The last edition of the Indian Premier League was mostly about the exploits of two players — Hardik Pandya and Andre Russell. They finished off matches with their powerhitting game, accounted for crucial wickets with their bowling and even went on to make exceptional fielding efforts to lit up each and every match they played.
While both of them were equally impressive in all departments, it was their death overs batting in particular that took center stage. It was the best IPL season the duo had as far as their batting is considered. While Hardik scored 402 runs for Mumbai Indians at a stellar average and strike-rate of 44.66 and 191.42 respectively, Russell amassed a total of 510 runs for Kolkata Knight Riders at a sensational average of 56.66 and an equally good strike-rate of 204.81.
The most fascinating part about their batting exploits in the last season is that a large chunk of their runs (73.88% for Hardik and 68.82% for Russell) came in the death overs. Nobody scored more runs than Russell and Hardik between overs 16 and 20 of IPL 2019.
The duo kept on doing unimaginable things as they kept finishing off matches for their respective sides from nowhere. It looked like they were two unstoppable forces who will stop at nothing. But was it really the case?
Execution of plans becomes really difficult in front of such brute powerhitting, but did the bowling sides use the right resources against the two batsmen?
Let’s dig into some numbers to find the answers.
Lack of Variety to Russell and Pandya
The chart above reveals that 126 out of the 141 deliveries Russell faced in the death overs last season were bowled by Right-arm pacers. So that constitutes around 90% of the total deliveries the Jamaican faced.
Clearly, teams were too one-dimensional while bowling to Russell. They need to try more variety of bowlers in order to negate Russell’s threat at the death. Yes, it’s a known fact that Russell has his weaknesses against fast yorkers and well-directed short-pitch deliveries.
The image of bowlers like Mustafizur Rahman and Kagiso Rabada cleaning Russell all ends up with toe-crushing yorkers is still fresh in our minds. But yorkers and bouncers are quite difficult to execute for pacers in such high pressure situations and any mistake in line and length could result in the ball going out of the park.
The same goes for Hardik Pandya as well. Even though he faced a little more variety in terms of bowling, 70% of the deliveries he faced in the death in IPL 2019 were from right-arm pacers once again. Yes, Hardik has his issues against high pace just like Russell.
He got dismissed approximately every 17 deliveries to right-arm pace in the death last season as compared to Russell who got dismissed every 25.2 deliveries. But, at the same time, he scored runs at a high strike-rate against them too.
Unless bowlers are capable of bowling at express fast pace — the likes of Jofra Archer, Chris Morris and Jasprit Bumrah — it is quite hard to trouble Hardik and Russell. They can keep hitting medium pacers out of the park all day long.
The chart above also reveals that leg-spinners were quite successful against Hardik in the death last season, even though the sample size is quite small.
Bowling spinners in the death is considered to be mostly a left-field choice as most of them are not used to handle the pressure. However, most teams don’t have the luxury of having pacers like Archer and Bumrah in their ranks. So it is better to die trying rather than failing without even trying.
Leg-spin might be an effective way to counter Russell and Hardik’s threat at the death
Analysis of Russell and Hardik’s performances against different bowling types in the IPL since 2016 reveals that leg-spin might actually be an effective way of countering the threat of the two batsmen in the death overs.
While a strike-rate of 140.40 is still pretty good, that is Russell’s lowest strike-rate against any bowling type he has faced in this tournament since 2016. In fact, the entire idea about trying different types of spinners against Russell in the death might not be bad at all.
Also Read: Hardik Pandya needs to be in the Indian squad for Test series against Australia: Ian Chappell
Spinners accounted for Russell’s wickets in all of his last three innings of the recently concluded CPL — two of those were claimed by wrist-spinners (Rashid Khan and Zahir Khan) while an off-spinner (Sunil Narine) accounted for the other one.
The same goes for Hardik as well. In fact, he has an even lower strike-rate of 120.18 against leg-spinners which is once again the second lowest among all bowling types he has faced. But, unlike Russell, Hardik has a much higher rate of dismissal (14.7 balls/dismissal) against right-arm pacers as well. So, the right mixture of fast right-arm pace and leg-spin might be the perfect recipe to contain the Mumbai Indians all-rounder at the death.
Moreover, the two batsmen have quite a high dot-ball percentage against leg-spinners as far as data since IPL 2016 is considered. While 48.5% of the deliveries Russell has faced from leg-spinners during this period have been dots, Hardik isn’t far behind with a dot-ball percentage of 43.9%.
Yes, the two batsmen haven’t faced these spinners much at the death over the years and it’s not certain how that match up would turn out to be in such situations. But it’s an option worth trying when the tried and tested methods haven’t yielded results good enough. The conditions in UAE are going to be quite helpful for spinners as well and that should give the teams enough confidence to employ this strategy against the two death overs juggernauts.