The IPL has revolutionised bowling in unexpected ways. The emergence of wristspinners as an integral part of most attacks in the competition has been quite a phenomenon. Franchises are evidently more open, more ready to take risks, and less inhibited when it comes to talent-spotting and selection than national selection panels.
In the process the IPL has brought to the world stage some of the most eccentric bowling actions. It has created a new animal - the expert T20 bowler. Many bowlers in the IPL seem to have perfected the four-over burst. Might the rules be modified to allow teams to enhance their competitive edge through greater use of these ''freak bowlers''?
What if a captain was allowed to pick one of his bowlers to bowl a maximum of eight overs? How might the likes of Tabraiz Shamsi or Shivil Kaushik fare if suddenly called upon to perform such a role when they are on top of the batsman? Will they be able to maintain the pressure and excel, or will they wilt under the additional load?
What is the state of mind of bowlers under the current rules when they complete a spell? Do they let out a sigh of relief or are they frustrated at being cut when approaching their peak? How does an Amit Mishra feel when he has taken four wickets in three overs and doesn't get a chance to complete a five-for? Does R Ashwin feel ill used at always being the go-to bowler, who sets it up for other bowlers to find easier pickings? How does a T20 bowler make course corrections when Plan A doesn't work? As someone used to the luxury of time that old-fashioned 50-over cricket afforded bowlers of my generation, I find these questions fascinating.
Equally curious are some of the lengths and lines we get to see so much of in T20 cricket. While bowlers are constantly improving their variations in speed, with a bewildering range of slower balls, direction seems to be quite another matter. A slower one outside the leg stump is not half as effective as one that is better directed, and can be expensive, as bowlers and their poor captains discover.
With wickets getting slower and flatter in the second half of the IPL, I believe a relentless stump line and variations in pace are more important than other more extravagant attributes
Let me express my distaste here for what can only be described as negative bowling - the atrocious ploy of bowling wide yorkers outside the off stump. All the other rules of T20 cricket are designed to prevent just this kind of stuff, but the so-called wide guideline on the off side negates the idea. I would rather welcome a little more leeway on the leg-side wide, while arguing for allowing less width on the off. Sometimes the umpiring on leg-side wides seems unfairly harsh, and greater leeway could be permitted at least when a ball pitched on the stumps strays down the leg.
I have always belonged to the bowlers' union, and believe that the game is cruelly loaded against them, but having said that, bowlers do not seem to practise as hard as batsmen, who are perfecting attacking innovations all the time. If that wasn't the case, so many attempted yorkers might not end up as full tosses, as they do. At the risk of generalising, I do believe that many of the great bowlers of the past were more disciplined and had greater control than the current lot - with honourable exceptions.
When I put the oft-repeated question to Erapalli Prasanna about how well he might have fared in T20, he said, "Yes, bats are heavier, batsmen are more aggressive. I'll go for more sixes, but I have a ball in my hand and a skill set, including deception, in my armoury. I will still have power over the batsman. I will still continue to bowl good deliveries. I will still force mistakes from him.'' Ashwin and Mishra are a couple of bowlers who repeatedly prove the merit of Prasanna's claims, the way they go about their job no matter how attacking or dominant the batting. Variations in flight and pace make them slippery customers, and it is deception rather than great turn or spin that does the trick for them.
With wickets getting slower and flatter in the second half of the IPL, I believe a relentless stump line and variations in pace are more important than other more extravagant attributes. Discipline, a calm temperament and mental toughness will certainly help, especially at the death. And for cricket's sake, there will hopefully in future be some support for the bowlers' union from the lawmakers of the game.
V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket