T20 cricket has usually been a one-way traffic of unapologetic hitting by batters but this hasn't been your usual Indian Premier League. The average scores have gone down, middle-overs spells have become more unyielding and slog overs are no longer a bowlers' graveyard. In 2020, there were 13 team totals over 200 in the UAE. This time, only one out of nine 200-plus totals have come in the UAE, at Abu Dhabi where Mumbai Indians hammered 235 against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Compared to 734 sixes in 2020, only 670 were hit till the second qualifier this time.
Despite its short boundaries, Sharjah emerged a difficult scoring venue this season, with just five innings of 150 and above in the 10 matches hosted there. Last season, there were 16 innings of 150 and above in 12 matches. Most drastic has been the improvement in the bowling economy. Seven bowlers with at least 20 overs last season returned an economy of under seven. That grew to 13 this time. Long story short, batters have really struggled in the IPL as the bowlers exploited slow pitches with more and more variations. With the T20 World Cup set to be held in the UAE in a week, here's a look at a few IPL trends that may shape the World Cup as well.
Variations and more variations
More and more bowlers in this IPL have relied on experimentation. According to CricViz, almost a third (28.7%) of all balls bowled by Rajasthan Royals this tournament have been variation deliveries. Sunrisers Hyderabad, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan in their side, too came close, with 28.4%. There isn't a strong correlation between using variations and team success though. Chennai Super Kings, for example, were the least experimenting side with an overall variation percentage of 17 while Kolkata Knight Riders were at 22%.
Among all the variations, the slower ball has witnessed a sharp spike in use this season (20.4%) compared to 2020 (13.1%) and even 2019 (19.3%). The tracks in the UAE have played a hand in this, especially Sharjah that has offered almost no pace off the pitch, prompting fast bowlers to really push their luck. Delhi Capitals fast bowler Andre Nortje, who averages well above 140 kph this season, bowled a 108 kmph slower delivery in Sharjah last week.
Yorkers, as usual, have been an extremely useful variation but the lines have changed now. No longer are bowlers aiming for the batters' feet but the channel outside it. Only 22% of the yorkers bowled were on stumps but 34% were in the channel outside off-stump. Wide yorkers are also becoming more prevalent in the death overs, making up for 26% of all the yorkers bowled this IPL.
One-over spells in the Powerplay are becoming a norm with bowling heavy teams like Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals often deploying a spinner to slow down starts. Till the Eliminator, KKR had availed of 44 one-over spells quite effectively. But not all teams have been successful in this ploy. Mumbai Indians have 45 one-over spells this IPL but most of them were unintended—the batters hit the bowlers out of the attack. Seven IPL teams have tried at least 35 one-over spells but not Chennai Super Kings (13) who were happy to let Josh Hazlewood and Deepak Chahar run through their opening spells.
The 19th over specialists
The last three seasons have also witnessed the emergence of 19th over specialists who allow their partners to defend more runs in the last over. Teams have deployed their finest bowlers in the 19th to try and prevent the match from going to the wire. Who else but Jasprit Bumrah to lead this pack. This season he has bowled the 19th eight times, one more than in 2020, with an economy of 6.87 (he averages nine runs per over for the 20th over). Mohammad Shami (economy of 8.33; 20th over econ: 7.00) and Nortje (economy of 9.42; 20th over econ: 9.5) have been used thrice each in this scenario but without as much success as Bumrah.
Spinning a web
The top four wicket-takers this IPL have all been pacers but slow bowlers have been the real success story this IPL, especially in the middle overs. Teams like CSK, KKR and DC have liberally used their slow-bowling options whenever required to break the rhythm and break important partnerships. Spinners like Ravichandran Ashwin and Sunil Narine have reaped good spells with the off-break but variations too have had their say. The googly, especially, has been of immense help across the board. Take the case of Yuzvendra Chahal—overlooked for the India team's T20 World Cup selection—who had an economy of 6.68 and a dot ball percentage of 45.9% in 87 googlies. Rahul Chahar—who made the cut—bowled just 51 googlies with an economy of 8.35 and a 33.3% dot percentage. Varun Chakravarthy, however, has been particularly phenomenal, bowling 165 googlies till the Eliminator, conceding only 5.92 per over and 41.2% dots.