A pandemic, pace and some conventional stroke play

Here are some most-talked-about trends that emerged in the 2020 Indian Premier League in a year which has been different from all the others.

Watching express pacers like Delhi Capitals’ Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje operate together was a treat for not just T20 fans, but even for connoisseurs.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

The best IPL ever?

In 2008, the IPL was said to be the best thing to have happened to global cricket. Since then, every edition has been tom-tommed as “the best IPL ever.” And the 2020 tournament was no different.

But while the global coronavirus outbreak made this year’s IPL most challenging for both the organisers and the participants, to refer to the tournament as “the best” in terms of the quality of cricket would be a gross misrepresentation of what happened on the field.

Those forced to hype the IPL year after year tried their best to point out the fact that the difference between the third- and eighth-placed teams was just two points and that Sunrisers Hyderabad edged out Kolkata Knight Riders for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs through a 0.042 difference in net run rate.

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While that may be true, a closer look at the games reveals that IPL 2020 was a case of one team dominating right through the league stage while the rest stuttered as they tried to get their act together, be it getting the combination right, batting in the middle overs, bowling at the death or just holding on to catches with consistency.

On the whole, it wasn’t great cricket, thanks largely to the lack of preparation ahead of the tournament.

Lockdown ke side effects

The biggest difference between Mumbai Indians (MI) and the other teams was in the preparation before heading to the United Arab Emirates. While a majority of the cricketers, both domestic and international, were cooling their heels indoors because of the pandemic, MI’s Indian players trained rigorously at the promoters’ plush facilities in Navi Mumbai, which reflected a great deal on the field.

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But even some of the bigger names in the Mumbai camp sported paunches at the beginning of the tournament. Be it potbellies at the start of the 2020 season or a spate of injuries in the second half, the fitness of the players as a whole remained in focus.

Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Rashid Khan drops a catch against Mumbai Indians in Sharjah on November 3. Fielding — especially the catching — was another area where the effect of the lockdown was evident during IPL 2020.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Fielding — especially the catching — was another area where the effect of the lockdown was evident. While there were a few stunning catches — Nicholas Pooran and Mayank Agarwal leading the charts — the fielding overall was average and the catching miserable. According to Cricket.com, at least two catches were dropped every games in the league stage, with three of the four teams that featured in the playoffs having a “catch efficiency” of less than 80 percent.

Pace makes an impact

The IPL is usually dominated by spinners or medium pacers with variations in speed, with an odd standout pacer every season. The 13th edition was an exception, with express pace bamboozling the batsmen right through the tournament.

Be it the combination of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult for MI or the Proteas pair of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje for Delhi Capitals, watching them operate in the same innings was a treat for not only T20 fans, but even for connoisseurs. That combined with the likes of Mohammed Shami and Jofra Archer putting on a consistent show for Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals, respectively, underlined the fact that express pace remains one of the biggest assets in the game – irrespective of format and conditions, though the latter suited them for the greater part of the tournament.

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This reflected in the numbers as well, with 10 of the top 15 wicket-takers being pacers, the aforementioned six finding a place in the top 10.

Considering that IPL 2020 was played at only three venues in extremely high temperatures, the curators had no option but to keep live grass on the playing surface to bind the pitches together for two months.

But with the fast bowlers working in tandem in this tournament, don’t be surprised if these express pacemen continue to rule the roost when the IPL returns to India.

Conventional stroke play trumps range hitting

IPL 2020 underlined that range hitting, the in thing in modern-day cricket, still cannot replace conventional stroke play.

Shikhar Dhawan, K. L. Rahul, Devdutt Padikkal (one of the finds of the tournament), Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal all relied on strokes that would have made the greats of yesteryear proud, cutting and driving with aplomb and relying on strike rotation and placement rather than attempting to clear the fence unnecessarily.

The Mumbai Indians troika of Quinton de Kock (above), Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav relied on traditional strokes at the start of the innings before showcasing their innovative skills after being well and truly set at the crease.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Even the Mumbai Indians troika of Quinton de Kock, Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav relied on traditional strokes at the start of the innings before showcasing their innovative skills after being well and truly set at the crease.

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Caribbean crusaders like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Heymyer and India all-rounders Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja showed that range hitting does reap rewards for the batsmen at the end of the innings. But the top-order batsmen across teams showed that they can rely on conventional stroke play in order to be consistent.