Opening batsmen shredding bowlers to give their teams a head start in chases isn’t new to the IPL. But to stay till the last delivery and finish off a match hasn’t been common occurrence. Going by this edition so far, that seems to be the biggest trendsetter. Out of the 12 matches till Monday, 11 have been won by the side batting second (see graphic). And out of those 11 wins, 10 times have at least one opener scored 50 or more. What makes it more interesting is the fact that seven out of those 10 occasions did an opener stay unbeaten.
Considering a format so short and unpredictable, that is a remarkable percentage. The duration of staying at the crease may be much less than ODIs but unlike in the 50-over format, batsmen don’t have the luxury of leaving threatening deliveries. And the mere fact that openers have to face pace, swing and spin from at least five different bowlers within that time goes a long way in clearing the misconception that batting in this format is more muscle and innovation than solid technique.
Of course, muscle and innovation are needed. But even those shots require timing, balance and proper transfer of weight. For good technique, look no further than Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, both of who have stayed unbeaten in one successful chase each this IPL. Such is the variety of classic shots Sharma possesses that his heart will rarely be tugged by the urge to move across the crease and go for a scoop over his head.
What might have resulted in this refreshing streak of openers finishing chases is a change of mindset. Few years ago, an opener was considered successful if he gave his team a quickfire 30 or 40. Fifties and those rare centuries were always welcome but it was expected that they would give the team a wobble-free start at least. Now, openers are intent on finishing what they start. As a result, unbeaten individual scores like 108 by Quinton de Kock, 90 by Gautam Gambhir and David Warner and 84 by Sharma are seen right at the top of the scoreboards.
A crucial factor in all such opening acts is how they perceive time. Warner explained it best during a recent interaction. “In this game you got a lot more time than you think. As an opening batsman I have 120 balls. I know if I can face half of those deliveries as an opening batsman, I am doing the job for the team. And if you got through the first 10 overs, you still got 60 balls which is a lot of time. It’s about adjusting. It’s not about hitting fours and sixes straightaway,” said Warner.
Intent to finish a match comes into the picture only when a batsman --- someone like Virat Kohli --- is sure of his strokes. “He knows that he probably can’t be Chris Gayle or AB de Villiers but he is a conventional cricket player. He gives himself time. And he hits cover and midwicket all the time,” said Warner. Once the way to get runs is sorted, staying till the end becomes easier. “If you don’t lose a wicket in the first six overs, which is ideal, one will always keep going. If someone gets out one has to tell himself, ‘I will be the one who will bat deep’. The next batsman will be busy but you can try control the innings from where you are. You need to have a set batsman come the last five overs. That’s where big runs can be scored,” said Warner. In any run-chase, that can be the most assuring tactic adopted by any batsman. But when it’s successfully pulled off by an opener, it looks a job better accomplished.