Two months of relentless T20 cricketing action culminated in the crowning of the Mumbai Indians. Was IPL 2020 the best? No, you can’t compare the 13 seasons of the Indian Premier League. Each had its high points. Every year, we felt the latest one was the best. So, the feeling is not new.
An IPL outside India is new, although parts of it has been held in the UAE and South Africa earlier. But it’s the first time the full tournament was played outside India. That’s due the global pandemic of COVID-19, which has shown no signs of abating. Which means an integral part of IPL was missing: the spectators. But there was no shortage of excitement.
Sixty games produced some incredible performances: Rahul Tewatia’s five sixes in an over for Rajasthan Royals; Shikhar Dhawan’s record back-to-back centuries for the Delhi Capitals; AB de Villiers two escape acts for the Royal Challengers; a double Super Over, and three Super Overs in a day; a scoreline that read 0-3 and many more. Breathtaking performances, really. And you wonder: Was it the best edition ever? Well, Season 13 certainly would rank among the best.
Let’s rewind, and look at how it panned out.
The bio-bubbles kept the players safe from the coronavirus, but they were a concern as well. Life in the tightly controlled environments sealed off from the outside world is not easy. How will it affect the players? Especially since the event ran for two months. Will it affect their mental toughness? Will it diminish their skills? Questions galore.
Those worries were put to rest by the quality of performances. There were no meltdowns. Just for that, the organisers should take a bow. A big salute to the players who made light of the constraints to do what they do best. Which is to play cricket. They did. We are entertained.
September is a hot and muggy month in the UAE. It gets better in October, and November is pleasant. So, when IPL 2020 began on September 19, weather was a major concern, especially since most players were coming after a six-month layoff. Will their bodies stand up to the heat and humidity?
We had the answers in the first week itself? Quick singles, converting two into threes, the running between the wickets was the best proof. And the intensity never sagged. Remember, the Rajasthan Royals chased down a record, overhauling the Kings XI Punjab’s 223 in the first week.
Even in Match 60, the final, the shoulders weren’t dropping. Sixes continued to rain from the flashing blades, and pace bowlers consistently clocked more than 140 kmph. These are athletes. Professionals, who take their fitness seriously.
When matches are played only in three stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, the pitches available are less in number. As more games are played on them, the strips would get slower and worn out as they tournament reaches the final stages. It did. But it mattered little. The Mumbai Indians struck 200 in Qualifier 1 and Delhi Capitals scored close to 200 in the Qualifier 2. Those are totals in the closing stages of the tournament.
The curators and the groundstaff deserve all the plaudits for that. There was early swing and enough bounce for the pace bowlers to strike early blows. There was some bite in the pitches for the spinners, but no too much. Enough to tie the batsmen in the middle overs, but not too much to run through the sides. So, if the sides had enough wickets, batsmen could attack the spinners.
More than 300 runs were scored in the final. That too only for the loss of 12 wickets Gives you an idea of how true the wicket played.
Each of the three stadiums offered a distinct character that shaped the decisions of captains who won the toss. Sharjah offered a belter of a pitch, and the boundaries were small. The deluge of runs in the early phase evaporated as the spinners found more traction as the pitch became slower. And there were no 200-plus scores in the second half of the tournament there. In fact, there were a couple of low-scoring games.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai were the favourites for spinners. The long boundaries allowed them to toss the ball up, inviting batsmen to take the risky route of sixes. Many batsmen succumbed to lure as a slight mishit tended to finish in the hands of fielders inside the fence.
THE DEW FACTOR
Late night dew has always bedevilled T20 matches around the world, especially in big closed stadiums. Dew affected some matches in the UAE, but there weren’t too many complaints from the players. Players expect it when they bowl second. Which is why they carry towels to give the ball a vigorous rub. Dew didn't affect some matches, especially the ones in Abu Dhabi, where there’s plenty of wind.
Captains tend to bowl first so that they can take advantage of bowlers’ difficulty in gripping the ball when the dew kicks in. It did influence the decisions of captains winning the toss, although teams batting first won in the early part of the tournament. But more teams opted to bowl first, Delhi being an exception. Varun Chakravarthy’s five-wicket haul for the Kolkata Knight Riders came on a dew-drenched night.
PACE LIKE FIRE
The pace bowlers loved IPL 2020. They thrived on UAE pitches, which offered pace, bounce and swing early in the innings. In helpful conditions, they wreaked havoc. With the new ball, Jofra Archer of the Rajasthan Royals was near unplayable taking wickets in the first over several times. There were a few first ball dismissals, the bewilderment on the batsmen’s faces said it all. Trent Boult’s delivery that dismissed Marcus Stoinis in the final exemplified the help from the pitches in the UAE.
The Purple Cap winner with 30 wickets was Kagiso Rabada, who opens the bowling for the Delhi Capitals. His closest rival was Jasprit Bumrah, the Mumbai Indians’ spearhead who claimed 27 wickets. They were followed by speedsters Boult and Delhi Capitals' Anrich Nortje. Yuzvendra Chahal of the Royal Challengers Bangalore was the lone spinner among the top five wicket-takers. The Jos Buttler-Nortje duel was an absolute delight.
SWING IT LIKE SIRAJ
Mohammed Siraj swung his way into the IPL record books with two consecutive maidens. It helped Royal Challengers Bangalore claim the record of bowling four maidens in a row, as Siraj’s swing and movement rattled the batsmen. Trent Boult was a persistent threat with his ability to bring the ball back into the batsmen. The left-hander’s swing and bounce fetched him 25 wickets.
Sandeep Sharma is no Jasprit Bumrah or a Kagiso Rabada. The Sunrisers Hyderabad bowler often relied on swing to gain early breakthroughs. Chennai Super Kings’ Deepak Chahar too was always menace in his first spell.
THE LEG-SPIN THREAT
Unlike in India, the spinners never ran through the sides in the UAE pitches. The ball turned, but slowly. That was enough to rein in the scoring in the middle overs. And batsmen perished in their attempts to raise the run rate during this phase. Here’s where Rashid Khan revelled for the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and David Warner used him superbly as batsmen tended to play out the overs from the Afghan leg-spinner.
The crafty Yuzvendra Chahal was Virat Kohli’s trump card, bailing out the Royal Challengers Bangalore in times of trouble. Varun Chakravarthy was the only bowler with a five-wicket haul in Season 13. Ravi Bishnoi and Murugan Ashwin of the Kings XI Punjab, Rahul Chahar of the Mumbai Indians and Rahul Tewatia of the Rajasthan Royals had their moments, taking wickets at crucial junctures.
THE TWEAKERS DISAPPOINT
Fingers spinners have not flourished in the IPL. At best, they were efficient in staunching the run flow as Washington Sundar of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Axar Patel of the Delhi Capitals showed with their tight lines and lengths.
Ravichandran Ashwin was incisive in some matches, but he was taken apart in other games. Sunil Narine’s lone batting excellence for Kolkata Knight Riders came at the expense of Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin looked effective only towards the second half, but by then Chennai had played themselves out of the reckoning. Mumbai’s Krunal Pandya and Hyderabad’s Shahabaz Nadeem looked good in some game, but were never consistent threats.
BIG DAY FOR BIG HITTERS
How did Mumbai win? They had the biggest big hitters. Four of their batsmen figured in the top-10 list of six-hitters. Ishan Kishan (30), Hardik Pandya (25), Kieron Pollard (22) and Quinton de Kock (22) savaged 99 sixes between them, while Rohit Sharma struck 19. Most of these came in the big grounds in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which is a testament to their range-hitting skills.
Andre Russell of the Kolkata doesn’t figure in that list with a below-par season for him. And Mahendra Singh Dhoni too never looked reaching his peak form, although he racked up three in a row in one match. But Chris Gayle’s striking ability revived Punjab, while Stoinis rode to the rescue of Delhi on many occasions. Eoin Morgan and Dinesh Karthik came good when Kolkata needed quick runs, but never managed to do it consistently.
THE PROLIFIC RUN-GETTERS
Two of the top scorers in IPL 2020 are not internationals. Suryakumar Yadav (480 runs) and Ishan Kishan (516) played several winning hands for Mumbai that gave them an aura of invincibility. The two are a rare breed, who are capable to toughing it out to anchor the innings and blaze away in the slog overs. When Yadav and Kishan are batting at the death, Mumbai doesn’t need a Hardik Pandya or a Pollard to do the heavy hitting.
Mumbai also benefited from the flying starts of Quinton de Kock (503, and another South African AB de Villiers (454) conjured his magic to fashion at least two unlikely wins for Bangalore, whose skipper Virat Kohli (466) had a good run but didn't reach his lofty standards.
Shikhar Dhawan (618) came into his own in the second phase of the season with record back-to-back centuries for Delhi, who relied on him heavily in the face of Prithvi Shaw’s horrible form. And captain Shreyas Iyer (519) was often called into rebuild the Delhi innings
KL Rahul’s consistency in IPL 2020 was unmatched, and it was little surprise when he walked away with the Orange Cap for scoring 670 runs. Some of those runs came at a tepid pace, which reflect Punjab’s misfortunes early on. David Warner (548) had another high-scoring season for Hyderabad, for whom Kane Williamson played a steady hand and David Bairstow had to sit out.
Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Steve Smith and Sanju Samson produced sparkling knocks, but not regularly enough for Rajasthan to make the play offs.
THE PROMISE OF DEBUTANTS
It was no surprise when Devdutt Padikkal won the Emerging Player of the Tournament. The debutant struck 473 runs for Bangalore from the opener’s slot, which marks out the 20-year-old as a potential India player. Chennai’s Ruturaj Gaikwad flopped early in the tournament but later on showed enough evidence of precocious batting skills.
It was the young bowlers who impressed the most. The leg-spin of Ravi Bishnoi, 20, kept the Punjab attack afloat, while Arshdeep Singh, 21, was impressive with his medium pace during Punjab’s resurgence. Karthik Tyagi, 20, came under intense pressure due to Rajasthan’s rocky campaign, but he showed enough character and promise
Shivam Mavi, 21, shone for Kolkata with his wicket-taking abilities that depended on swing and seam movement. And his teammate Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 20, was unfazed by the incessant attacks in the middle and slog overs. Natarajan is the new yorker king, repeatedly plugging the slog overs for Hyderabad. Little wonder, Warner hailed him as one of the bright sparks in his side.
There are many more who provided glimpses of their prodigious talents. And that can mean only one thing. The future of Indian cricket is secure in their hands. That’s a huge positive from IPL 2020.