Even in the two matches that went into the superover in IPL 2020, the chasing teams were bleary-eyed pigs for slaughter. So much for crying out loud.
Chasing teams can just not win in the IPL this year. They can bend their backs and gaze outwards through the slit between their legs, but they won't see light. It is a tunnel because it has not been resolved.
Ever since CSK's kick-your-backside-and-grin-at-the-front heist in the opening game, only three other sides in IPL 2020 have managed to haul down a target. Of these, one was a sub-par total while another was a fairy-tale deus ex machina.
Captains are following the trend and batting first. Commentators are calling the teams that don't blithering idiots. All this for a tournament that was supposed to be played on ice skates come the second innings.
Dew was supposed to fall like hail, and the ball was supposed to be a slimy crocodile egg. They haven't. Perhaps, crocodiles haven't been breeding. But that is not all.
Chasing teams used to win 70% of matches in Dubai until this IPL. At Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, 60%. Yet, Dubai has been to the defending team this year what every terrain has been to their home Test side; Sharjah has favoured the side batting first in three out of four games.
Abu Dhabi has been a kinder mistress of course, but that's only a ruddy coincidence. Overall, only five successful chases have been churned out in the IPL this year — a feat as weird as if you actually tried to stretch between your legs.
What have chasing teams been doing wrong in IPL 2020?
In this brilliant article for ESPNcricinfo, Karthik Krishnaswamy argues perspicaciously how teams in the IPL have seemingly come to the conclusion that a 15 rpo situation is a run-of-the-mill scenario at the death. Dance under the rain of his chatoyant words, or simply take my word for it.
It is as plain as a barman's brain that teams are trusting themselves with a larger target in the last four overs. Assuming they are by choice comfortable with those runs, the mean target teams saved to overhaul for the death this IPL is 69.
This is not inflated by one or two unsurpassable totals: the median for the same data is 74. And in any way, whatever inflation produced is nullified by the average successful chase, which finishes way before the allotted 20 overs.
But how much do they actually manage to make?
Without counting the five successful chases (which would deflate the figure because these have finished before the 120th delivery), in the 14 remaining fluffed attempts in IPL 2020, an average of 41 runs have been scored at the death. The median is 37.
A result of tired legs baked under the stifling Sharjah sun? The same figure for teams batting first is 49 — far from the envisaged holy grail of death-overs batting. Like goal-oriented plums, chasing teams are falling into the grave they dig for themselves.
Of course, what generates the need for this wham-bam finale-hitting is the dim-witted coyness during other phases. The PowerPlay (PP) is the cosiest catbird seat T20 cricket offers the batting side, yet, batsmen, especially in IPL 2020, aren't taking advantage of it.
Of all 13 IPL seasons, 2020 has witnessed the third-lowest PP run-rate for chasing teams. The extra sixes that 'could've won the game' are not being hit, and a crucial opportunity to have hit them off is being scuppered. And worst of all, IPL teams aren't realising it.
Yet, there is nothing to show that conservative batting has preserved wickets in IPL 2020: an average sub-par total (considering par to be 44, the average chasing PowerPlay score) has come at the cost of 2.09 wickets, compared to one wicket lost for 'above-par' totals.
Of course, it may be suggested that an early loss of wickets is a trigger for a resultant low run-rate. But on a generalised scale, it isn't.
Delhi Capitals, with the finest wicket-preservation rate, scores the least number of runs, as the table suggests; Rajasthan Royals, for the loss of 1.5 wickets, make 54. If this is true for any team, it is only KXIP, because anything can be true for KXIP. To most teams, however, conservative starts are doing no good.
Despite the circumspection, teams in IPL 2020 are arriving at the 16-over mark with only a 37% possibility that two set batsmen are at the crease. (However, their running partnership on average has lasted for 21 deliveries. But no matter this, because it is an inflation: 63% of these partnerships have been shorter than ten deliveries, and only six of these partnerships have been longer than average.) Broadly speaking, circumspection has been as useful as the cotton in your navel.
Another way of looking at this is the correlation between PP tallies and corresponding death-over scores. For matches with PPs that have witnessed the loss of less than two wickets, the mean runs scored in the last four overs is 46. While batting first, this is 49, batting second 42 — probably a manifestation of the so-far unweighted scoreboard pressure.
On the other hand, for starts with the loss of more than one wicket, the end-overs in IPL 2020 have produced 52 runs while batting first and 56 while batting second. If that rings any bells.
And just for the sake of the pedant: IPL PowerPlays with an intersection of one or less wickets lost and 45 or less runs yielded? A mere 40 runs have been milked off the final four overs. In chases, 33. Conservation of wickets has just not mattered, and it is screaming into your ears like a howler!
So where do these biases originate?
Simultaneous to this mess, teams are constantly punching above their weights. In the 19 first innings in IPL 2020, an above-average score has been breached in the death overs at least nine times. Of these, 5 have been 60-plus.
Unwittingly, players are being drawn into the belief that anything is possible at the end, thanks to our cheery cognitive biases when clearly the same record plummets gloriously while batting second: 50 has been scaled only six times in chases, in a "dude, scoreboard pressure is a thing" manner.
It was evident we were back in Rome when Jos Buttler said:
"The six-hitting shows that if you have that capability, you can make your run quite late to try and win the game. Rahul Tewatia hit five sixes in an over that took us from being out of the game to right back in the game. In past tournaments, you think of Andre Russell, and KKR needing 70 runs off four overs and managing to get there. So I think if you have that six-hitting capability, you never feel quite safe as the team defending. You realise you can get more at the end than you probably thought you could."
Cricketers, like fans, are prone to big-moment fascinations, because as a race we are unthinking morons. (Don't blame me, there's evolutionary evidence. Do you remember Sanju Samson's assail that produced 69 runs in the RR v KXIP game PowerPlay or Tweatia's seven-ball streak?)
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We retain what is rare, what is abnormal, what is short, sweet and dainty, like Stokes-Headingley or Tewatia-Sharjah and base our impressions upon them because the normal is too normal and not worth retention. If we had a choice, we would selectively embrace the precious rarities of life and then not retain them because normal is too normal. In short, we are weird.
So, look. ho. Now that you are in Rome anyway, use up the perks. Read a bit of Ovid. Try out The Art Of Loving.
Because of course, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans say' is the adage so cattishly followed by our cricketers, and as followers, we are bound to trail on their heels. Maybe, until teams learn to put this advice where it needs to be (the trash) and get on with it, we might have to deal with the most predictable IPL of all these years. Until then, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.Published 07 Oct 2020, 00:56 IST