Will Indian pitches help fast bowlers in this IPL?
- As the IPL returns home, it remains to be seen whether the fast men can light up a tournament on Indian wickets. It could well happen, but for that a good wicket remains key.
Among other unprecedented events, the previous edition of the IPL in late 2020 will be remembered for the show put on by the fast bowlers. With pace and carry on offer at two out of the three venues in the UAE, namely the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the very fast men hogged the limelight.
The IPL record for the fastest ball was smashed (by a 156.2kph ball by Delhi Capitals’s Anrich Nortje), leaving many wondering if the fastest ever ball across cricket would be witnessed as well. It wasn’t, but everyone was left marvelling at the skills of these speedsters. They turned IPL 13 into a spectacle of fast bowling, with stumps flying off searing yorkers and batsmen constantly being tested with rising balls. All that became a common sight.
Five of the top seven wicket-takers were fast bowlers. DC’s Kagiso Rabada topped the list, followed by Mumbai Indians’s lethal pair of Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult. Such pairings were all around – Rabada and Nortje in Delhi, Lockie Ferguson and Pat Cummins bowling in tandem for Kolkata Knight Riders. Some teams had lone wolves, but Rajasthan Royals’s Jofra Archer and Kings XI Punjab’s Mohammed Shami enjoyed themselves just as much.
But now, as the IPL returns home, it remains to be seen whether the fast men can light up a tournament on Indian wickets. It could well happen, but for that a good wicket remains key.
In the UAE, all three grounds were neutral venues. The groundsmen’s focus, hence, was to roll out good surfaces without favouring any side. The scenario remains the same in the upcoming IPL. No team is based at home despite the league matches being staged in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata (the venue for the play-offs is Ahmedabad). So, as one senior curator put it, they won’t have to deal with any “khichar-pichar" of the captains and coaches.
“For the success of the IPL, good grounds and pitches are very important,” says Daljit Singh, former head of BCCI’s pitch and grounds committee, who had overseen the IPL grounds from the inaugural season all the way until his retirement in 2019.
What regularly tends to happen with home teams is this: if the franchise wins a match on a particular wicket, they end up sticking to the same wicket for the next game, despite the compact schedule with back-to-back matches. But now, Daljit says that “curators will have a free hand to rotate the pitches and play on fresh wickets.”
“If they take the services of the BCCI pitch curators, then we have taught them to keep grass on it,” says Daljit. “But it shouldn’t be green. That doesn’t suit T20s. The grass layer should be 4mm to 5mm, and it should be brown and dry. Then the ball comes rapidly on to the bat, which helps in stroke-making. Bottom-up rolling will give good bounce for a wicket, where you play cuts and pulls.”
According to Daljit, Wankhede Stadium and Eden Gardens are the grounds where the fast bowlers can make a big impact in the upcoming season. “I think in Mumbai we will see good pitches. Kolkata too. Chennai will not have bouncy pitches from what we have seen but you can surely roll out batting pitches, where 180-plus scores can be made.”
The Wankhede turf is known to provide good bounce. “Ball niklega mast (it will nip off the wicket nicely),” says a senior groundsman at Wankhede. “Every year due to wear and tear and a lot of rolling, the pitches used to be tired by the time IPL started. Though there have been local matches and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy games played here, pitches will be relatively fresh. We will keep grass this time, which after rolling will get yellow. The idea is to prepare a good wicket and have a good game.”
Another reason why the fast bowlers were able to go flat out in the UAE was because there was no fear of top edges flying into the stands, as the boundaries were big enough in two of the three venues – Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On Indian grounds, clearing the ropes is far easier. Delhi and Chennai will, in all probability, roll out batting wickets. And the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore has short boundaries, where bowlers have always struggled to defend totals.
However, the spinners and swing bowlers will not complain about the conditions in India. Reduced to playing a supporting role in the UAE, the slower ones will look to take back the centre stage. Take Chennai Super Kings’ Imran Tahir, for example. The leg-spinner was the highest wicket-taker in 2019 with 26 wickets. But in the last edition he got to play just three games and took only one wicket. The South African will now return as the leader of CSK’s attack once again.
Tahir’s case is quite like Deepak Chahar’s, who relies on swinging the new ball. In the UAE where it was more about raw pace, he had a limited role to play, finishing with 12 wickets in 14 games. In the 2019 edition, he had 22 wickets, the third highest in the tournament. Also look out for the slower pacers who have complete mastery over their variations -- slower balls, good yorkers and plenty of pace changes – such as Dwayne Bravo, Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul.
But Mike Hesson, head of cricket at Royal Challengers Bangalore, believes that adaptability will be the real key to success. In his pre-season presser, Hesson said: “We might want to change the style of play at a particular venue. There might be certain grounds where we might need bowlers to bowl more cutters, some venues where we might need them to bowl bouncers. At venues where the ball will turn, we need left-handers to bat in the middle. There are several different factors, and I am pleased with the balance of the squad. We have got a squad of 22, and each of them could step up and be counted in certain conditions."