Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma. (Photo: AP)
Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma. (Photo: AP)

In IPL, the batsmen have never had it better

In IPL 2008, the average runs per over was 7.98. Ten years on, this has increased to 8.69. And much of that increase is coming from boundary hits

On 18 April 2008, in the first-ever match of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Brendon McCullum played an innings worthy of this new, made-to-entertain format and one that promised cricket played like never before: 157 runs. 73 balls. 13 sixes. 10 fours. His team, Kolkata Knight Riders, amassed 222 runs from 20 overs, an average of 11.1 runs per over.

As the tournament progressed that year, the bowlers hit back. Yet, one thing was clear: the IPL was a batsman’s format.

That pattern has stuck, and intensified in recent years. One measure of the across-the-board advances made in the sphere of batting is the average runs per over (RPO). In IPL 2008, the average RPO was 7.98. In IPL 2018, this had increased to 8.69. In other words, over a completed 20-over innings, the average of 160 runs has increased to 174 runs, with the gains being especially pronounced in 2017 and 2018.

The reasons are many. Most Indian wickets are flat and true; there’s no swing and little turn. Most Indian grounds are small. Bowling ranks lack depth due to the cap on four foreign players. Take the wicket and conditions factor. In 2009, when the IPL was shifted from India to South Africa because of the general elections, the average RPO fell from 7.98 to 7.21. In other words, the average score of 160 runs over 20 overs had fallen to 144 runs.

(Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint)

In 2015, for the first time, the average RPO in the IPL breached the 8 mark, and it has stayed there since. In 2019 so far, it’s slightly lower than the 2018 value of 8.69, at 8.34. While no team could manage an RPO above 8 in 2009, all eight teams achieved it in 2018.

Among teams, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)—ironically, one of the three sides never to have lifted the title—have exceeded an RPO of 8 the maximum number of times.

(Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint)

They have done so in six of the 11 IPL years. In 2011 and 2013, RCB was the only side to cross an RPO above 8.

All this has been largely on the back of their batting troika of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and, for the most part, Chris Gayle.

Each has extended the limits of batting in his own way: Kohli with his reading of risk, de Villiers with his 360 degree batting arc, and Gayle with his stand-and-deliver brute power.

In different degrees and ways, those are all elements from the craft of batting that can be seen across the IPL. And there’s a whole lot more. This year’s IPL has been notable for Andre Russell teeing off time and again into the night skies at an average RPO of about 13, for the collective of Chennai calibrating run chases to the wire, for the controlled aggression of David Warner and Jos Buttler, the calm of K. L. Rahul at the top of the order, and for AB de Villiers trying to show he still has it.

But in the context of batting, last year’s IPL was something else. The 2018 edition saw teams score an additional 1,986 runs, an increase of 11% over 2017. One-third of those additional runs came via old-fashioned running and rotation of strike, which shows that batsmen were emphasizing on the basics.

On the other hand, they were also stretching the limits of possibilities. Two-thirds of those additional 1,986 runs came via fours and sixes. It’s a testament to the evolution that is happening in the art of shot-making, and the re-examination of the equation between risk and reward.

That this is happening at a time when teams are preferring to bat second is also a pointer to the IPL tilting toward batsmen.

(Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint)

In 2018, 18% of bowls crossed the fence for a four or a six. This was the highest ever in an IPL season and is 1 percentage point over 2017. The closest to this number is the maiden IPL season of 2008. After that, bowlers pulled it back in the South African season of 2009, and they somewhat maintained that balance till 2013. But since then, they have ceded ground to the batsmen. The 2018 edition saw 227 additional fours and sixes, an increase of 9.7%.

(Graphic: Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint)

In value terms, the share of fours and sixes in the total score crossed 60% for the third time in the 2018 season. The two other editions when this indicator crossed 60% were 2008 and 2015. The way batsmen are going in the IPL, and all else—wickets, rules, conditions—remaining the same, it seems this batting bar can go higher.

Vaidik Dalal works at howindialives.com, a database and search engine for public data.

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