At its conception, a higher proportion of people thought of T20 as a slog-fest. As should have been the first thought about a format in a sport that in less than three-quarter of a century witnessed a timeless innings reduced to mere twenty overs with the same number of wickets.
With passing time, however, T20 cricket increasingly became a reduced version of the 50-over game, where teams consolidate upfront before an all-out attack at the end. The definition of death overs vary between teams and match situations, but at around the 16th over mark, all teams start taking more than just calculated risks.
It is often the best bowlers in a line-up that are responsible to dig deep into their bag of tricks to conjure deliveries that conceive as fewer runs as possible.
Out of a total of 331 bowlers with minimum one over in this phase, 37 are the ones with a minimum of fifty overs. Based on the bowler’s ability to take wickets (strike rate) and contain the flow of runs (economy rate), let us look at all bowlers with a minimum fifty overs in overs 16-20.
The leading wicket-taker in IPL, Lasith Malinga conspicuously leads the pack of top death-bowlers. There are others like Sandeep Sharma whose record of 10.4 balls per wicket is akin to Malinga but these wickets come at a much higher cost (economy of 10 as compared to Malinga’s 7.9)
Bowler like Ravichandran Ashwin with an economy of 7.8 is an absolute delight at the death overs but do not contribute with wickets in this phase (strike-rate of 15.7 balls per wicket). Interestingly for Jasprit Bumrah, neither his economy (8.9) nor strike-rate (15.4 balls per wicket) stands out in this phase. To be fair to him, his economy at the death is on an improving curve since 2016 (it was 7.8 in 2019) and his strike-rate since 2018 is 11.7.
To further analyse how far ahead each bowler is on the two parameters from an average value, let us look at where they stand at a deviation from mean economy and strike-rate. This helps us differentiate music from noise, providing a clear picture to identify the bowlers whose economy and strike-rate are – 1) better than the mean values; 2) closer to the mean value; 3) further away from the mean value.
As a further context, the more negative the value of deviation for a particular parameter, the better is the bowler’s performance than the average value. E.g. Jaydev Unadkat’s deviation from mean strike-rate of a negative 1.5 implies that his wicket-taking ability is better by that many bowls per wicket from the average value but his economy of a positive 0.9 suggests that he leaks that many more runs per over. Based on this distribution a lot more bowlers start falling in the first quadrant that signifies a better economy and a better strike-rate than an average Joe.
Both mathematically and by cricketing sense, a bowler’s ability to control runs dominates his ability to pick wickets in the death overs. Based on this, these are the bowlers that occupy the top spots-
Malinga’s picks himself at the top of the ladder. With accurate yorkers and a pocket-full of slower bowl variations, the Sri Lankan delivered even at the trough of his fitness levels for Mumbai Indians in the final of the 2019 season.
No bowler with a minimum of 25 wickets at the death has a better strike-rate than Ashish Nehra’s 9.8. In the last four season of his IPL career – that ended in 2017 – he took wickets a single-digit strike-rate at the death.
Eleven wickets at an economy of 7.8 and a strike-rate of 9.5 at the death. These were the figures of Piyush Chawla in 2012 and 2014 seasons combined when his side (KKR) lifted the IPL trophy. Often under-rated, Chawla is among the top quartile of bowlers on both parameters.
If not for injuries, Dale Steyn had all the attributes of being one of the IPL greatest. Pace, swing and pin-point yorkers make him an ideal death bowler. The third best economy rate among bowlers n the above list, Steyn’s highest point in IPL was the 2013 season when he scalped 15 wickets at the death at 9.1 balls per wicket and a strike-rate of 10.5
Narrowly missing out in the rankings for powerplay and middle-overs, Sunil Narine finally finds a place among the top-5 IPL bowlers in death overs. However, his position hangs with a thin thread as a slump since 2018 where he has only 5 wickets at an economy of 9.4 and a strike-rate of 28 at the death, ruins his stats and if the same continues, he might miss out after the next season.
Albie Morkel, Mitchell Johnson, Chris Morris, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and RP Singh complete the rest of the top 10. Though Morkel played for three franchises, his best years were with CSK when in three of the six seasons since 2008 to 2013, his trike-rate at the death was in single digits. Ironically, his worst season was in 2009 when the IPL moved to his home country (strike-rate of 42 and an economy of 10.1), probably emphasizing why de did not enjoy a successful T20 international career.
With 50.2 overs in death overs, Mitchell Johnson just about makes the cut for qualification and a subsequent place among the best. The high point for him was the 2014 season with KXIP when they ended up being the runner’s up and he contributed with 11 wickets at the death at 9.5 balls per wicket.
It came as a surprise when RCB shed a fortune to nab Chris Morris in the latest auction. But, his numbers justify his inclusion in the side that struggle to find good death bowlers in most of the 12 seasons so far.
Similar to the case with Narine, Bhuvi’s diminishing returns at the death since 2018 (economy of 9.8 and a strike-rate of 15.7), pushed him lower than a position he is capable off. The purple cap winner in the second season of the IPL, RP finishes off the list. Enjoying the first three seasons a lot more than the subsequent ones, RP took wickets at 10.9 balls per wicket though at a high economy of 9.6.
Contrary to the powerplay and the middle-overs, all the bowlers in the death-overs enjoyed a healthy international career as well, highlighting the level of ownership and skill associated with the responsibility.