Just look back into the near past. Not so long ago, the default theme for every team in IPL was — bat first, posts a big total and then defend it. Despite being a batsman’s hunting ground, most captains liked to take the scoreboard pressure off, and left it to the chasing sides to take that gambles. The reason was clear-cut: chasing over eight runs per over will always remain a tough job, if bowlers can get breakthroughs at the right time.
But then, there were some brave standout skippers like MS Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir, who no matter what the conditions appeared, preferred chasing down. Out of the 60 games last season, on 24 occasions teams managed to win when they batted second. And it was Kolkata Knight Riders who had the maximum number of wins, 6. This season, among the 15 matches, 10 matches were won by teams batting second.
Interestingly, it was something that was quite common even in the recently concludedT20 World Cup. Champions West Indies batted second in all their six matches, and won five of them. Looks like most captains have somehow carried that trend into this IPL suggesting there is something more to it.
The majority of the games are night matches when the famous ‘Indian dew’ comes into play and it becomes really tricky for the bowlers to grip the ball. It becomes too easy for a batsman to score once dew factor comes into play. The ball skids on once pitched, comes on nicely to the bat and all a batsman requires is to time it perfectly. The outfield becomes even more wet and the fielders are likely to struggle while fielding. It cannot get easier for batsmen and even if the target looks colossal one, these factors make it feasible for the team batting second to chase it down according to plan with absolute ease. Spinners also can’t grip the ball and they look to dart it to the batsmen rather than to flight the ball and take wickets. There is no loop, no flight and you watch the famous art of spin bowling slowly losing ground.
Easier to plan while batting second
It becomes easier to plan your innings when batting second because you know exactly how many runs you require. Teams batting first calculates what would be a competitive score and in anxiety, push too hard, too soon, lose early wickets and come up short with an average T20 total. The structure of the game has not changed and the team batting second, all they need to do is chase down the total calmly maintaining the required run-rate and preserving wickets.
The captains have gradually latched on to the unique idea of chasing being the much better option. In the last 5 matches from April 17 to 21, the skipper winning the toss has chosen to bat second, and has won every time. Till now in 2016, teams winning the toss have won ten and lost just five; the gap will certainly increase if more games go the same way.
Contrasting opening partnerships
As the Power-play numbers are so different, the stats for openers are interestingly very different when batting first and second. In the first innings, openers have an average of 24 so far, while strike rate being 124. This average happens to be the lowest among all the IPL tournaments that were held in Asia. The only edition when the openers averaged lower was in 2009 when South Africa hosted the tournament – the average was 22.90. Last year openers in first innings averaged 32.64, at a strike rate of 133. But the openers’ exceptional stats in the second innings, when they have often batted throughout the innings and remained unbeaten at the end, has made the difference. In fact, there have been so far nine not-outs for openers in 15 matches while chasing this season; the most not-outs in any season is 15, which happened in the inaugural edition in 2008, while the next highest being 13. This season, Gambhir and Warner already have two not-outs each while chasing down, Quinton de Kock, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Aaron Finch and Shikhar Dhawan have one each. Openers already have scored 16 fifty-plus scores in the second innings, and only five when batting first. The average opening partnership in first innings in this IPL is 17.46, with only one 50-plus stand; but in the case of teams batting second, the average is 55.07, with eight 50-plus opening partnerships.
Keeping wickets in the first powerplay
all images courtesy: iplt20.com
The first six overs has been really crucial and displayed a great difference between the teams batting first and chasing this season. Teams batting first had to lose 24 wickets in the Powerplay overs, compared with only 10 by the team who are chasing. If you see the trend during the first two games of IPL 2016, you can see Mumbai Indians slumped to 37 for 4 against Rising Pune Supergiants, and Delhi Daredevils suffered even worse with a Powerplay score of 35 for 4 against Kolkata Knight Riders the next day.
But since those two collapses they have done slightly better and have lost more than one wicket during the Powerplays only 3 times in the remaining 13 matches, but only once they were actually wicketless, when Kings XI Punjab scored 52 for none, against Gujarat Lions in the third match. However, that didn’t aid them much either, as they finished losing by five wickets.
On the other hand, the chasing teams have never lost more than two wickets in the Powerplay overs and have not even lost any wickets 7 times in 15 matches. Knight Riders, led by Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa at the top, have achieved this record three times; while Gujarat Lions, Supergiants, Kings XI, and Sunrisers Hyderabad have done it once each.
The chasing side winning most of the times has come up with a monotony to the IPL this season, and to make matters even worse most of those successful run-chases have been a one-sided affair. Among the 14 successful chase, ten times teams have won with ten or more balls remaining, and shockingly, only three times games have gone into the last over, with one last-ball finish. The average balls to spare in these 14 victories by chasing teams has been 17, which is hardly the definition of close contests. In last year’s IPL, the average balls remaining in wins by chasing teams was 12; in 2014, it was 10.