You have to be mad to become a fast bowler. You run in at full sprint, then twist your body while applying strength and brains to pitch the ball in the right area to hoodwink the batsman. The conditions keep changing, too; it could be the scorching sun in the subcontinent, or the windy conditions of the United Kingdon.
The wickets in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) season have allowed the fast bowlers to rule the boost as they provide subtle movement to the ball. On top of that, the age-old formula of using speed to challenge the big-hitters still remains relevant – all the bowlers need to do is identify the right lengths. Kagiso Rabada, who won two Super Over games for Delhi Capitals, will agree.
And statistics suggest that behind every consistent IPL team, there lies a fast bowler.
Mumbai Indians and Malinga
Sri Lanka quick Lasith Malinga is the most successful bowler in the IPL with 170 wickets in 122 matches at a strike rate of 16.62. He has been the lynchpin of the bowling department of Mumbai Indians, the most successful side in the tournament with four titles.
Malinga delivered in all four finals: 2/22 in 2013 with the wickets of Michael Hussey and Suresh Raina; 2/25 in 2015, dismissing M. S. Dhoni and Pawan Negi; 0/21 in 2017 at an economy rate of 5.25; and 1/49 in 2019, with the wicket of Shardul Thakur in the last over to win the game.
The Sri Lankan legend created a template of IPL-special deliveries. He has varieties of yorkers – the regular one, a slower yorker, a toe-crusher for lbw and the low full-toss wide of off to challenge the batsman’s armoury of strokes.
The demand of intelligent fast bowlers kept mounting as the other franchises attempted to take a leaf out of Mumbai’s recipe book for success. Meanwhile, Malinga’s unavailability for the ongoing edition got Mumbai thinking; the side roped in James Pattinson as a replacement, and the Australian quick is firing on all cylinders.
“I don’t think it is easy to come and fill his boots. He has been a match-winner for Mumbai. I have said it many times: Whenever we sort of find ourselves in trouble, Malinga was the one to bail us out from that,” says Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma, explaining the importance of Brand Malinga, who the franchise retained for ₹2 crore.
After the first seven games in IPL 2020, Mumbai looked the best side with five wins. Most of the damage was done by the pace triumvirate of Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult (11 wickets each) and Pattinson (9).
All three earn big bucks: Bumrah ₹7 crore, Boult ₹3.2 crore and Pattinson ₹1.5 crore.
Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the second-most successful side with three IPL titles, has not had a tearaway quick in every edition as its home strip is spin-friendly.
Bowlers such as Doug Bollinger, Albie Morkel and Dwayne Bravo have irritated batters with their nagging pace and change of pace along with their staple yorkers. In the 2015 edition, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni made optimum use of a 36-year-old Ashish Nehra. Though Chennai lost the final to Mumbai, Bravo was the highest wicket-taker (26) for the Yellow Army, followed by Nehra (22).
Lungi Ngidi and Josh Hazlewood are lethal quicks, but there is no vacancy at present. Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo are indispensable in the CSK side, and Sam Curran is likely to hold on to a spot because of his batting acumen.
And all of CSK’s pacers earn handsome salaries: Thakur ₹2.6 crore, Curran ₹5.5 crore, Hazlewood ₹2 crore and Bravo ₹6.4.
However, the Chennai team looks a frail shadow of yesteryear, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to turn the tide in the second half of the 2020 season.
The Unadkat story
The IPL has been a great leveller for Jaydev Unadkat. The Saurashtra left-arm pacer – who has only 18 international appearances – was in for a surprise when Rajasthan Royals paid ₹11.5 crore to secure his services in 2018 – the highest for an Indian cricketer at that time.
Unadkat had a good season with Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017. The now-defunct franchise lost the final to Mumbai by one run, but Unadkat’s 24 wickets in 12 games at a strike rate of 11.45 made him a sought-after bowler for the next season. Besides, India has been a little obsessed with left-arm pacers as it has struggled to find like-for-like replacements for Zaheer Khan and Nehra since their retirement.
Unadkat couldn’t replicate his success in 2018, and he had only 11 scalps in 15 outings. In 2019, his salary dropped to ₹8.5 crore and his performance to 10 wickets in 11 games.
However, the Unadkat of 2020 is fitter and angrier. He led Saurashtra to its maiden Ranji Trophy title in March. And while there are huge expectations from the bowler – he still earns ₹3 crore – he has claimed two wickets in five matches so far.
The knuckle ball effect
Bowlers have been using the knuckle ball to great effect in white-ball cricket. Australian pacer Andrew Tye turned many heads after bagging 24 wickets in 14 games in IPL 2018, finishing the season as the highest wicket-taker.
India and Rajasthan Royals pacer Varun Aaron learnt the art and tasted success in the last edition. “I have been practising the knuckle ball for a year and a half or two. I had practised swinging with the new ball. I came back in a match where Rajasthan Royals had to win against Kolkata Knight Riders. I got Chris Lynn bowled and I felt Shubman Gill might be suspect to a slower knuckle ball of mine. It was perfect. It landed exactly where I wanted it to, it did exactly how much I wanted it to. It was just a great ball,” he recalls.
In this edition of the IPL, Royals quick Jofra Archer stunned Suryakumar Yadav with a knuckle-ball bouncer in the game against Mumbai Indians. The batsman had to undergo a concussion check-up.
Royal Challengers Bangalore batsman Devdutt Padikkal, too, fell to a Shardul Thakur knuckle ball in the clash against CSK. The left-hander mistimed his shot to find Faf du Plessis at mid-off.
But what is a knuckle ball? Young Worcestershire seamer Pat Brown breaks it down. “Bring your fingers back and point them downwards towards your thumb. Bend the top of your fingers if you can, then sit the ball underneath your nails and push down with your fingers. A lot of people find it difficult to hold the ball in place. It helps if you have big hands,” Wisden quoted him as saying.
Why Cummins for ₹15.5 crore
The modern tools of the game definitely help, but to set the basics right, you need a seasoned pacer with a good idea about the variations around line and length to guide the youngsters. And that’s where Pat Cummins comes in – the No. 1 Test bowler.
Bumrah and Mitchell McClenaghan have bowled around Malinga ever since they made their IPL debut; similarly, the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) management will be keen on developing the Indian pace battery – Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Sandeep Warrier and Prasidh Krishna – with a little help from the Australian superstar.
KKR coach Brendon McCullum feels lucky the tournament is being held in the UAE. The New Zealander believes the unused wickets with a tinge of green are perfect for Australian speed gun Pat Cummins, who was signed for ₹15.5 crore.
“The wickets are going to surprise a lot of people. They are going to be very fresh and very helpful for seam bowling,” he says.
The most expensive player of IPL 2020, and known for his exploits in red-ball cricket, Cummins is earning his due by sticking to a Test-match length with express pace. He is not picking up wickets in every game, but the Australian has been keeping the batters quiet: two wickets in six games at an economy rate of 8.36.
“Patty Cummins, as he does, (bowled) Test-match line and length. There was a little bit of movement here and there. All in all, it got harder through the middle. We went four or five overs for 20, and coming back with three wickets in hand at the end probably killed us a little bit there,” Sunrisers Hyderabad captain David Warner said after the loss to KKR.
The spinners slow things down and are mostly known for keeping the batters on a tight leash. They are the dot-ball exponents, whereas the fast bowlers are the ones causing the bulk of the damage.
Afghanistan star leggie Rashid Khan remains the most economical bowler in the IPL at 6.35. India off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has bowled the most number of dot balls (1,249), but when it comes to the overall number of maiden overs, the seamers are slightly ahead – Praveen Kumar (14), Irfan Pathan (10) and Dhawal Kulkarni (8).
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