IPL 2024: How bowlers adapt and succeed despite the odds

Jasprit Bumrah has been on fire this season. (AFP)
Jasprit Bumrah has been on fire this season. (AFP)


IPL is a tournament for batsmen. However, despite the ridiculous scores, a few bowlers are bucking the trend with wickets and low economy rates

At the two-thirds stage of IPL 2024, teams have scored 200 or more 32 times. That’s way more than 18 such scores in all of IPL 2022, before the impact sub—basically an extra batsman—was introduced. Batsmen now have no fear of getting out, except for some who keep personal milestones in mind.

What are bowlers to do in this batting onslaught? Many have crumbled. Two of India’s medium-pacers selected for the T20 World Cup, Arshdeep Singh and Hardik Pandya, have economy rates of 10 or more runs an over.

And yet, amidst the mayhem, exceptional bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah and Sunil Narine have managed to go below 7. Left-arm spinners Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Harpreet Brar and Krunal Pandya are averaging below 8. Left-arm swing bowler Trent Boult and the diminutive medium pacer Sandeep Sharma are in the same 7-8 category, along with the slinger, Matheesha Pathirana.

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Also notable for economy rates below 8.5, taking into account only bowlers who have delivered 15 or more overs, are five leg-spinners: Noor Ahmad and Rashid Khan of Afghanistan, and India’s Kuldeep Yadav, Ravi Bishnoi, and Rahul Chahar. What lessons can we draw from the success of these bowlers in keeping the lid on scoring even as others get taken to the cleaners?

Bumrah and the mystery spinners

Bumrah combines pace and accuracy with extensive variety: out-swing, in-swing, yorker, slower ball and bouncer. That variety, allied with an unusual action, makes it difficult for any batsman to line him up for big hits. It’s no surprise to see him top both the economy rate and wicket tally charts in IPL 2024.

His economy rate of 6.2 is the best in all his 11 IPL seasons, showing that even the masters adapt and improve. Bumrah has got better at execution and smarter in using his variations.

Mystery West Indies spinner Sunil Narine has never breached the economy rate of 8 in his 13 IPL seasons since 2012. This year’s rate of 6.61 is a shade lower than his overall IPL average of 6.72.A cloud hangs over him after being reported for chucking in 2015 and 2020: Some experts feel he resorts to an illegal action when the game gets tight. But as long as he gets away with it, batsmen will struggle to read variations in his spin and speed.

Narine’s team-mate at Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Varun Chakravarthy, has modelled himself on the Toboganian spinner. Chakravarthy is among the season’s highest wicket-takers along with an economy rate of 8.75.

Mystery spinner Sunil Narine.
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Mystery spinner Sunil Narine. (AFP)

Left-arm spinners’ control

That brings us to a tribe of regular bowlers bucking the trend of high economy rates this IPL season—left-arm spinners. Most batsmen are right-handed, and they have found it harder to smack the away-going ball over cow corner, compared to off-spin, which can be hit with the spin.

Finger spinners have better control over line, length, flight and variation than leg-spinners. This is useful in T20 cricket where a bowler may need to make a split second adjustment at the point of delivery when a batsman shifts his position.

Indian pitches are mostly slow and abrasive, offering some turn. This gets accentuated as the season goes deeper and the summer heat bakes the pitches. So, even though batsmen go hard throughout the 20 overs these days, bowlers like Axar Patel, Jadeja, Brar, and Krunal Pandya have been able to exercise some control over them in the middle overs.

Part-time left-arm spinner Shahbaz Ahmad’s high economy rate of 11 is the exception that proves the rule. You have to be a specialist with a sharp eye and tactical nous to succeed.

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Wicket-taking leg-spinners

While left-arm spinners keep the scoring rate in check, leg-spinners put the skids on scoring by taking wickets. Left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav and his right-arm counterpart, Yuzvendra Chahal, are among the top 15 wicket-takers of the season. What makes their wicket-taking crucial is that it comes in the middle overs, just when teams are trying to kick on after an explosive start in the powerplay.

Yadav has an economy rate around 8.5 to go with his wicket-taking, unlike Chahal who is relatively expensive at nearly 10. Wrist spin is harder to control than finger spin, which makes the quintet of leg-spinners going below 8.5 quite special.

Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan, recovering from lower back surgery after last year’s ODI World Cup, has taken fewer wickets than usual. But his economy rate remains under control at 8.3. His compatriot Noor Ahmad has been a shade better at 8. Completing the quintet are Rahul Chahar and Ravi Bishnoi.

Veteran leg-spinner Piyush Chawla has 8 wickets from 9 games at an economy rate of 9.1, while Mayank Markande has proved very expensive at nearly 12. What differentiates the quintet below 8.5 is the speed at which they bowl. All four have the ability to deliver quick turn, which makes it harder for batsmen to use their feet to get to the pitch of the ball or slog-sweep. It also makes their variations deadlier.

Kuldeep Yadav’s resurgence can be attributed to a change in his run-up and action, which enables him to impart more force on the ball when he wants, instead of floating it up.

The pacers’ answer

While left-arm spinners, leg-spinners, and mystery spinners have slowed down batsmen in the middle overs, it’s the pace bowling brigade that has faced the brunt of the batting blitzkrieg in the powerplay. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) took the cake with 125/0 in 6 overs against Delhi Capitals (DC) on 20 April. The 90-mark, which translates to a run rate of 15 per over, has been breached in the powerplay three other times this season, including during Punjab Kings’ 93/1 on their way to overtaking the massive Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) total of 261 at Eden Gardens on 26 April.

New ball bowlers with an economy rate below 8 an over in this milieu are gold dust. The standout performer among them is the Kiwi left-armer, Trent Boult. He swings the ball into the pads, mixes it up with the one that angles across, and slips in well-directed bouncers to keep the batsman on the back foot.

Boult’s Rajasthan Royals (RR) bowling partner Sandeep Sharma looks innocuous at 5 feet 6 inches, bowling well below 140kmph. But he is unerring in his accuracy and swings the new ball both ways.

Sharma is even more impressive in the second half of the innings, with his wide yorkers and slower cutters and bouncers confusing batsmen going for the slog. Unlike many other bowlers who panic when batsmen come after them, Sharma actually relishes it.

Pat cummins (left) is having an excellent IPL 2024.
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Pat cummins (left) is having an excellent IPL 2024. (AFP)

At an economy rate below 7.5, next only to Bumrah among pace bowlers with 15 or more overs under the belt, Sharma is probably IPL 2024’s most underrated bowler. If one were to go by performance more than perception, he should have been selected for the T20 World Cup ahead of Arshdeep Singh.

Another pace bowler slipping below the economy rate of 8 is Sri Lanka’s Matheesha Pathirana. His low trajectory, accuracy, and speed made him a trump card for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) with an economy rate of 7.7 and 13 wickets from 6 games—until injury ended his match-winning run.

Pace bowlers have had to adapt to the step-up in scoring rate. SRH captain Pat Cummins has been exemplary in his liberal use of cutters with an off-spinner’s grip. His economy rate is 9, while his Aussie compatriot, Mitchell Starc, bowling more conventionally, has gone over 11.

Not all off-pace bowling has worked. Bowlers who only rely on slower balls, and don’t have the fast ball for contrast like Cummins, have become predictable. Mohit Sharma, for instance, had an economy rate around 8 in his comeback year of 2023. But he’s going at over 11 in IPL 2024. The game is constantly evolving as batsmen too adapt to variations from the bowlers.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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