Krunal Pandya was a vital cog in the Mumbai Indians’ wheel. Until he wasn’t.
For four seasons, between 2016 and 2019, Krunal was as important to the Mumbai Indians’ set-up as any other player. When it came to impacting matches with both bat and ball, he really was second to none.
Only two players in the aforementioned period in the IPL took 40+ wickets and scored 750+ runs — Krunal was one of them. The other? His brother Hardik.
From bowling in the powerplay to taking crucial wickets to containing runs to finishing matches with the bat to operating as a floater to pinch-hitting, Krunal did it all. And he nailed everything while he was at it.
He was, in no uncertain terms, the ultimate utility man.
But things took a turn for the worse post the pandemic, and a horror two-year period saw Krunal decline as a bowler, deteriorate as a batter and exit Mumbai Indians as half the player.
It was some downfall, indeed.
From averaging 28 with the ball and 26 with the bat, he went to averaging 59 with the ball and 16 with the bat. His long-standing reputation of being a ‘container’ came crashing down, too, as his economy with the ball shot up to 7.98 in the 2021 season.
So understandably, there was bemusement when Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), at the mega auction, shelled out 8.25 crore for the all-rounder. Sure, he still was a three-dimensional player. And yes, a player of his experience would invariably be a valuable addition to any franchise, let alone a new one.
‘But 8.25 for Krunal? After his last two seasons? Really?’ That is what everyone wondered.
Believe this: LSG are not regretting shelling out the cash one bit, even if 8.25 crore might be an overpay.
After an appalling outing with the ball in IPL 2021, and a few unconvincing showings for the national side, many wondered ahead of the 2022 season if Krunal still had it in him to be effective as a bowler at the IPL level. If he could still consistently impact matches.
By the time the season came to a close, however, all such talks dissipated.
In IPL 2022, Krunal enjoyed his best season with the ball in four years as apart from hitting double-digits in wickets (10) for the first time since 2019, he ended the season with an ER of 6.97, his most economical campaign since 2017.
Across the season, two things stood out: how he consistently choked the batters in the middle-overs (7-15) and just how tight he was against the right-handers.
Of the 38 overs Krunal bowled last season, 28 came in the 7-15 phase. And there, he was exceptional defensively — he registered an economy of 5.9.
‘Exceptional’ is, in fact, an understatement: in the entire season, among bowlers who bowled at least as many overs as him in the 7-15 phase, only Sunil Narine (ER 5.6) proved to be more economical.
During his peak years with Mumbai (2016-2019), Krunal was synonymous with controlling the middle-overs — he bowled 111 overs at an ER of 7.00 — but this trait of his disappeared across the 2020 and 2021 editions, where he leaked runs at 8.2 an over in the 7-15 phase.
That he regained this control last season was in itself a sign that he was getting back to his best.
He was elite on more than one front, though.
During his best years, Krunal proved to be an immovable object against the right-handers. And last season, he bowled the best he ever has against the righties, averaging 16.6 while conceding at just 6.2.
For context, 13 spinners bowled 20 or more overs against right-hand batters in IPL 2022.
Among them, only Rashid Khan (6.1) and Sunil Narine (4.8) were more economical than Krunal (6.2). Remarkably, though, neither bowler boasted an average as good as the left-armer’s 16.6.
So what changed from the 2021 season, where he leaked runs at 7.9 against the righties?
Last season, Krunal, against right-handers, attacked the stumps a staggering 59% of the time, the most he’d ever done in a single season. But in 2021 he attacked the stumps 54% of the time, so being more stump-to-stump wasn’t really the reason for his success.
What changed was this: he started mixing up his lengths and incorporated more full balls, as opposed to bowling like a metronome, as he did in the year before.
In IPL 2021, full-length deliveries (2m - 4m) yielded Krunal fair success, with the ER reading 6.4, but only 14 of the 159 balls he bowled to the right-handers (8.8%) were full.
This figure rose to 14.6% in 2022, where full deliveries saw him register an ER of just 5.7.
Mixing-up the lengths — veering away from being a metronome —had a positive knock-on effect as the length deliveries, and even the short ones, became harder to put away.
Krunal was not only hitting the stumps more often than he ever had, but he was no longer predictable — and that became a problem for the righties. He had to reinvent himself to survive on true Mumbai surfaces and last season, the left-arm spinner did just that.
His spell at the Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow on Friday, though, was a throwback to the good ol’ days.
Lucknow is soon becoming notorious for unabashedly producing slow wickets with little to no bounce and on Friday, we witnessed another one of those surfaces.
Here’s the thing about these kinda surfaces: no matter how good a batter you are, you stand no chance when a bowler that’s tailor-made to exploit the conditions gets it right.
The wicket was sloooowwwwww; it was there to be exploited. To SRH’s dismay, Krunal, who is custom-tailored to wreak havoc on a pitch like the one the Lucknow curator dished out on Friday, got it right.
With 3 wickets, 12 dots (15 including the dismissals) and just 18 runs, Krunal’s left-arm spin ate the Sunrisers' batters alive.
Even with a head start, batting line-ups, more often than not, will succumb to Krunal’esque bowlers on such surfaces but on the night, SRH ended up providing an assist to the 32-year-old: they left out Abhishek Sharma, the sole left-hander in their top-order, and an able batter against spin.
Dropping Abhishek meant that each of Sunrisers’ top five batters were right-handers, and on a wicket where every odd ball refused to rise above the shin, that was all Krunal needed to brutalize the batting side.
In all, Krunal bowled 20 of his 24 deliveries to right-handers. And yes, it went just the way it was supposed to go.
Krunal’s spell on Friday, however, was a true throwback as unlike last season, he did not mix up his lengths.
Accuracy — relentlessly hitting the same spot — was the need of the hour on a dead wicket and Krunal, quickly realizing the same, delivered just that, moving away from what yielded success for him last season.
Remarkably, such was Krunal’s control on the night that he bowled a grand total of zero ‘full’ deliveries.
Each of his 24 balls were either on a good length (4m to 6m) or slightly short, and the batters had no answers when he landed it in the right spot: all three wickets came off good length deliveries and the 16 balls he bowled in that spot yielded an economy of 3.8.
Not just the lengths, the lines, too, were perfect. Krunal hit the stumps with 75% of the balls he bowled and he reaped rich rewards for the same on a low wicket. Two of his three wickets on the night were bowled/LBW, the highlight of the lot being this absolute peach to SRH skipper Aiden Markram, which angled in, turned sharply and smashed into the batter’s off-stump.
“People say I don't turn the ball, so that answers it I guess,” he would later go on to joke, speaking of the dismissal.
Sometimes, when it’s your day, it’s your day. Friday was Krunal’s day.
His flawless spell of bowling restricted SRH to 121, but he wasn’t done for the night. After back-to-back dull showings with the bat, he set the record straight on Friday as he smashed 34 off 23 balls, walking in at No.4, to kill the chase.
That thing about it being your day? Yeah. Krunal scored at a SR of 147.83 when every other batter in the game combined to score 194 off 193 balls, which translates to a SR of 100.51.
2022, on the batting front, was still an average season for Krunal — 183 runs @ 20.33 — but he revealed at the presentation that he’s been working on trying to rediscover the rhythm he had during his first two seasons with Mumbai, where he averaged 36.92 and struck at 158.4.
“I'm trying to recollect how I played in the first 4-5 years in IPL where I was batting at four for MI. Trying to find that rhythm and consistency. Having clarity helps,” he said.
Only time will tell if Krunal rediscovers his old touch with the bat, but even if he doesn’t, LSG will be more than delighted should he carry on bowling the way he’s been.
A career that once threatened to go astray has been resurrected.
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