IPL in UAE: When bowlers flourished in T20 cricket, for a change
When the contest between bat and ball is close, cricket is almost always the biggest winner. And in the UAE leg of the Indian Premier League, bowlers have screamed out their presence and relevance in contemporary cricket.
Just when T20 cricket was firmly 'branded' as a batsman's game, spinners and pacers in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League have stepped up and forced all to think again. True, the quality of bowling in the seventh edition of IPL has been of a high standard. The contribution of pitches in UAE though cannot be discounted.
Consider this. Till the 15th match -- Kings XI Punjab against Kolkata Knight Riders -- 3438 deliveries were bowled of which 39.47% were dots. Another 46.28% fetched between one and three runs. Till this match, a total of 138 sixes were hit which appears significantly lesser than the 731 hit from 75 matches in 2012 (146 per 15 matches on a rough estimate). That the likes of Glenn Maxwell (17 sixes) and David Miller (10 sixes) have lit up the night sky then seems rather pale when compared to how bowlers have stepped up in IPL 7.
Both pacers as well as spinners have had a pleasant outing in the UAE so far. While the 200-run mark has been breached, most games have been rather low-scoring by T20 standards. Only one match aggregate has gone over 400 (Chennai Super Kings vs Kings XI Punjab: 411) while four others have totalled above 300. That's five in 15!
A look at some of the crafty spells from the bowlers would show exactly why batsmen have not been there attacking best here. In terms of best bowling figures, Kings XI Punjab's Lakshmipathy Balaji (4/13 from 4 against Sunrisers Hyderabad) leads the way. There are five others with four wickets from a match - Mohit Sharma (4/14), Sunil Narine (4/20), Pravin Tambe (4/20), Lasith Malinga (4/23) and Ravindra Jadeja (4/33).
In terms of best bowling economy, Rajasthan Royals skipper Shane Watson has bowled three overs so far and has cost his side just 10 runs at a rate of 3.33! In a single match, R Ashwin's figures of 2/3 from 2 overs against Delhi is currently the 'stingiest'. While these are only indications, they do strongly hint at how much confidence bowlers have enjoyed in the desert country.
The tracks in the three venues in UAE - Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah - have been far more friendly towards bowlers than their 'counterparts' in the subcontinent. Most tracks have had low bounce and have either had a bit of grass or minor cracks which have been big enough for spinners to exploit.
While the grounds here are not amongst the biggest in the world, bowlers have hardly feared either bowling short or flighting the delivery - reaping massive benefits. The match between Punjab and Kolkata (April 26) was the best example of how even relatively low scores are defended with ease.
In Abu Dhabi, Narine and Co. silenced an otherwise pugnacious Punjab batting unit. The team was restricted to 132 with just two sixes in the innings. That Maxwell and Miller both failed came as a surprise to most - shock to many more - but the biggest surprise was yet to come. Once Kolkata came out to bat, the conditions had become tougher for batting and Punjab bowlers made maximum use of it. Knight Riders faded into the night with just 109 runs to show for their efforts.
Glory days, gone too soon?
If bowlers could decide, the general elections in India would continue till the final day of the IPL! Returning to India on May 2 would be as much of a bother for them as it would be a respite and a delight for batsmen. After all, pitches in India are flatter than a flitter!
Usually devoid of grass, expect batsmen to send the ball into the crowds with much more consistency than seen so far. In fact, apart from Eden Gardens (Kolkata), Chepauk (Chennai) and PCA Stadium (Mohali) to an extent, every other venue back home would be a chance for batsmen to correct their numbers and ravage the figures of bowlers.
But as the mature cricket enthusiast would know all too well, this sport is as much about turn and timber as it is about hits and hoicks.