Unbridled aggression was the watchword when the Indian Twenty20 league was launched in 2008 - batsmen cast as destroyers and the bowlers mostly reduced to a side act.
Brendon McCullum's 158 not out in 73 balls struck the high notes in the inaugural game, the Kiwi hitting more
sixes (13) than fours (10) in Kolkata Knight Riders' win over Royal Challengers Bangalore leaving the spectators demanding more mayhem.
Into the sixth edition, the league has revealed a soft corner for bowlers.
Chris Gayle remains the biggest USP for the tournament, but teams have realised heavy hitters are no guarantee for high scores or the only route to keeping spectators high on entertainment.
Statistics tell the tale -- in the first 50 matches, there have been only three 200 plus totals. Only three centuries have been scored with the first not coming until the 30th game. On 14 instances, teams were unable to set targets of more than 130. On five occasions, teams subsided for less than 100 - Pune Warriors, Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Daredevils (twice).
So, how has the balance of power tilted?
The form book and selections have played a big role as these two examples show. Mumbai Indians misfired with Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting as openers as the batting legends discovered their waning reflexes were not up to scratch.
Ponting dropped himself to let the younger lot take charge, but Delhi Daredevils have sunk without icon player Virender Sehwag firing and Aussie David Warner flopping as his opening partner. A batting reshuffle has brought only limited success.
Such misery is not just self-inflicted. Bowlers have tweaked tactics to great effect and coaches have gone to great length to prepare their bowlers.
Even Dale Steyn supplements express pace with slow bouncers and cross-seam deliveries and off-breaks; R Ashwin
bowls leg breaks, Sunil Narine extracts extra bounce, forcing batsmen to mistime shots or nick them.
“Bowlers having variations is very important, but the key is to use them very carefully. Some are good at bowling slower deliveries, the others in delivering yorkers.
The bowler should know his strengths and weaknesses. We have seen these being done effectively (in this edition),” said RCB bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad.
The cricket Board's directive asking home franchises not to influence pitch preparation has also ensured a level-playing field.
Only four teams were undefeated at home until Sunday. And leaders CSK are not one of them.
Even Gayle has been forced to settle down before launching into attack.
“Sometimes it takes a few overs to adjust since the bowlers vary their deliveries, the pitches are not all flat nowadays,” a CSK player said.
“We've had to earn our runs this year.” Sunrisers Hyderabad have made it an art defending low scores at home, having won all five games.
No team has crossed 130 at the Uppal stadium with the brilliant form of Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma and leg-spinner Amit Mishra having a big say.
Team mentor, K Srikkanth, told HT: “There is a drastic change in the attitude of the bowlers. They have started believing even they are in the game and can make an impact. They use a lot more variations to confuse the batsmen.”
“Teams have come in a lot more prepared. Like for Gayle, we realised it was best to start with an off-spinner. We did that with Hanuma Vihari and succeeded.”
The curators are happy. “Till last season, before every game they would ask us to make wickets that suit the team. Now we can produce sporting wickets,” a top BCCI curator told HT.
“A lot of times used to ask for batting wickets to play it safe as that would also keep the crowd interested.”
With three last-ball finishes, six games settled off the penultimate ball and two matches going into the super over, this season has ensured T20 is no longer a hit-and-run affair.
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