IPL | When players go beyond cliches and illuminate the format

Occasionally a line emerges that causes the kind of surprise a maiden over might.

April 17, 2024 12:30 am | Updated 12:35 pm IST

File picture of Mumbai Indians bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who said he had to ensure he was not a ‘one-trick pony’

File picture of Mumbai Indians bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who said he had to ensure he was not a ‘one-trick pony’ | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

The IPL has made one thing clear over the years. There will be huge sixes, big scores, startling bowling figures, misreading of pitches, surprising results. But one thing won’t see as often is the memorable quote or the telling comment. Putting the ball in the right areas is the bowler’s favourite cliche while batters prefer to play it safe with: “I am taking it one game at a time — the idea is to go out there and enjoy yourself.”

But occasionally a line emerges that causes the kind of surprise a maiden over might. The essential honesty and self-awareness of a performer comes through, shining a light on himself while simultaneously making a comment on the format itself.

When the No. 1 batter in the world, Suryakumar Yadav says, “It has been two or three years, (I) have never batted against Jasprit Bumrah in the nets,” and explains why, “Either he breaks my bat or my foot,” honesty, self-deprecation and admiration for a teammate are rolled into one admission.

Dispenser of possibilities

With ball in hand, Bumrah is a dispenser of possibilities. After his ridiculously short run-up, will he deliver a ball over 145kmph, a yorker, one screaming past or staying its course, a slower delivery, any of which he can do without an easily discernible change in action? The viewer is as keen as the batter, but enjoys the comfort of distance.

Asked how he did it, Bumrah told an interviewer at the end of a match where he had taken five wickets that he worked hard, kept going back to watch himself bowl and ensured he was not a one-trick pony. He summed it up with, “There is no ego in this format.”

That’s an interesting concept. But in fact, there are two kinds of ego in competitive sport; one positive, and perhaps necessary, the other destructive.

“I know everything there is to know about my craft, no one can get the better of me,” is thinking that belongs to the negative kind of ego. “Batters might have worked out how to play me, I have to keep one step ahead of them with practice and experimentation,” is the positive kind. Bumrah, India’s pride, is talking about the negative kind that has no place in any format.

Importance of data

If you played (and watched) cricket in the first eight decades of the last century, chances are you look down upon computers and data analysis as unnecessary. “The only computer you need is between your ears,” the great Bishan Bedi said often. Recently, the equally great Erapalli Prasanna told a fan, “Data cannot help you bowl better. It adds nothing to your skill.”

This of course is correct. A leg spinner might know that a batter is weak against the googly based on the percentage of his dismissals to that delivery. But if he cannot bowl a googly himself, that data cannot help him.

Sport throws up so much data on a running basis that sometimes it can get too much even for the player. So when Sunil Narine, KKR’s opening batter says, “I have one role, and the less I know the better it is for me,” he is telling us how he clears his mind of irrelevancies. His strike rate after five matches is 183, and he is in the wonderful position of knowing that his batting is a bonus in a team where he is the leading spinner. Why clutter his mind, therefore? His role is clear: see ball, hit ball.

His 39-ball 85 against Delhi Capitals was the foundation of victory. He will fail on occasion, but even if he succeeds only forty percent of the time, he would have done his job at the top.

Few batters in the IPL have such clarity. A Rohit Sharma or a Virat Kohli might like to think their job too is ‘see ball, hit ball’, but they know that they have greater responsibilities. The state of the match matters, the job of blunting the opposition’s main bowler is theirs, their dismissal can demoraliSe those waiting to bat.

So there you have it. Three quotes, from a top batter, a great bowler and a leading all-rounder. There’s hope. We are not yet at the half-way stage.

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