Starts not defining final scores in IPL
- Focus on preserving wickets in the powerplay overs may be yielding slower starts but teams are exploiting the slog overs better than ever
First week of this IPL, Sunrisers Hyderabad were asked to chase 210 by Rajasthan Royals. That’s a required run rate of 10.5 per over. By the end of the powerplay though, they were 14/3—lowest ever in IPL. By 10.2 overs, Sunrisers were 37/5 but they still finished on 149/7. The chance of defeat while chasing 200 plus is always high in a T20. The story here is how SRH managed to score 135 runs in 14 overs—at almost 10 runs per over—after fluffing the first six overs that are designed to give batters an advantage as only two fielders are allowed beyond the 30-yard circle.
In fact, teams have often gone on to win despite unflattering powerplay scores this season, disputing any correlation between a team's initial strike rate and their final score. After Sunday’s double header, the powerplay run rates were 6.8 (SRH), 6.96 (RCB), 7.05 (KKR), 7.11 (CSK), 7.23 (LSG), 7.61 (MI), 7.78 (GT), 8.15 (RR), 9.12 (PBKS), 9.19 (DC).
But one of the biggest reasons Lucknow Super Giants were in the top two till Sunday despite an ordinary powerplay rate of 7.23 was because they were averaging 10.52 runs in the slog overs (16-20). This is where T20 has challenged conventional white-ball cricket wisdom going back to the 1992 World Cup when Mark Greatbatch executed the concept of pinch-hitting for New Zealand. Or later when Sri Lanka openers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana ran away with one-dayers in the first 10 overs. Starts though are not deciding the final scores anymore.
T20 is an ever-evolving format. The current strategy emboldens teams to consider 10 wickets as expendable within a quota of 120 balls, as long as fours and sixes can compensate for low-yielding opening overs. Not every team has wholly committed to this approach though. Some prefer a middle ground where an anchor, ideally the opener, trades high strike rates for stability in case of shaky starts. But for every such anchor, there has almost always been an ideal lower-order foil who can change the game in the last five overs. Like Liam Livingstone (177.98) for Shikhar Dhawan (122.74) at Punjab Kings. Or Dinesh Karthik (192.56) for Faf du Plessis (132.55) at Royal Challengers Bangalore.
It also explains why there have been five contrasting centuries this IPL season. Rajasthan Royals opener Jos Buttler may have upended logic with his consistent aggression but LSG captain KL Rahul has tempered his approach, partly because openers tend to maximise their scoring opportunity by playing through the 20 overs; and partly because consistency is still valued over strike rates. With each season, middle and lower-middle order enforcers like Livingstone, Nicholas Pooran, David Miller, Rovman Powell and Andre Russell are changing that thought process, but it’s still a long way from being done away with.
Thus in a format where every ball presents a wide scoring range, the need to preserve wickets or steady an innings still isn’t taboo as long as a team has the right men for the right phase. Nowhere is it better highlighted than in Rajasthan Royals who back Riyan Parag to bat in the slog overs irrespective of a reasonably good total after 15 overs. That’s why Ravichandran Ashwin famously decided to retire against Lucknow Super Giants—to allow Parag the most suitable point of entry in that innings. It’s a move Ashwin said cricket is likely to witness more in the future, not knee-jerk but the most suitable plan to exploit the slog overs so that the power play, or even the middle-overs, are taken out of the equation.
Though always belligerent, T20 batting strategy wasn’t this well-defined. IPL had started with a power play run-rate of 7.7 in 2008, which rose to 7.89 in 2010, slipped to 6.93 in 2013 and recovered to hover around 7.7 till 2016.
Between 2017 and 2019 though, it breached the 8-run mark before falling to 7.71 for three years in a row. The corresponding slog-over run rates—with the exception of 2017 (9.64) and 2021 (9.41)—show no sign of dipping. It has touched 10.37 this season, the highest ever in IPL. Clearly, teams are willing to throw the kitchen sink in the slog overs more than ever, but only after a fair bit of self-preservation at the top.
It’s a fine balancing act several teams have mastered over the last three years, none better than Chennai Super Kings who have averaged 7.3—the worst among all teams—in the powerplay since 2020 but more than compensated with 10.84—the best among all teams—runs per over at the death.