In this big-scoring IPL, Super Overs are a bowler’s delight

Three out of four tied matches in this Indian Premier League have featured Kings XI Punjab or Mumbai Indians.

The third, on Sunday, featured both, as well as being the first ever match in elite cricket that needed two Super Overs to find a winner.

Eliminators are haunting these two sides, despite one being towards the top of the table and the other towards the bottom. They both have the best possible death-overs bowlers in the business—Jasprit Bumrah for MI, Mohammad Shami for KXI. Yet, the Super Over runs away from them. Is the batting then buckling under the pressure of a tie-breaker?

In the five Super Overs in the IPL so far, a team has set a double digit target only once—that’s MI scoring 11 in the second Super Over on Sunday, which was then chased down by KXI. On the four other occasions, the side batting first scored 5 (KXI in the first Super Over on Sunday, then tied by MI), 2 (Sunrisers Hyderabad, lost to Kolkata Knight Riders), 7 (MI, lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore) and 2 (KXI, lost to Delhi Capitals).

You know already who will come out to bowl this critical over for most teams: Bumrah for MI, Shami for KXI and Kagiso Rabada for Delhi. Lockie Ferguson’s control and pace suggests he may be KKR’s go-to bowler should they have another Super Over to contend with; with some polishing, Navdeep Saini could be RCB’s trump card. Right-arm fast is the preferred option for the Super Overs; of the ten bowled so far, eight were sent down by right arm seamers, one by a left-arm seamer (Trent Boult) and one by a spinner (Rashid Khan, who else?)

Picking the right batsmen, however, hasn’t been as easy. Mumbai went with Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya against RCB but opted for Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock against KXI. None of them worked.

On the two occasions KXI went with KL Rahul and Nicholas Pooran, they ended with two and five.

Batsmen, as instinct would probably tell you, try to be adventurous in the Super Over. In this IPL, it has not worked. Six out of seven wickets to fall to bowlers in the Super Overs this IPL came off shots played across the line, including a befuddling reverse ramp Rahul tried against Bumrah on Sunday. More conventional shots like cover drives have yielded better returns, but batsmen are yet to warm up to them—instead, they are not even able to make full use of the over—teams have been bowled out for less than six balls twice.

“I was a bit more angry and upset that we got ourselves in this position,” Chris Gayle, who hit the six to set up KXI’s successful second Super Over chase on Sunday, told Mayank Agarwal later on “But it’s a game of cricket and these things do happen.”

In this six-hitting fiesta, how hard can it be to score off a single over? Pretty hard, if you look at KXI, and you don’t even have to take Super Overs into the equation.They have now lost after needing one off three balls against DC (tied the game, lost in Super Over) and 22 off 18 balls against KKR (lost by two runs). Sunday’s Super Over finish was avoidable too, given that they needed four from four. “We don’t want to make a habit of this,” said KXI captain Rahul after Sunday’s win.

Those six balls

Once reserved only for knockout matches, Super Overs are now applicable to league matches as well because it makes for great television. That translates to more preparation devoted solely to Super Overs. Or not. “You can never prepare for Super Overs. No team does. So you have to trust your bowler’s gut. You trust your bowler, and let them believe their instinct and gut,” said Rahul on Sunday. For the bowler, the controllables are narrowed down to the area of the pitch—his length, line, variation and speed keeping in mind the field placements. Batsmen have a wider perspective: When Sharma sent out Pandya and Pollard against RCB, he was looking for the big hits. “Hardik is someone we trust hitting the long balls,” he said. Virat Kohli prefers to factor in options like running between the wickets too. “I thought about who are the best guys to come back for twos and it was me and AB,” said the RCB captain after winning their Super Over against MI.

For fast bowlers, cramping up the batsman’s space remains the most effective way to keep them subdued. Kamran Khan, architect of Rajasthan Royals’ win in IPL’s first ever Super Over, against KKR in 2009, remembers his plan. “I wanted a wicket within the first two deliveries,” he said over the phone. “If I had failed I would have gone for consecutive yorkers.”

In the Super Over win against KXI, Rabada kept it full throughout, either following the batsman or pitching it wide. Bumrah did end up on the losing side twice, but he has been outstanding in Super Overs—against RCB, he defended seven runs till the last ball and on Sunday, he set up Mumbai beautifully by conceding just five in the first Super Over.

Only a more experienced Shami could have outdone Bumrah.

“He was very clear he wanted to go for six yorkers,” said Rahul later. And barring a low full toss, Shami got it right every ball at varying lines. “It was very difficult,” said Shami, on “When you get 15-17 runs to defend in the Super Over, it’s a different matter altogether. You believe at the back of your mind that you can do it. But when the margin of error is so less, you focus on what you can do best. I believe a lot in my yorkers. When I was going back to the top of my mark every ball, I was saying to myself, ‘This last ball was great. The next ball will be great too’. I repeated that six times.”

(With inputs from Sharad Deep)


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