Left is right in this season of IPL
- Unadkat, Sakariya, Singh and Ahmed are among the crop of left-arm pacers who have hit form.
There are certain advantages of having a left-arm pace bowler in your attack. It adds variety and offers a great option in match-ups against a particular type of batsmen. Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra were great examples of the impact quality left-armers could make. While there has been a vacuum since their retirement, this season their tribe is doing a reasonable job in the Indian Premier League. (IPL 2021 Full Coverage)
The talking point of the league has been the trio from Rajasthan Royals (RR). Chetan Sakariya has proven to be a great discovery for the Royals. He was given the first over of the IPL season. The bowler from Saurashtra continues to impress. His senior teammate and captain at the state team Jaydev Unadkat has also discovered form. In tandem with Mustafizur Rahman, they are form the core of the RR attack.
In a great exhibition of the craft, RR got a chokehold on Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) with a three-pronged left-arm pace attack on Saturday. Unadkat bowled the first and third overs for just nine runs; Sakariya shared the new ball and started with a five-run over. Rahman bowled the fourth and finished the powerplay with a superb sixth over for two runs.
Another young left-arm pacer who is making a good impact is Punjab Kings’ Arshdeep Singh. He was their most impressive bowler in the first game and Punjab Kings are relying heavily on him to bowl the crucial overs.
They are all medium-pacers who rely on accuracy and variations.
The two young bowlers, Sakariya and Singh, have played all five games for their teams so far. Sakariya is at the top of the heap among the left-arm pacers (overall No. 6) with seven wickets at an economy rate of 8.30 with 3/31 his best figures in his debut game, against Punjab Kings.
The 23-year-old followed it up with another three-wicket haul against Chennai Super Kings. He has been tidy, not going for more than 36 runs in any of the matches. In his last game against KKR, his figures were one for 31.
At No. 8 among wicket-takers, Singh’s tally is six wickets with 3/35 against RR his best display. With 13 runs needed in the last over and Sanju Samson batting on 112, captain KL Rahul turned to the youngster. The equation was five runs off one ball and the 22-year-old bowler got the wicket of Samson on the last ball to win the game. He has continued his good form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament where he had helped Punjab reach the semi-final.
“I had gone to Arshdeep for crucial overs last year too. He doesn’t mind bowling the pressure overs, he seems to enjoy it. He loves being in the contest. Love throwing him the ball. He’s pretty clear with what he wants to do,” said Rahul in an interview to the official broadcaster.
Another India bowler from the tribe is Khaleel Ahmed of Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). He is different though. A hit-the-deck kind of bowler, Ahmed generates sharp pace.
After T Natarajan’s IPL ended due to a knee injury, SRH have turned to Khaleel. In Sunday’s game against Delhi Capitals, he bowled their first and 20th overs. Even though he went for runs in those two overs, overall he did a decent job. After three games, he has an economy rate of 7.25. His best performance was in the previous match against Punjab Kings where he took 3/21.
With an economy rate of 6.66, Unadkat is the most economical among left-armers. After being benched at the start, he proved his form with a 3/15 against Delhi Capitals where he prized out the wickets of the top three -- Prithvi Shaw, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane.
With 16 wickets in 16 matches, Natarajan was the only Indian left-arm pacer among the top 20 wicket-takers list in the last edition in United Arab Emirates.
Singh was the next best --- played midway for Kings XI Punjab (the team’s name till the 2020 season) and had 9 wickets in 8 games --- at 29th. Ahmed, 34th, and Unadkat, 53rd spot, played seven games, for eight and four wickets respectively. This season has been better. The whole lot is doing well. Most of the teams have an option of left-arm pace this time.
“It’s a good crop of new left-arm fast bowlers, it has come in after a long time. In the IPL, in these years we have never seen so many left-arm fast bowlers, which is a very good sign,” said former India left-arm pace bowler Karsan Ghavri.
“At any level, first-class, T20 or one-day games or a Test match, the left-hand and right-arm fast bowlers’ combination makes a lot of difference, because of the change of angles. For example, when I was playing, Kapil Dev and I were new-ball partners and it was a brilliant combination. Then later, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Javagal Srinath bowled together,” said Ghavri, who, as Saurashtra coach, has worked with Sakariya and Unadkat in 2019-20, the season they won their maiden Ranji Trophy title.
The former Saurashtra coach called Sakariya a smart bowler. “Sakariya is a very bright prospect, a steady fast bowler with good control over swing. He is not the one with express speed, (but) he will keep giving you breakthroughs, keep containing runs with good line and length and variations; he is good at inswingers and outswingers, mixes up the yorkers and bouncers. He has everything. Speedwise (sic), he is just there, but the line and length gets him the wickets in the IPL, and the way he bowls to the field,” said Ghavri.
“The kind of fielding he is doing, the catches he takes are unbelievable. He is not a bad batsman either. In IPL he hardly gets chance to bat.”
For Ghavri, Singh and Sakariya are similar type of bowlers. “Arshdeep is also a very steady bowler. Again he doesn’t have great speed but can make the batsman play every delivery. Line and length, his accuracy is very good that is why he is fetching Punjab Kings wickets.
“They have a bright future and must cash on the opportunity.”
Natarajan’s success last season with SRH acted as a kind of catalyst for the left-armers, said Ghavri making the IPL teams understand their value. In a fairytale story, the pace bowler from a remote village in Tamil Nadu’s Salem district went on to make his international debut in all three formats – Test, ODI and T20. “We have a good crop of left-arm fast bowlers, at least five to six good bowlers.”
In the ongoing IPL, he could play only two games before being hampered by a knee injury.
Unadkat has come back very well after a lean season. “He is bowling really well, sometimes it’s about luck also, one season you may not have it. He is a good quality bowler,” said Ghavri.
Among foreigners, Ghavri is impressed with Rajasthan Royals’ Mustafizur because “he has a lot of variety.”
Sam Curran is an integral part of Chennai’s bowling plans. Mumbai Indians’ New Zealand import Trent Boult’s strike rate last season was outstanding on the helpful tracks at Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and is again among the wickets.
The left-arm pacer has the natural advantage of taking the ball away from the right-hand batters. But, if you have the ability to bring the ball in to the left-handers that can be effective in T20 cricket where the onus is on building pressure by stopping runs. Against KKR, RR left-arm pacers choked opener Nitish Rana by getting the ball to move into him.
Rana likes to use the crease to make room for his shots. He was not allowed that and he struggled even on a good Wankhede pitch. Rana could get only 22 off 25 balls before Sakariya had him playing a false shot to be caught behind, and KKR never recovered from the slow start. Ghavri said: “It is all strategy, depends on the areas where the batsman is strong. If RR captain Sanju Samson had this observation, it was a very good move that Rana was not able to move his feet and play his shots.”