They are coming at you, and coming at you fast.
It is expected that the wickets in UAE will begin to tire and slow down as the IPL plays on, but the first month of action will be remembered not just for big hits and close finishes but for the exhilarating fast bowling on display.
The mark for the fastest ball in IPL history has already been set—when Delhi Capital’s Anrich Nortje sent one down at 156.22kph or 97mph to Rajasthan Royal’s Joss Buttler. That one was calmly ramped for a boundary, but genuine speed is otherwise creating all manner of trouble for batters.
For dry proof, look no further than the wicket takers table, which features four of the fastest bowlers at the tournament, led by Nortje’s teammate Kagiso Rabada at the top, with Yuzvendra Chahal the only spinner cheekily sneaking in at 5, followed by Nortje and Trent Boult.
Players with extra pace are thriving, especially at the bigger venues, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where there’s less fear of these express balls being top-edged to the boundary (Sharjah remains a bowler’s graveyard).
Nortje has bowled the five fastest deliveries this IPL, four of them 154kph-plus; Jofra Archer, 4th on the most wickets list, neatly boasts the next five fastest, hovering around 153kph. In his only game so far, Lockie Ferguson has bowled the third set of quickest deliveries, clocking in around 152kph and returning with figures of 3 wickets for 15 runs from his four overs. Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada and James Pattinson have all gone 150-plus. Among the Indians, Navdeep Saini has been the quickest, clocking 149 and Bumrah has regularly hit 148kph.
It’s not just speed for speed’s sake; it has been combined with precision and control with great success. Rabada and Nortje have been instrumental in taking DC to the top of the points table, and Mumbai Indians’ troika of Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult and James Pattinson have been equally important in MI being number 2 on the list. There are lone rangers too—no matter the struggles of their team, Archer has been outstanding for Rajasthan Royals and Mohammad Shami for Kings XI.
Swift and sure
How precise have these bowlers been?
The top 5 in the list of dot balls bowled in this IPL so far are all pacers. No one has bowled more dot balls than Archer – half of all his deliveries have yielded no runs. No wonder that teams have turned to them for tie-breakers – of the ten Super Overs so far, nine have been bowled by fast bowlers, and only two of those have been scored in the double digits.
The accuracy can also be seen in just how well the pacers are executing one of the hardest skills in cricket—bowling a yorker.
Bumrah took out KKR’s main weapon Andre Russell twice in two games; the first time with a bouncer, the second a yorker that hit the base of the leg stump. Against KXI this week, Rohit Sharma again went back to Bumrah at the death against the well-set KL Rahul and a 148.5 kph special speared into the base of Rahul’s off-stump.
It’s like every team in the IPL has a Waqar Younis in their ranks, with only the late dip the Pakistan legend got in his searing yorkers missing (a ball in T20 cricket just doesn’t get old enough for reverse swing).
The yorker is not just a wicket-taking weapon, but also very hard to score off (see chart) but batsmen are also finding it hard to squeeze runs from balls just back of the length, snorting up at them with sheer pace.
A heavy backbeat
Remember Australia’s Andrew Tye? He earned the Purple Cap in the 2018 IPL for his mixed bag of variations. This season so far has seen success for exactly the opposite kind of strategy. Nortje is essentially a Test bowler, as is Rabada, and they are bringing their Test skills into T20 and being rewarded for it. Archer too has gradually taken variations out of his game this season, moving from bowling slower balls once an over to once a match. With that extra pace, consistently hitting good and back of a length has remained effective; you know what’s coming, but countering it is a different thing.
In essence, what these heavy length “metronome” bowlers do is shift the game more towards traditional skills; to attack it, you have to be able to play more traditional strokes, the pull and the cut, and you have to be comfortable facing high pace.
Pace. It comes back to that. Without that top speed, those who approach the game with fewer variations get hit—like Marcus Stoinis who’s gone at 9.9rpo this season, or Jimmy Neesham who’s gone at 10.5rpo.
So, can Nortje or any of the others top guns break the speed record at the IPL again? Can they hit the 160kph (100mph) mark. Only three players have ever hit that mark officially in the history of the game, but there’s talk that Nortje could be the fourth.
In a discussion on Delhi Capitals’ teammate R Ashwin’s YouTube channel, he said: “160kph?, hopefully I can, it’s something I have in me, and want to do. May be a good wicket, with adrenaline… the right combination. Maybe, this IPL…or in the future.”