Are Sunil Narine, AB de Villiers & Malinga IPL’s best ever performers?
Six of the 12 MVPs were chosen because of all-round performance. Only three players—Shane Watson, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell—have had the honour twice.Updated: Sep 24, 2020, 08:29 IST
Is the IPL’s MVP a true reflection of a player’s value during the tournament? A value that goes beyond the number of runs scored, or wickets taken? In T20, strike rates and economies assume more significance than in any other format—just scoring is not enough, but scoring at a rate that helps your team win is critical. Similarly, taking a bagful of wickets can begin to lose its heft if you’ve also leaked tons of runs. The IPL’s MVPs are rewarded for their individual contributions, irrespective of the team’s overall performance—of the 12 MVPs so far, only three have been from the winning franchise.
Six of the 12 MVPs were chosen because of all-round performance. Only three players—Shane Watson, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell—have had the honour twice. The award also has a batting bias, as you would expect in T20—the only time someone was declared a MVP purely for bowling was in 2012, when Narine bagged 24 wickets (Morne Morkel topped the list with 25) with a barely-believable economy of 5.47.
Is there a way to look at a player’s value beyond the obvious data? Cricviz, the sport’s leading data crunchers, have a performance evaluation tool called Match Impact. It’s based on predictive models of List A and T20 cricket which forecast an expected total after every ball, taking into account the current score, the host country and the venue. The model prescribes a positive or negative value after every ball—measured in runs—to the batsman, the bowler and where relevant, the fielder, according to whether their actions have increased or decreased the expected total. Wickets are prescribed a run value and the earlier in the innings they are taken, the more valuable they are.
Using these values, we have three clear leaders from IPL history—AB de Villiers among batsmen, Lasith Malinga among bowlers, and Sunil Narine from the all-rounder’s pool.
Let’s look a little deeper on what makes them so good.
Malinga, who is set to miss at least the first half of this IPL due to personal reasons, is most scathing in the death overs, hurling those foot-jamming yorkers with staggering accuracy and consistency. Even now, no bowler has a better conversion rate in yorkers than Malinga. But it’s really his low-arm, slinging action that perplexes even the most gifted batsman. When bowlers with a traditional action miss a yorker, it ends up as a full toss that usually gets worked off the pads.
But Malinga’s action makes it difficult to pick even unintended full tosses. Cram in all his variations and there is little surprise that Malinga has saved his team 623 runs more than the average bowler bowling in the same situation.
Similarly, AB de Villiers has scored 556 runs more than the average batsman batting in the same situations as he has. To be able to maintain that edge over other batsmen despite not having the luxury of opening the batting points to his ability to turn any match on its head. Consider Monday’s match where Royal Challengers Bangalore beat Sunrisers Hyderabad by 10 runs. De Villiers went to bat in the 12th over and faced 13 deliveries before hitting his first boundary. Two balls later, Virat Kohli fell, leaving de Villiers the job of steering his team to a good total. By the time he was run out in the 20th over, de Villiers had taken RCB to 162 from 90 with a 30-ball 51.
But the match-winning detail of that innings was that after scoring 14 off 13 balls, he garnered 37 from the next 17 at a strike rate of 217.64. When you also take into account the fact that de Villiers scores 14.36 runs per over in the last three overs of a T20 innings, something no other batsman has ever achieved, you know exactly why he is special.
Narine’s impact is a two-part story. Till the last edition, Narine had bowled 426.1 overs in the IPL while conceding 6.67 per over, making him the only other bowler apart from Ashwin (econ: 6.78) to bowl more than 400 overs and average less than seven per over. And a bulk of this came while bowling during the Powerplay and the death overs, unlike most spinners in the IPL. In his first three years of IPL, Narine returned economies of 5.47 (24 wickets in 15 matches), 5.46 (22 wickets in 16 matches) and 6.35 (21 wickets in 16 matches).
But his performance took a dip in the next few years when he was repeatedly hauled up for suspect action. Narine’s most expensive outing came last season when he conceded 7.82 per over. By then, however, he was already opening the batting for three seasons.
His overall batting average in the IPL is 17.52 with a strike rate of 168.34. While the average is not great, his strike rates are phenomenal, which means he almost guarantees his team that critical flying start. Since 2017, Narine has had strike rates of 172.3, 189.89 and 166.27, one of the best among all openers. He was most attacking in the 2018 season, scoring 357.
That and a series haul of 17 wickets helped him bag the MVP award for that season. So, considering only the number of runs he scores does not give a complete picture of Narine—among the top 30 Powerplay batsmen since 2017, he averages 23.96, much behind David Warner (104.33) or Jos Buttler (87.28). It’s his aggression that sets him apart—scoring 11.09 runs per over on average in the last three years, comfortably the highest ever.