IPL 2021: Stealing the early march

IPL 2021: Stealing the early march

Royal Challengers Bangalore pacer Harshal Patel (17 wickets in 7 matches) and Delhi Capitals quick Avesh Khan (13 from 7). Credit PTI Photo

The Indian Premier League is almost at the halfway stage, and like every season, a few interesting trends have unfolded. The most striking has to be the performance of Indian bowlers. No, we aren't talking about the usual suspects -- the Bumrahs, the Bhuvneshwars, the Shamis or the Chahals. Unheralded pacers and spinners alike are topping the wicket-taking charts. They include both IPL veterans and rookies, but weren't necessarily their captains’ go-to men until last season. 

It was, therefore, instructive to see Punjab Kings skipper KL Rahul summon young left-arm paceman Arshdeep Singh to bowl the 16th over as he tried in vain to defend a modest total of 120 against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The fact that Rahul preferred Arshdeep to India star Mohammed Shami, who still had two overs left, reflected the growing stature of these domestic heroes, who were no more than easy meat for the big hitters to feast on until recently.  

These players have not only outperformed their more celebrated compatriots, they have also stolen a march over overseas superstars like Kagiso Rabada, Pat Cummins and Rashid Khan, to name a few. Royal Challengers Bangalore pacer Harshal Patel (17 wickets in 7 matches), Delhi Capitals quick Avesh Khan (13 from 7) and Mumbai Indians leggie Rahul Chahar (11 from 6) headed the list of wicket-takers after the RCB vs Punjab Kings match on Friday, while Kolkata Knight Riders' Prasidh Krishna and Chennai Super Kings' Deepak Chahar (both 8 from 7) were among the top 10, besides Shami (also 8 from 7).

Others like Chetan Sakariya (Rajasthan Royals) and Varun Chakravarthy (Kolkata Knight Riders) have been impressive despite limited or no exposure at this level. Even as many young Indian batsmen have failed to live up to their potential or expectations this season, the rise of homegrown bowlers, especially pacers, has come as a pleasant surprise. That Punjab Kings left-arm spinner Harpreet Brar was named player of the match on his debut against RCB on Friday was further attestation of the domination of Indian bowlers this season.

So, how have they managed to outshine the multi-million dollar buys? Is it skill, experience, confidence or a mix of all these aspects?

Former India paceman and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad feels the key to success is a combination of the novelty factor some of these lesser-known bowlers possess, and the awareness of the threat of the established internationals, which forces batsmen to be more wary against them.

"The way I see it, batsmen all over the world know what to expect from a Bumrah or a Shami or a Chahal," begins Prasad, who is in Mumbai as part of the Star Sports Kannada commentary panel. "They might have had a few off-days, but generally, batsmen don't take too many risks against them. They would rather play them out and target others. It is in this process that they are getting wickets.

"That's one of the reasons I think bowlers like Avesh or Harshal have managed to take so many wickets. That said, you do need those skills to get wickets. It's obvious that they have developed some deliveries that batsmen were quite unfamiliar with in the initial few matches. But that's slowly beginning to change now. Tell me which Indian international bowler has been hit for 30 runs in an over," he asks, pointing to Ravindra Jadeja's blistering assault against Harshal in the final over of Chennai Super Kings' innings last week which yielded 37 runs (including one extra in the form of a no-ball).   

"I will any day back someone like Bumrah or Chahal to come back and deliver, which I am not sure I can say about others with the same confidence. What we also have to take into account is the Chennai pitch, which was difficult to bat on."

Talking of confidence, Prasad also emphasises the absence of crowds in the stadia as a significant factor.

"The crowd can make a huge difference," he says. "Of course it works both ways, but an international player will handle the crowd pressure better than those who haven't regularly played in front of a huge live audience. If a Chris Gayle or an AB de Villiers is going after you and the crowd is firmly behind them, it can be intimidating. While an international player can shut out that pressure, a less experienced player might allow the situation to overwhelm him."

Prasad, who has been closely associated with the IPL as bowling coach of CSK and RCB and now as a commentator, makes very valid observations. There, however, has to be something more than what is tangible.

The skill-sets, Prasad agrees, have gone up. While not many of them can bowl at 140-plus clicks regularly, they have augmented it with a variety of slower balls. This IPL has witnessed an unprecedented number of slower deliveries being sent down with an impressive success rate. Whether it's for Harshal or Sakariya, taking the pace off the bowl has worked well. The right line and length, a deceptive action and the ball's speed (or lack of it) off the surface - all of them have to fall in place for it to be effective or else it can be a recipe for disaster. From that point of view, those topping the wicket-charts at the moment have done a commendable job. So far.

There is still plenty of action left in the tournament. As batsmen read them better and fatigue starts to seep in, it will be interesting to see if they are able to sustain their effectiveness. A case in point is Harshal, who has gone at 11.75 runs an over in his last four outings.