Though batting and batsmen hog a disproportionate amount of limelight in cricket, bowling in any form of cricket requires more courage than batting. In T20s it is at times a thankless pursuit of witnessing the batsmen throw their bat around on friendly wickets and small boundaries.
In a sport tilted heavily towards one domain, it is often the other that leaves a decisive impact. Most teams across IPL have a few decent batsmen, but the ones that have the bowling depth to use in conjunction with the batting prowess enjoy a better track record.
Even the teams are not blindsided by the importance of good bowlers. The bidding war to nip Pat Cummins in the recent IPL auction is a change in trend from years gone by when the same was the case for Yuvraj Singh. Ignored even in the Kerry Packer gala, the spinners used the T20 to advance and assert their impact.
One of the most complicated task while choosing the top performers from a pool of good bowlers is to sieve through variations and roles. Especially in T20 cricket, when it is obvious that a player bowling most of his overs in the middle-phase (overs 7-15) will have a better economy rate than a bowler predominantly at the death (overs 16-20). The story is the opposite for bowling strike-rate.
There are a total of 160 bowlers, each with a minimum of five overs across each phase. Out of these, there are 49 with a minimum of 180 overs in IPL. Let us first look at how these bowlers stack up along the basic parameters of economy and strike-rate.
Now, this only gives us an overall picture. To strike-out a balance, ensuring to keep the relative importance of each phase intact while removing the bias between parameters across the phases, we assess these bowlers across the adjusted economy and adjusted strike-rate. The calculation takes into account the following observations-
• In the powerplay (overs 1-6), the ability to pick wickets is relatively more important than keeping the runs down
• In the middle phase, both aspects are equally important
• In the death overs, containing runs edges the ability to pick wickets
These factors and the economy & strike-rate of each bowler across the three phases contribute to the calculation of the adjusted economy and adjusted strike-rate. The average adjusted economy rate of these 160 bowlers is 8.6 whereas the average adjusted strike-rate is 25.3. This ensures that a bowler needs to be consistent, irrespective of a phase, to be among the very best.
To further analyse how far ahead each bowler is on the two parameters from an average adjusted value, let us look at where they stand at a deviation in the adjusted economy and adjusted 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 average values; 2) closer to the average value; 3) further away from the average value.
More negative the value of deviation for economy rate and strike rate, the better is the bowler’s performance than the others. Imran Tahir, with a deviation from average adjusted strike-rate as -10.1 is way ahead in the league of the ability to pick wickets. Sunil Narine with the deviation of -1.8 from the adjusted economy is the one that keeps the batsmen the quietest.
Observing the case with Jasprit Bumrah, his deviation from the average adjusted economy of -1 puts him among the more economical bowlers but the value of a positive 2.3 on strike-rate implies he is not among the wickets that often. 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.
Based on this, these are the bowlers that occupy the top spots-
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. Getting better with age, Tahir outdid himself in the 2019 season, picking 26 wickets at an economy of 6.7 and 14.8 balls per wicket, winning a purple cap for himself and topping the charts of the Top 10 bowlers in the history of IPL so far.
Rashid Khan’s economy rate of 6.6 is unmatched by any bowler with a minimum of 50 overs in IPL history. An absolute gun in knockout matches, his economy rate improves to 4.4 in these encounters. If not for batsmen over the seasons opting to play him out and not letting him pick wickets in bulk, the top spot was all but a guarantee for the young Afghan.
What is life without an element of surprise? Munaf was the unsung hero of India’s World Cup triumph in 2011 World Cup and is also the most overlooked bowler among the celebrated ones in IPL history. No other bowler in the tournament’s history has come out on the winning side thrice while defending 13 or less in the last over. Munaf’s economy of 6.6 in the first 15 overs is the third-best among pacers while his strike-rate of 20.6 is around 10 balls per wicket better than the two ahead of him in the economy. No wonder Shane Warne picked him in his IPL all-time XI.
With 562.2 overs in the IPL, Harbhajan Singh has 42 over more than any other bowler in the league. Around 92% of these are at an average economy of 7 in overs 1-15 and 6.4 to left-handers. Though only 8% overs at the death, these have yielded him a wicket every 10.3 balls. With second-highest wickets (17) in knock-out matches at 17.6 balls per wicket to go with an economy of 7.3, Harbhajan has contributed to four title-winning campaigns.
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium is a bowler’s graveyard. No other ground with more than 15 IPL games has an average economy as high as 8.6. Yet, Yuzvendra Chahal managed to hold the fort by taking 51 wickets (the most) here at a healthy strike-rate of 16.6 and an envious economy of 7.7. Since moving to RCB in 2014. Chahal has 12 or more wickets to his name in every season, the only spinner with this feat since then. 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.
Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra, Lasith Malinga, Sandeep Sharma and Narine complete the rest of the top 10. Chawla has 59 wickets in IPL with via bowled and LBW – second most after Malinga - demonstrating the quality of Chawla as a spinner. His strike-rate of 10.7 in death overs (16-20) is the best among all spinners with minimum 60 overs in this phase. A wicket-taking option in every phase, he has 10+ wickets in every season except 2017, when he played only 6 matches.
Prematurely losing favour in the international circuit due to lack of agility on field, not only is Mishra the leading wicket-taker among Indian bowlers, but also the fastest to 50 IPL wickets – 37 innings. In his prime years till the 2013 season, he kept an economy rate of 6.5 in powerplay and middle-overs while striking at 10.8 balls per wicket at the death, making him one of the best bowlers in IPL.
There is no debate over the credentials of Lasith Malinga in IPL. Not only is he the leading wicket-taker in the gala but also the only bowler to have the consistency of picking 10+ wickets in every season he has taken a part in since 2009. A death-over specialist for Mumbai Indians he has 108 wickets in overs 16 to 20 (highest) at 10.3 balls per wicket – second only to Ashish Nehra among bowlers with 40 or more wickets in this phase. Known for picking wickets in a cluster, he also holds the record of joint-most four-wickets hauls in IPL – 7 (shared with Sunil Narine)
With a beautiful wrist position tailor-made for in-swingers, Sandeep Sharma is a jewel in Sunrisers crown of bowling resources. With an overall strike-rate of 18.4 to go with an economy of a modest 7.8, Sandeep is a consistent wicket-taker in every phase of a T20 innings. A portfolio that includes being the bowler dismissing Virat Kohli (6) and Chris Gayle (4) the most number of times, Sandeep is the second quickest Indian pacer to 50 IPL wickets (40 innings). In a tournament overflowing with world-class bowling talent, a widely underrated Sandeep remains the only pacer to take 12+ wickets in every season of IPL since 2014.
Last but not the least, Narine finishes off the Top-10. Impaired by a suspected action time again, his strike-rate dropped to 26.1 since 2015 as opposed to 16.8 in the three seasons before that. If not for this untoward trajectory, it is little doubt that Narine’s place in the Top 3 was a certainty.