There is already something new to admire in this year’s IPL. The bowlers are coming into their own gloriously. No longer is the IPL all about fours and sixes, about big hits and the ball soaring into the stratosphere. Yes, the competition for long was about slam bang cricket in which the batsmen dominated and the bowlers were like lambs to the slaughter. Totals of 250 plus were not uncommon, over 400 runs in a match was par for the course and there were centuries galore in the T-20 games. The trend was set in the opening game in 2008 when Brendon McCullum slammed 158 off just 73 balls for KKR against RCB and the irrepressible Chris Gayle raised this to 175 off 66 balls for RCB against Pune Warriors in 2013. Bowlers on the other hand ended up with the kind of figures they see in their worst nightmares. It was all in the name of entertainment yes but one wondered when this lop-sidedness would end and when the games would be more of an even contest between bat and ball.
Well, it has finally happened this year and indeed the bowlers have called the tune much to the joy of the cricket connoisseur. In the first eleven games there has been just one game that has brought back memories of the old days when Punjab Kings scored 221 for six and Rajasthan Royals came tantalizingly close replying with 217 for seven. In the majority of the games bowlers have kept the run rate in check while picking up wickets at regular intervals. They have finally managed to put the pressure on the batsmen displaying a deceptive variety in the bowling that has had the batting side bewildered. Quite often they have managed to send down a series of dot balls and nothing causes more concern for batsmen than a delivery from which they cannot score. Two or three dot balls in a row and suddenly the batsman under pressure plays an injudicious shot and is out.
That in a nutshell has been the story of this year’s IPL so far. Totals of 152, 150 and 149 have been defended. Teams have been restricted to totals of 147 and even 106. Seemingly small targets of 148 and 160 have been chased down with utmost difficulty. Andre Russell took five wickets in two overs for KKR against MI – something unheard of in the IPL. There has also been a second five-wicket haul by Harshal Patel for RCB against MI. But pride of place should go to Deepak Chahar. Playing for CSK against Punjab Kings, Chahar came up with a performance that will be hard to beat in the rest of this year’s competition. The right arm medium pacer who has played three ODIs and 12 T-20 internationals finished with figures of four for 13. There were 18 dot balls among the 24 balls he sent down – a record that will be hard to equal, let alone surpass.
The fielding and catching have been of the high standard always associated with the IPL but it is the bowling that has made the difference.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)