IPL-10 Ends With Bowlers On the Ascendant
IPL-10 has come and gone and as usual the memories will linger for some time and then largely be forgotten.
For six weeks it provided the staple brand of ''cricketainment’’ which has been its trademark since it was inaugurated in 2008. Among all the T-20 leagues around the world the IPL remains the first and the best remembered. Each year as the tournament starts there are many who predict that its popularity will decline, that the TRP ratings will fall and that a lesser number of spectators will throng the stadium. But that has never been the case.
There were still ads galore on TV and the venues and when the title sponsor for so many years backed out there were any number of corporate houses vying with each other to take over even though it is all very big money that is involved with the tournament. The usual excesses were very much prevalent in the television coverage complete with a mixture of innovative technical wizardry and shameless, sometimes nauseating hype and much as the traditionalists may disapprove all this is now part of the game in keeping with the changing times.
The tournament lived up to the reputation of T-20 cricket being a format in which little can be predicted. Royal Challengers Bangalore was everyone’s favourite for the title on the eve of the tournament but long before it ended it was confirmed that they would occupy the cellar position in the points table. Not unexpectedly interest was sustained by the scramble at the last moment by the teams to make it to the play offs culminating in the pulsating final which Mumbai Indians won by the narrowest of margins in the game.
But the one really significant aspect of IPL-10 was that bowlers finally took on batsmen on level terms. Finally they decided that they will no longer be like lambs to the slaughter coming up with tricks of their own that bewildered the best of batsmen. Which is good for the game for it makes it a more even contest and that is what makes any sport that much more engrossing to play and watch.
The most enduring images of ten years of IPL have all centred around batsmen, how they have taken bowlers to the cleaners, how they have hit the ball hard, high and handsomely into the stratosphere with the night sky adding to the enjoyment of a wildly cheering crowd. Symbolizing this has been Brendon McCullum’s electrifying 158 off just 73 balls in the competition’s first match in 2008 and Chris Gayle’s rollicking 175 off 66 balls five years later.
And yet what happened this year? Royal Challengers with the most formidable batting line-up that includes the likes of Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers were shot out for 49 in just 9.4 overs by Kolkata Knight Riders. A few days later RCB were restricted to 96 for nine in 20 overs with Rising Pune Supergiants successfully defending a modest total of 157. The following day Delhi Daredevils were dismissed for 67 by King’s XI Punjab. About a week later Delhi Daredevils were bowled out for 66 in just 13.4 overs by Mumbai Indians on their way to a crushing 146-run defeat. And on the last day of the group matches Pune bowled out Punjab for 73 in 15.5 overs.
Indeed modest totals were defended in quite a few matches including the final and this is rather unusual for the IPL which has seen a high of 263 whereas totals in excess of 230 have not been uncommon. This year there was no such total. There were only ten totals over the 200-run mark. There were only five centuries with a highest of 126 whereas three bowlers obtained five wicket hauls and seven others four wicket hauls. The big hits and the sixes were seen of course but also in evidence was the quick fall of wickets. All this saw a keen tussle between bat and ball whereas in the past the disparity between the batting figures and the bowling figures were all too glaring.
Gautam Gambhir for one made it clear that getting runs in the first three years of the IPL was far easier than it is now. ''The reason is the bowlers have become smarter. They have different game plans and different field placements. They come round the wicket, bowl wide yorkers and have a lot of variations. People say that T20 is a batsman's format, but I am a strong believer that it is a bowler's format as well. As a batsman, if I'm always looking to score runs I'm always giving an opportunity to the bowler to get me out"
The point to note is that while heavier bats, shorter boundaries and field restrictions may work to a bowler’s disadvantages everything is not hunky dory for the batsman. He too is under tremendous pressure for in a T-20 game there is no time to be wasted. He must look to score off every ball preferably with a big hit. Every dot ball adds on to the pressure and two or three such deliveries works on the batsman’s mind and quite often leads him to make an indiscreet stroke. This is what we saw in numerous games during this year’s competition. The bowlers were able to tie up the batsmen with an assorted bag of tricks. They were prepared to be more adventurous and even as they were ready to concede runs they were also planning the batsmen’s downfall.
Two separate overs symbolized the ascendancy of the bowlers over batsmen. Jasprit Bumrah’s superb super over for Mumbai Indians against Gujarat Lions clearly showed that bowlers had come into their own in the shortest format of the game which was hitherto considered the batsman’s paradise.
And equally symbolic was Jaidev Unadkat’s bowling in the 20th over for Rising Pune Supergiants against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The latter needed 13 runs to win with four wickets in hand a scenario that was in the batting team’s favour in a Twenty-20 game but the left arm fast bowler made it a no-contest by taking a hat trick and not giving away a single run. It was straight out of fiction.