Ben Stokes played a handy innings yesterday.
With his team, Rising Pune Supergiant, chasing Gujarat Lions’ 161, Stokes made 103 not out, batting at five.
Cricinfo said that Stokes “owned the MCA Stadium” – although their use of the past tense implies that he’s since sold it or perhaps had it confiscated.
What people want?
This knock would, on the face of it, seem to be what the IPL is all about: big name players making big scores in dramatic fashion. Yet to us, it’s almost the least interesting thing about the competition.
Throw enough decent players together and ask them to play enough T20 cricket, and you’re going to get a few head-turning innings. Without remotely wishing to diminish what was clearly a magnificent example from Stokes, this sort of thing seems almost inevitable. It’s how the competition’s set up.
We find the shadier corners far more interesting; the areas where well-paid coaches are ferreting around trying to eke out an advantage. Because while Stokes won a match for his team, his only other batting contribution of note has been a fifty in a losing cause.
So what else has been happening?
So far this IPL, the storyline that’s had us most intrigued has been that of Sunil Narine the opening batsman.
This is interesting for a kick-off because statistically speaking Narine isn’t any kind of batsman whatsoever. He has never made a fifty in any of the major formats – not even in domestic one-day cricket.
He is, in essence, a pinch hitter.
Narine’s team, the Kolkata Knight Riders, started the tournament with the relentlessly straight-hitting Chris Lynn, a man who’d scythed through the Big Bash League scoring at 177 runs per 100 balls and averaging 154.
Lynn started the IPL in similar style, making 93 not out off 41 balls in his first match and 32 off 24 in his second. Then he got injured.
Cometh the hour, cometh the spin bowler
Lynn was the fifth-highest run-scorer at the Big Bash. His replacement was the fifth-highest wicket-taker in the same competition.
What’s most interesting is that the move has sort of worked. It certainly hasn’t been a failure. Narine still doesn’t have a fifty to his name, but he made 42 off 17 in one match and 34 off 17 in another.
These are handy starts. They give his team-mates time and the risk is low as the loss of Narine is, on the face of it, not the greatest blow to a team’s chances.
Narine doesn’t hang about and this is handy because – odd though it sounds – the first six overs of a T20 innings do typically feature a surprising amount of about-hanging. Even those openers who are big-hitting by reputation will often play themselves in and this is something of a wasted opportunity considering the number of boundary fielders during the first Powerplay.
In a T20 game, a couple of extra boundaries in the first Powerplay could easily prove the difference between victory and defeat. At the same time, a whirlwind innings from one of the world’s greatest players could be the fat man bombing your lilo, trampolining you out of the water.
Who knows which kind of match the next one is going to be. Teams kind of have to bear both in mind.