IPL 2024 – Dice loaded heavily in favour of the batter

Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma for MI
Jasprit Bumrah and Rohit Sharma for MI (PC: X)

Here are some raw numbers for IPL 2024. There have been eight scores of over 250 this season. Incidentally, before this season, only two franchises had notched up scores in excess of 250. Sunrisers Hyderabad themselves have thrice aggregated totals in excess of 250. Just a couple of days ago, Punjab Kings achieved what seemed like an improbable task as they overhauled a target of 262 set by the Kolkata Knight Riders

Scratch the outside coating further, and you will notice four of the top six totals in the Powerplay overs have been recorded this season. Moreover, 814 sixes have been smashed in just 44 games. In that context, it raises a question – What can a pace bowler do to survive in especially the PowerPlay and slog overs? Let’s dissect the various strategies tried by pace bowlers in this IPL so far.

How about nailing the yorker at the stumps? In 2024, with the batters staying deep and playing innovative shots like the lap, scoop or reverse sweep, the margin of error surrounding a yorker is very less. In addition, there have also been major advancements in bat-making technology. Just consider the recent game played between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bengaluru in Hyderabad. In the 19th over, Pat Cummins, the SRH skipper, almost nailed a perfect yorker, only for Cameron Green to get underneath the ball ever so slightly and crunch it down the ground for a boundary.

In the Delhi Capitals-Mumbai Indians game, there was yet more confirmation of how it has become difficult  to crack the code of bowling the yorker. Granted that Luke Wood kept missing the toe-crusher by an inch or two. Meanwhile, Tristan Stubbs stayed deep in the crease and skilfully manoeuvred those deliveries with shots behind the wicket. In that over, Wood seemed to have  finally landed one yorker. Even then Stubbs took a step back and reverse scooped it over the man at short fine leg.

Yash Dayal, the RCB bowler, might go on to say that he did bowl a couple of yorkers at the stumps in the final over of the innings at Eden Gardens. KKR, however, still managed to collect 16 runs. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t seem to have the buffer when it comes to low full tosses as most of them are too floaty. 

There are certain low full tosses bowled by bowlers like Jasprit Bumrah, T Natarajan or even Rasikh Salam in this IPL, where it seems to hit the bat relatively harder. Probably hyperextension helps bowlers like Bumrah or Natarajan to rush the batter a little more with low full tosses. Whatever might be the case, the low full toss isn’t exactly the safe weapon that it used to be in the past. 

Maybe the wide yorker works better? With set fields on the off-side, ushering in a very full delivery or a wide yorker is certainly an option. Although, with batters playing all those shots behind the wicket, even that strategy can be negated. Eric Simons, the CSK bowling consultant, had once told this writer, “So, the wide yorker has become more important, so that you can drag the batsman across, it opens up the stumps or otherwise you go at his heels. The important thing is to keep away from the power zone of the batter.”

“And then the field placings are important. If you’re going wide, make sure that you keep the off-side field in the right place, you’re either protecting the boundary or making him play a strange shot,” he adds.

There is one more template which could ensure a bit of breathing space for the pace bowler – pulling the length back and bowling a hard length. Here, too, the bowler has to be adept at going very defensive in order to escape from getting severely punished. Bowling smarts could include understanding the dimensions of the ground, watching the feet of the batter all the way through and mixing up pacy hit-the-deck bowling with into-the-wicket slower ones. 

Pat Cummins’ spell versus RCB on a batting paradise at Chinnaswamy serves as an example. In the 10th over of RCB’s innings, Faf du Plessis was perhaps a little too early into his hook shot. Cummins, watched the feet of the batter, dug the ball short at the body, and cramped him up. All that the batter could do was spoon a catch to the ‘keeper. Otherwise, on enough occasions, Cummins was aiming to angle it away from the batter’s hitting zone. Here, it has to be pointed out that a bowler needs to have the required weapons in order to execute the plans.

Over a period of time, the bowlers have evolved by bringing in a string of different variations to keep themselves in the game. In a subtle way, the game keeps shifting – more like “evolutionary biology”. But in IPL 2024, it feels as if the dynamics of the game are not just tilting towards the batters but largely loaded in favour of them. Only a highly skilled bowler who has the temperament to soak up severe pressure can survive in such a harsh environment.