T20 cricket has been a trendsetter that accelerated innovations in cricket at an exponential rate. Contrary to a popular belief that the middle-period is for the spinners, the difference between their contribution and that of the pacers on workload in these overs is marginal – 53% to 47% in favour of the spinners. In terms of wickets as well, spinners have only a marginal lead with 54% of the wickets in this phase.
The job of the bowlers in the middle-over is to either cease the momentum when the opposition batsmen have gone gung-ho in the powerplay or to ensure a quiet period of eight overs with some breakthroughs to devoid a team an opportunity to cash at the backend.
Out of a total of 385 bowlers with minimum one over in this phase, 49 are the ones with a minimum of seventy-five 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 seventy five overs in overs 7-15.
Two bowlers that stand out at a preliminary glance are the Afghan sensation Rashid Khan and India’s very own – Jasprit Bumrah, who missed out on the powerplay rankings because of a low strike-rate but is among the best here.
There are a few bowlers like Andre Russell who stand out on strike-rate (21.5 balls per wicket) but have been expensive (Eco - 8.6) in a phase when the batsmen tend to be on the cautious side.
The story for some bowlers like Sunil Narine and Ravichandran Ashwin is the opposite as they have been extremely economical – economy of 6.4 and 6.7 respectively, but have not contributed with wickets when compared to other bowlers. Three bad seasons for Narine in 2014, 2015 and 2017 - when his strike-rate was above 30 in this phase – do hurt his cause.
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, more negative the value of deviation for a particular parameter, the better is the bowler’s performance than the average value. E.g. Russell’s deviation from mean strike-rate of a negative 4.3 implies that his wicket-taking ability is better by that many bowls per wicket from the average value but his economy of a positive 1.1 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.
Different from the powerplay when taking wickets slightly edges ahead of the ability to control the runs and the opposite case in death-overs, these parameters contribute equally in the middle-overs for the winning team.
Based on this, these are the bowlers that occupy the top spots-
Rashid is probably the hottest commodity in T20 cricket currently. It was not surprising when among all the options in world cricket, he was the top pick in the draft for ECB’s The Hundred as well. No bowler with a minimum of 20 overs in the middle-overs, has a better economy rate than the 21-year old (6.0). Inducing 35.9% false shot on his deliveries – the most among bowlers with a minimum 20 overs – Rashid is nothing short of unplayable at the moment.
The wise old man in the game of youngsters. Never short of enthusiasm while celebrating his wicket, Imran Tahir is the most potent wicket-taker in the history of the league. Among bowlers with a minimum of 50 wickets, on an average, Tahir takes one ball less than any other pacer to pick a wicket and 2.4 less than any other spinner. His record of 1.44 wickets per innings stands unmatched as his strike-rate of 16.9 balls per wicket in overs 7 to 15 breaks the back of any opposition team.
Bumrah is a captain’s luxury. Used mostly upfront or at the death, it is surprising that he stands among the best bowlers in the middle-phase. Deployed more in the middle-overs since 2016, as his role evolved into that of an enforcer, we often see him bowling one-over spells. In three out the four seasons since, he ended up with an economy rate of less than 6.
Lakshmipathy Balaji is the only Indian bowler with four 4+ wicket hauls in the IPL. A two-time title winner, Balaji enjoyed two exceptional seasons, the first in 2009 in South Africa when playing for CSK he averaged 12 balls per wicket in the middle-overs at an economy of 7. The second, was the successful one with KKR in 2012 when he bettered his economy to 5.6 in this phase while taking wickets at 16.8 balls on an average.
To finish off the top five is RCB’s Yuzvendra Chahal. With a run-rate of 8.2 in middle-overs (highest among all venues with 10+ matches) the Chinnaswamy stadium is nothing short of a bowler’s nightmare. Yet, Chahal has been able to hold his fort with an economy of 7.4 here and a strike-rate of an envious 17.8. With the record of being the only bowler to pick one or more wickets in 15 consecutive matches, Chahal is perhaps the only bankable bowler for the ‘usually short of options’ RCB captain.
Shreyas Gopal, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Rahul Sharma and Karn Sharma complete the rest of the top 10. Since moving to the Rajasthan Royals in 2018, Gopal has been the lynchpin of the Royals’ attack. Fourth highest wicket-taker in the middle-overs since then, Gopal has quickly moved into the all-time best list in this phase.
Before falling off the charts due to a dicey action, Ojha was one of the sought after spinner in IPL till 2013. He was the joint leading wicket-taker in the middle-overs till then (61 wickets) along with Mishra but at better balls per wicket average of 19.6 vs. 20.4.
Part of the IPL since the inaugural season, Mishra is the leading wicket-taker in the middle-overs in IPL. If not for two really bad seasons in 2014 (economy of 8.2 and a strike-rate of 46.5) and 2017 (economy of 9 and a strike-rate of 27.8), Mishra could have been a little higher up the ladder.
Two uncelebrated bowlers in Rahul and Karn Sharma occupy the last two spots. Both earned an India cap due to their IPL success. Before losing favour, Rahul was consistent in every season by not letting his middle-over economy rate go above 7.3 in any of the four seasons he played before 2014. During his prime years from 2013 to 2017, Karn’s strike-rate of 20.1 in middle-overs is unmatched by any bowler with a minimum of 50 overs in this period. If his exploits were consistent since his move to CSK in 2018, they would not have bothered with buying Piyush Chawla.