IPL 13 is coming alive at the death. Three run chases till Thursday’s game have seen 17-20 runs being scored in each of the final four overs.
Kieron Pollard’s belligerence and Ishan Kishan’s clean striking yielded 79 runs between the 17th and 20th overs — the maximum in a run chase in IPL — in Dubai when Mumbai Indians (MI) played Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). One day prior, Rajasthan Royals (RR) successfully reached Kings XI Punjab’s target of 223 in Sharjah, also an IPL record. Powered by unlikely hero Rahul Tewatia’s five sixes in the 18th over bowled by Sheldon Cottrell, RR scored 83 in the final five.
The wickets in UAE are expected to slow down but there are still 10 matches to be played on the Sharjah flat-bed which has smaller boundaries.
Not long ago, Virat Kohli with his silken cover-drives, wristy aerial whips and spirited running between wickets was white ball cricket’s chase master. He still is but T20 cricket is seeing new markers every day. “We saw Mumbai Indians scoring 90 runs in 5 overs. Only a few years back, it would be 90 runs in 10 overs,” former Australia cricketer Brett Lee has said.
Carlos Brathwaite’s four sixes in the final over to win West Indies the 2016 T20 World Cup gave a seal of permanence to the ‘big over’ phenomenon in a T20 run chase. In 2018, Dinesh Karthik scored 22 of the penultimate over against Bangladesh to win India the Nidahas Trophy.
But four ‘big overs’ to win matches is an idea fraught with risk. Or was. In IPL’s 12-year history, only on five occasions have chasing teams managed over 60 runs in the last four. This season, we have already seen six 60-plus scores in the final four, three from teams batting second – one resulting in a win, another in a Super Over and, in the case of Chennai Super Kings (CSK) against RR, a loss. The average run rate in the 20th over is 14.24, according to ESPNcricinfo.
According to ESPNcricinfo, 11.94 is the average per over score in the last four overs till Thursday’s game, this run rate being the highest at the end for any T20 competition. In IPL19, six times a bowler went above 25 an over. In 12 games, that mark has been equalled.
A break-up of MI and RR’s run chase strategy would give an idea of how deep teams are taking the match. When Pollard walked in, MI were 78/4 needing 124 runs in 52 balls; on 39 the well-set Kishan hadn’t yet changed gears.
Till the arrival of leg-spinner Adam Zampa in the 17th over, Pollard scored 11 off 10 balls with MI still 80 away from the target. With opposing skipper Kohli forced to bowl leg-spinners Zampa and Yuzvendra Chahal in the 17th and 18th overs, Pollard and Kishan exploded, scoring 49. In the last four overs, MI hit nine sixes, Pollard getting five of them in a 14-ball 49.
Taking the game deep is a strategy out of MS Dhoni’s playbook. In his prime Dhoni would play dot balls and wait for a delivery in his arc to cut loose. Pollard too did it in 2013 against Sunrisers Hyderabad, smashing 57 of the 62 runs needed in 17 balls with eight sixes.
“They hit 100-200 balls in practice to master the art. It is all long ball range-hitting practice,” said former India wicket-keeper Kiran More. “They work a lot on bat speed. If you notice, everybody’s bat speed has increased a lot,” said More who was part of MI’s support staff.
“I knew once I connected one, I would get more. I had known before the tournament began that this was going to be my role. I had been doing specific practice accordingly,” Tewatia has said.
“I think range-hitting is what the game demands in this generation,” RR opener Sanju Samson said last week. “I had time to work out in these five months, and I think I’ve increased that ability. I have been working hard on my fitness, diet and training, and on my strength, because my game relies a lot on power-hitting.”
“But a Rohit Sharma doesn’t have to practice that way because his natural bat flow is beautiful. He just times the ball and it goes long. For him, it’s not about strength, more about getting in right positions to hit the ball,” said More. “While a Pollard, (Andre) Russell, Hardik (Pandya) do range hitting. If Hardik pulls off the helicopter shot in a pressure situation, you should know he has practised it many times in training.”