The Indian Premier League may not necessarily be at the forefront of the T20 revolution, but it is without doubt the biggest stage where the best of the latest trends is flaunted. With IPL 2023 winding to a close, here’s a look at how the season transpired, the myths it busted, the new strategic shifts it showcased, and the stars it catapulted.
Impact Player and giant totals
When the IPL introduced the Impact Player rule, there was a lot of intrigue. The option to summon an extra batter or a bowler, depending on the game situation, provided teams with greater ammunition. This was reflected both in the number of giant totals that were put up and in the number of occasions on which chasing teams didn’t win. This edition, franchises made 200 or more a whopping 37 times. The previous record was 18, set last year. Also, sides batting first won 40 of the 73 full matches, going against the conventional chasing culture in T20s.
Scoring rates and the English template
With the option of including an extra batter, thanks to the Impact Player rule, teams wielded the willow with more freedom. And with that, scoring rates went north. Overall, runs were collected at nearly nine an over (8.99). The previous best was 8.64 in the 2018 edition. Even Virat Kohli, not necessarily known for breakneck batting, made back-to-back hundreds off just 60-odd balls towards the end of the season. Though new to the IPL, this trend of all-out attacking was first patented by England, which won the 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Middling strike-rates and totals in the range of 170 to 200 are considered a thing of the past. If ever the Impact Player tweak is introduced in international cricket, it will be interesting to see how much further England will take its approach.
The blossoming of spin combos
The prized skill in cricket’s shortest format is not repeatability but constant disruption. Spin bowlers especially swear by this mantra. This edition, at least five teams have employed spin duos or trios to sow seeds of confusion among batting line-ups. Yuzvendra Chahal, R. Ashwin, and Adam Zampa at the Rajasthan Royals (RR); Varun Chakravarthy, Sunil Narine, and Suyash Sharma at the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR); Ravi Bishnoi, Krunal Pandya, and Amit Mishra at the Lucknow Super Giants (LSG); Maheesh Theekshana and Ravindra Jadeja at the Chennai Super Kings (CSK); Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad at the Gujarat Titans (GT).
Glut of Indian openers
One of the IPL’s primary roles is to help produce an assembly line of cricketers for the Indian national team. This campaign has unearthed three bona fide contenders for the openers’ slot: Shubman Gill (890 runs at SR 157.80 that fetched the Orange Cap), Yashasvi Jaiswal (625 at 163.61), and Ruturaj Gaikwad (590 at 147.50). But the trouble here is that India already has Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul, all of whom open for their respective franchises and have done it in internationals too. Until the ODI World Cup finishes in November, T20 cricket will take a backseat. But in the lead-up to the 2024 T20 World Cup, the buzzword will be transition, and it will require some big calls to be made.
Bring on the Indian finishers
Ever since Rahul Tewatia hit five sixes in an over to help RR chase 224 against Kings XI Punjab in 2020, he has set the benchmark for how an Indian domestic batter will be judged. In 2023, a handful of them passed the test. There was Rinku Singh, who hit his own version of five sixes to win a match (vs. Titans) and accumulated 474 runs for KKR; Jitesh Sharma, who excelled for Punjab Kings (PBKS) by scoring 309 runs; and Dhruv Jurel, whose 152 runs for RR came at a strike-rate of 172.72.
No country for old men? Think again
T20 was long considered a young man’s game. But 2023 provided enough stories to cause a rethink. M.S. Dhoni, months shy of turning 42 and nursing a dodgy knee, led CSK to its fifth title; Piyush Chawla, whose career had seemingly ended, scalped 22 wickets for MI; Faf du Plessis, nearly 39, scored 730 runs and was seen throwing himself on the field like a boy in his early teens; Wriddhiman Saha, at 38, scored 371 runs and opened the batting in all 17 games for GT; Amit Mishra, the wily old leggie, had his moments under the sun too, aided as he was by the Impact Player rule because of which he didn’t have to field much.
Mohammed Shami, turning heads
When India was zeroing in on a replacement for the injured Jasprit Bumrah ahead of the T20 World Cup in 2022, Shami was said to be in competition with Deepak Chahar and Mohammed Siraj before punching his ticket to Australia. The next time India plays a T20, Shami may well be an automatic choice. With 28 wickets at an economy rate of 8.03, the Purple Cap holder played a key role in 2022 champion GT finishing a worthy runner-up. Shami has in fact been remarkably consistent over the last four campaigns: 20 wickets in 2020, 19 in 2021, and 20 in 2022. Shami hasn’t played a T20I since the World Cup semifinal thrashing at the hands of England in November 2022. But if he remains fit, Shami should be back in the reckoning and be considered a genuine all-format bowler.
Tilak Varma, one for the future
With Shikhar Dhawan being eased out of the national set-up and Rishabh Pant out for the foreseeable future, the Indian batting line-up is in need of left-handers. There are, of course, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, but they are more bowlers than batters. There is Ishan Kishan, but he is more of a floater. Enter Tilak Varma, MI’s find of the season last time (397 runs), who proved that he was no flash in the pan (343 runs in 2023). The 21-year-old scores his runs in a pleasing, eye-catching fashion. But this year, he has improved his strike-rate remarkably, to 164.11 from 131.02 last year. As India looks ahead to important ODI and T20I World Cups, the Hyderabad batter will be very much in the selectors’ thoughts.
(With inputs from Ayan Acharya)