‘Virender Sehwag saved IPL by picking me’ – never shy and always cheeky on and off the field, Chris Gayle quipped this when he was overlooked in the IPL auction in 2018 twice and was finally bought by Kings XI Punjab, then coached by equally flamboyant Virender Sehwag. ‘Every year he is here, and he's becoming one of your guys!’ said AB de Villiers mother Millie when she was pleasantly surprised to see his son getting huge local support at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in a Test match against India in 2015. The likes of Gayle and de Villiers are popular in India because of the brand of cricket they play during the IPL. They are adored across the franchise fan base because they are entertainers and match winners.
In a team game like cricket, singling out a player as the match-winner is a tough job. But on most occasions ‘the match winners’ by virtue of their individual brilliance lift the team’s performance along with their own. The concept of ‘player of the match’ is broadly designed on this idea to acknowledge such performances.
Twenty 20 is loosely believed to be a format where the batting strength of a team plays a more critical role than bowling strength to determine the outcome of a game. The belief is apocryphal but there have been instances when brawn has held the upper hand over the brain. When the likes of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya win matches single-handedly from a point of no return, there is hardly any exhibition of grace. It is purely a display of power hitting. A T20 match-winner is someone who is fast and furious in the pop culture parlance – someone who scores big, scores consistently and scores fast.
To decide some of the biggest match-winners of IPL, let’s examine the following factors and understand which players feature most in the lists. Ultimately they will be considered as the greatest match-winners of IPL. The factors that are important to evaluate the match-winners among others are:
• Batting performances in wins
• Comparison of batting average in the win and non-win matches
• Number of 40+ scores and Team win% in such occurrences
• Batting performance while setting or chasing a target of 180+
• Comparison of batting performance of players with peers
Batting performances in wins
While it is important for a player to contribute to his team score, it goes without saying that contribution to wins is the most overriding factor that determines a match-winner. It is not just the volume of runs a player scores but the quality of the runs that separates the wheat from the chaff.
With a minimum of 1000 runs qualification in wins in IPL, de Villiers has an average closer to 80 and strike rate above 160. His over the top average is a result of number of unbeaten innings which are almost half the total innings he has played. Pollard who bats down the order like de Villiers has not emulated him by staying unbeaten to finish the games as much as he is expected to. Sehwag, Gayle and David Warner are predominantly openers and they play the role of setting up the launch-pad of a big target or a big chase. Gayle has an excellent average of 63 and a strike rate of 164 in wins.
Performance in the win and non-win matches
The following chart discusses the differences in the player’s batting average in the matches they have won and not-won. The bigger the (positive) difference the larger the dependency of the team on that player.
AB de Villiers, Warner, Michael Hussey and Gayle’s teams have been over-dependent on them for their team success compared to the teams of JP Duminy, Shane Watson and Gautam Gambhir.
Number of 40+ scores and Team win%
Following up with how the teams are dependent on some players the following chart indicates the win% of the team when a player scores above 40. Michael Hussey’s team has won a whopping 88% of the matches when he has gone past an individual score of 40. Gayle and Gambhir have scored a 40+ score more than 40 times in IPL and their teams have won more than 65% of matches
Performances in setting and chasing a target of 180+
Since there is an emerging trend of teams choosing to chase in T20 cricket and doing it successfully more often than not, there is an ever-increasing pressure on batsmen to keep their foot on the accelerator. The notion of a safe target is pushing its boundary each match. That puts enormous pressure on the batsmen in each phase of the game to keep the momentum going. There is no room for slowing down. The two charts below try to evaluate the batsmen that have done well in setting up or chasing a big target (180+).
Andre Russell has been playing in IPL since 2012. But the last two seasons have been phenomenal for him. 826 of his total 1400 IPL runs (59%) have come in the last two seasons. The low cut-off of 400 runs, brings the power-hitter to dominate both the chart when the team needs a big score or chasing a big one. Russell has an average over 70 and strike rate over 220 while setting up a 180+ target and almost the same strike rate along with an average of 40 while chasing a target of 180+.
Though the usual suspects like de Villiers, Pollard, Gayle, MS Dhoni and Warner feature high in the list of setting a target of 180+, Gayle and Pollard miss out when it comes to chasing a target of 180+. Gayle has an average of 29.8 and strike rate of 139 while chasing a 180+ target.
Comparison of batting performance of players with peers
A match-winner is a stand out performer. He is always ahead of the curve. In a relative scale of strengths and performances, the match-winner is always superior to his peers. The following chart clearly depicts what kind of value these players bring in for their team. The younger ones like Andre Russell and Rishabh Pant have created a niche for themselves in their team. The old workhorses like de Villiers, Warner, Gayle and Pollard still keep doing it.
After weighing the players on various criteria, the final assessment involves picking the top match-winners in the last 12 seasons of the IPL. From the above analysis, the players that lead the charts in most of the criteria are Warner, Gayle, de Villiers, Dhoni and Pollard.
Amazingly, these five players have a very different role in their franchises. Gayle and Warner are openers authorized to provide a brisk start, de Villiers and Dhoni predominantly act as a glue for the top and lower order. Pollard has spent his career playing the role of a bludgeoner in death overs in most of the matches. While these are the top-match winners, each dominant in their own way, the prospect of having them as the top-5 of any batting line-up is scary.
The upcoming ones
As the stature of IPL is growing, many young players would like to use this platform to showcase their talent. The competition is going to be tough and the ones which are already making waves to get into the big league are Russell, KL Rahul, Jos Buttler and Pant. In a few years from now, it is highly likely that a few of these will fit the bill to knock some of the current top-5 off the podium.