In slam-bang IPL, slow could be the way to go | Cricket

A slower ball is what it claims to be: one that takes longer than expected to reach the batter, is picked after the release or not at all and is generally off-putting for someone trying to find the hitting arc. But within the vast range of slower deliveries come variables such as trajectory, length, bounce and how much it actually deviates off the seam or the pitch. Within microseconds a batter is expected to react to a slower variation put into the works. Which begs the question: have modern-day batters grasped the range of change of pace?

Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell (R) celebrates after taking the wicket of Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Rajat Patidar (not pictured) during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match(AFP)
Kolkata Knight Riders’ Andre Russell (R) celebrates after taking the wicket of Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s Rajat Patidar (not pictured) during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match(AFP)

Nowhere was it more evident on Friday when Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) met Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) than in the Andre Russell over where Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell—two of the greatest strikers in the modern era—were bamboozled by change of pace. The buildup began in Russell’s first over, the ninth of RCB’s innings, when he forced under-edges off Kohli and Cameron Green with slower balls before knocking the Australian over with a full and angled-in delivery that hit the stumps off his pads. Next over, however, was where Russell really hit his mark—bowling slower after slower at shortened lengths, forcing Kohli to give the charge and miss before Maxwell failed to connect off consecutive balls.

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Finishing that over with 0,0, 1, 0, 0, 1lb, conceding only nine runs in 12 balls, Russell showed what change of pace can do the best in the world. “From there on, the rest of the bowlers picked up on that and made their plans,” said KKR captain Shreyas Iyer after the seven-wicket win in Bengaluru.

Change of pace is a no-brainer tactic, especially on Indian pitches that are known to become slower with use. But that’s not always the norm. RCB captain Faf de Plessis felt the Chinnaswamy pitch was “two-paced in the first innings but became better in the chase.” Even the two ends behaved differently, said the KKR captain. “From one end, it was pretty good to bat on,” said Iyer. “From the other end, it was two-paced. It was bouncing extra. That was the communication we were having and passing on to the batter coming next.”

Not coincidentally, that was the end from where Vijaykumar Vyshak bowled his overs to finish with a remarkable spell of 4-0-23-1, conceding just one boundary, that too because of Yash Dayal’s dropped catch at deep backward square-leg. The disparity of pace and bounce at both ends was visible during RCB’s innings as well, when Harshit Rana bowled six slowers on the trot to concede just five runs and dismiss Anuj Rawat in the 18th over. Russell, whose spell up until then read 3-0-15-2, however got hit for two sixes in the next over off deliveries that were quicker (134 kph) and either short or too full.

Those two balls, however, were the only times Russell had erred. “It felt like someone who could bowl a really good slower ball was probably the most difficult bowler to face on this pitch,” said du Plessis after the match. “When KKR bowled, they did it really well. Dre Russ probably bowled 80% of his balls as cutters.”

As a tactic, change of pace used to be generally deployed more often in the slog overs. But with more batters adopting a no-holds barred approach from the beginning, fast bowlers are being used more in the middle overs now leading to a more even distribution of the slower ball after the powerplay.

Apart from getting batters to always be on the lookout for slower deliveries, it is also probably nudging them into seeking quicker runs and taking more risk against spinners. Low-yielding powerplays can still be overturned in 14 overs but seven out of 10 matches till Saturday being won by the side quicker to 100 runs is an early indicator of how batters don’t want to leave bulk of the scoring for later. This is where the slower deliveries are also making a bigger impact.

Case in point is RCB’s innings, where they had reached 82/2 after the ninth over but could add only 27 in the next four overs. Against Delhi Capitals last weekend, Harshal Patel used the slower bouncer to great effect by dismissing David Warner and Rishabh Pant—both failing to connect properly because of lack of pace—in the eighth and 13th overs.

More devastating was how Mustafizur Rahman helped Chennai Super Kings thump RCB by six wickets in the IPL opener, taking 4/29—all dismissals off slowers and cutters. “What makes it really tough is the fact that he can bowl at 138-139 kph, and then he has a slow one, which is very deceptive. He bowls at 120-125 kph, which makes it really hard to line him up,” Dinesh Karthik had said after that match.

It’s a trick Mumbai Indians probably missed when Hardik Pandya held back Bumrah—possibly the best bowler of slower deliveries in the world—when Sunrisers Hyderabad were going berserk but change of pace is again expected to have a big say in this IPL.


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