The current Indian Premier League season, albeit not the most enthralling one by any means, has thrown quite a few interesting patterns and statistical anomalies. Chasing teams have succeeded for fun, openers have made merry, but most notably spinners as a weapon have become blunt this year.
There could not be a more ironic time to write this, one might think, especially after Adam Zampa’s magical spell on Tuesday night, but then Hyderabad’s bowling kind of underlined the point being made here—the dependence on spinners to win you matches and get wickets in the IPL is long gone. Of the 8 wickets picked by SRH, none came from spinners. In fact, only 1 of their 20 overs was bowled by one. More so, the fact that SRH, the top team in the league, don’t even play a regular spinner.
From a time when spinners would bowl 10-15 overs maximum in an ODI game to a time when KKR would bowl a good 12 overs of spin out of their 20 in the IPL, the role of spinners has bulged and swollen over the years. And that makes a lot of sense considering the spin-friendly conditions in India. But this season has been an aberration with spinners bowling close to 36% of the overs bowled—that is less than 8 overs an innings. Not only have spinners been under-bowled this season, their success too has been below par.
The more jaw-dropping difference, however, lies in the strike rate and average of spinners when compared to the seamers. Premier spinners like Sunil Narine or Brad Hogg, who have career bowling averages of 20 or less in T20s and a similar strike-rates as well, have been successful in previous editions of the IPL but have hardly been as effective in the IPL this year. In fact, the two overseas spinners have played only 11 times combined this season, and picked up 10 wickets at a mean bowling average of 31.10. If that is not indication enough of the plight of the spinners have had to endure this season, India’s best spinner over the past 2 years or so, Ravichandran Ashwin, has a bowling average of 58.
The fact that spinners are barely trusted to bowl in either the powerplay or the death overs, when runs are easier to come by and batsmen are looking to clear the ropes, makes these numbers even more baffling. With most teams(SRH being the exception) fielding at least 2 spinners a game, that statistic makes you wonder even further.
So what changed suddenly? From Ravichandran Ashwin, Sunil Narine and Praveen Tambe opening the bowling for their respective sides last season to the same bowlers not even being bowled their full quota of overs, this season seems to be a strange one.
One reason could be that Chennai, one of the more spin-friendly tracks in the country, is unused this year, and the Edens pitch isn’t heated up enough with sporadic rains in Kolkata. The high humidity means the surfaces are holding together much better so far this year. Also the fact that the tournament has been spread across the country, meaning no venue has been overused or no pitch has worn off enough, makes it all the more difficult for spinners. Finger spinners end up being the biggest losers in this case and that is probably why bowlers like Ashwin and Harbhajan are having such a tough time. Harbhajan, who is Mumbai Indians’ first choice spinner, has only bowled his full quota of overs in just 6 of the 10 matches he has played in. Even the more prolific IPL spinners like Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla have struggled to earn enough confidence of their captains to bowl their full quota of overs.
Overseas spinners, on the other hand, have been trusted more by the skippers. But with the overseas quota and teams looking to strike the right balance in the playing eleven, overseas spinners barring the exception of nobody, have not become a regular fixture in any of the team’s lineups. One can not blame the teams either. With the lack of quality Indian fast bowlers, team managements opt for established international fast bowlers leaving the international spinners high and dry.
Before the game yesterday night, Ashwin spoke about how and why he has struggled this season."There was one good spell from Amit Mishra and one good spell from Axar Patel in this IPL. Apart from that, the spinners have struggled to stay in context of the game," Ashwin said. That hits the nail at its head. With the World T20 recently concluded and hosted in India itself, there can be an argument made for batsmen having smartened up ensuring that no spinner can really dominate the game with any consistency. The small matter of the small grounds, where batsmen can clear the fences without even timing the ball, cannot be discounted either. But all said and done, these factors existed in past seasons as well and does not serve as enough of an excuse.
With 40 games played and another 20 to go, the trend could still change and spike away from the beleaguered numbers the spinners have right now. Yet, seasoned campaigners like Amit Mishra have done well, thanks to the variation on offer, and now Adam Zampa’s 6-for, only the second time a bowler has picked 6 wickets in the IPL, gives others spinners a hope.
Lest we forget R Ashwin finally bowled his full quota of overs and picked a wicket too in the same match. Maybe it was just an aberration so far and the pattern is about to change. Maybe the spinners will take the season by storm as we head into the business end of the tournament. Or maybe with SRH occupying the throne for now, more teams will experiment with more faster bowlers in their arsenal. 20 games to go. Time shall tell.
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