forefront of this change over the last two years, after deciding to open with Sunil Narine and Chris Lynn to make up for the loss of Andre Russell down the order during IPL 2017.
The outcome, two seasons on, is their adventurous approach to batting in the Powerplay. Two facts from IPL 2018 attest to this: nobody lost as many wickets as them - 26 - but no one came close to their 9.11 run rate in the Powerplay. It's not like they let up after that either - their average first-innings score was 191, the tournament's highest - and thanks to a big-hitter in Russell and a steady hand in Dinesh Karthik, they had the best middle-overs run rate too.
This approach showed in their chasing as well: in a tournament of close finishes, Knight Riders' attacking approach resulted in just two of their six successful chases going into the final over. They failed to chase totals down thrice, but the approach was always the same. Even when a wicket fell, finding the boundary was prioritised over settling in. Following the Narine maxim, what happened the previous ball did not influence how the next one was played. It could well be the T20 batting template going forward, as sides look to go top-heavy in the quest for bigger totals.
Hello IPL, meet Rayudu the opener
Before this season, Ambati Rayudu had only opened the batting in a handful of domestic T20 games for his state sides, and was a regular No. 3 and 4 for Mumbai Indians. The decision to open the batting with him was a classic Chennai Super Kings move: back your personnel to the hilt, trust their strengths and see if it comes off. MS Dhoni's logic behind the move was that he rated highly Rayudu's hitting abilities against both pace and spin. Rayudu himself said there was little more to it apart from "seeing the ball well" for the best part of the season.
As it turned out, he had his most productive IPL season by a distance, topping the Super Kings run charts. Along the way, he blitzed a match-winning unbeaten 100* against Sunrisers Hyderabad. On other days, when he wasn't required to open the batting, he came in at his familiar No. 4 spot and played middle-overs cameos. In all, a masterstroke of a promotion that have CSK early momentum.
Surprise auction pick, surprise late-season package: the Ngidi effect
It suprised many when Super Kings picked Lungi Ngidi after a dominant performance against India in a Test match. He hadn't made a splash as a T20 player till that point, and was not a first-choice starter for them early on in the tournament. Ngidi became a regular member of the XI late in the tournament, but in just seven games, he gave Super Kings control in the Powerplay and, more importantly, the thriftiness in the slog-overs that they were lacking early in the season. Smart Stats-wise, he finished as the tournament's most economical bowler with his economy rate of 6.00 over seven games translating to a Smart Economy Rate of 3.76. In runs terms, that's 58 runs saved. A less-talked-about aspect of their success, but one equally pivotal nonetheless.
Kings XI's use of the mystery spinner
When IPL 2018 began, Mujeeb Ur Rahman was far from a well-known name in India. Nowhere close to Chris Gayle anyway. And so when Kings XI picked the mystery spinner ahead of the West Indian opener for their first game of the season, there were a few eyebrows raised. Not for too long, though, as he restricted Delhi Daredevils on debut with figures of 4-0-28-2.
In a tournament where captains rationed their use of attacking spinners in the Powerplay, Ashwin routinely tossed the ball to Mujeeb in the first six, and the results showed: his 68 balls were worth more than that of any other spinner in the tournament, according to Smart Stats. He picked up four wickets, conceded at a Smart Economy Rate of 3.04 and saved his side 29 runs, even while runs leaked at the other end. All of this is in addition to Mujeeb executing his primary role of bowling through the middle overs to perfection. His importance was underscored in his absence during the back-end of the tournament, as Kings XI's bowling attack, with the exception of Andrew Tye, struggled.
The offspinner who opened the bowling
All eight sides dished out a liberal dose of spin-bowling during the Powerplay this season, but it was Rajasthan Royals who took it to a different level with K Gowtham. He was their first-choice opening bowler, and ended up bowling more overs in the Powerplay than any of his team-mates. Fingerspinners have opened the bowling in the IPL for a while now, but nobody barring pioneer R Ashwin during the 2011 and 2012 seasons has finished a season having bowled more than Gowtham's 25 Powerplay overs.
Nearly half of them were first overs, where sides - especially while batting first - look for a few sighters and try to get the measure of the pitch before going on to make full use of the fielding restrictions. Gowtham's first overs went for less than seven runs on an average, and nobody struck more than his three wickets. In chases, he provided crucial early breakthroughs when batsmen tried to go for the big shots. In Smart Stats terms, taking into account how bowlers at the other end bowled and how quickly batsmen scored in the match, Gowtham's Powerplay overs saved his side more than 14 runs, which puts him in the top ten for the season.
'Pshaw! Time for a change'
Ricky Ponting's track record in the IPL is well-known: stepped down as captain after a disastrous start to Mumbai Indians' title-winning 2012 season and blooded youngsters like Hardik and Krunal Pandya during his time as a coach there. In short, a man unafraid of making big, bold calls in the middle of a season. After Gautam Gambhir's struggles with the bat early on and his eventual stepping down from captaincy, Ponting, now Delhi Daredevils' head coach, backed highly-rated youngster Prithvi Shaw to open the batting.
Shaw has been making waves in the Under-19 and domestic first-class circuits, but before IPL 2018, he was a T20 greenhorn, having played just one game. It turned out to be an inspired change, as his fearless hitting at the top of the order, along with fellow youngsters Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer carried the Daredevils batting for the rest of the season. So much that even with the likes of Colin Munro and Jason Roy at their disposal, they backed their Indian talent enough to play just three overseas players by the end of the tournament.
What else worked?
- It's been a while since he set the IPL alight, but Chris Gayle's belated debut for Kings XI came as a move to exploit Super Kings' lack of proper fast bowlers on a big ground in Mohali. Gayle fired that game, the next and the one after, picking up two Man-of-the-Match awards, quipping along the way that team mentor Virender Sehwag had saved the IPL by picking him. It was a feast-or-famine season for him, but a throwback to his glory years while the feast lasted.
- Suryakumar Yadav found a new lease of life as a T20 dasher at the top of the Mumbai Indians order, after struggling for the best part of the last few seasons with Kolkata Knight Riders. His 512-run tally this season was just one fewer than his combined aggregate over the last four.
- Virat Kohli's use of Umesh Yadav, arguably the tournament's most potent strike force in the Powerplay, came in for deserved praise. Kohli chased wickets with his strike bowler, instead of waiting till the death overs to finish his quota. Umesh, in turn, bowled maidens and wicket-maidens early on, en route to his most successful IPL season: 20 wickets from 14 games at an economy rate of 7.86
Srinath Sripath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo