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Indian Premier League: Number crunching only adds to intrigue

In the third and final part of his series, Osman Samiuddin does a statistical analysis of the annual Twenty20 league entering its sixth season.

Lasith Malinga, far left, the Mumbai Indians fast bowler, has the best strike rate among those who have played at least 50 IPL matches. Vijayanand Gupta / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Lasith Malinga, far left, the Mumbai Indians fast bowler, has the best strike rate among those who have played at least 50 IPL matches. Vijayanand Gupta / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Cricket's obsession with numbers and its explanation through statistics is well-established.

Twenty20 has already begun to take traditional statistics in different directions, but the Indian Premier League, which opens its sixth season today, demands another kind of numerical assessment altogether.

Here is a story of the IPL as told through some unique numbers.

Fluctuating formats

One of the reasons people outside India have not become as attached to the IPL is because nobody is sure quite what the format will be. Leagues function and thrive on stability; their structure and format should remain the same for years. Not so the IPL.

For the first three seasons, it seemed settled enough: eight teams, playing on a home-and-away basis, going through to semi-finals and a final. In 2011, however, there were 10 teams, and instead of semi-finals and a final, two qualifiers and an eliminator were played before the final. In 2012 and again this season, there are nine teams, using the same play-off format as in '11.

The season lasted 45 days and 58 matches in the first season. In 2009, it was reduced to 37 days, but with 60 matches. Since then it has become longer and bigger: in 2011 it lasted 50 days and had 73 matches; in 2012 it was 53 days and 75 matches. This year it will be 53 days again, but with 76 matches.

The great equaliser

Twenty20 is widely thought to be the format which gives the greatest chance of bringing about equality among a group of teams. Fewer overs means fewer opportunities for mistakes, but a magnified effect of each mistake. One over, one ball, changes the balance, so lesser sides have a greater chance of overcoming the personnel disadvantages they would face in longer formats.

One of the highlights of last season was the number of close finishes. In 19 of 74 games, sides batting second won in the last over of their chase; in six games, teams batting first won by fewer than 10 runs. Those numbers were up considerably from 2010 and 2011 (11 last-over chases and three by fewer than 10 runs, and 11 last-over chases and four by fewer than 10 runs, respectively).

The highest percentage of close finishes by this definition occurred, however, in 2009, when 35.71 per cent of the season's 56 games - 20 - were won or lost in the last over or by less than 10 runs. To dampen the inevitable hype, though, close finishes do not automatically equate to a higher quality of cricket.

Going once, going twice, gone

The one true innovation that cannot be denied the IPL is the player auction. The idea of an auction, with players bought and sold, remains distasteful to many, but the drama and glitz of it, especially in the early years, cannot be denied.

Gautam Gambhir remains the most expensive purchase ever, sold to Kolkata Knight Riders from the Delhi Daredevils in 2011 for US$2.4 million (Dh8.8m). That year was one for big spenders: Yusuf Pathan, Robin Uthappa and Rohit Sharma went for $2.1m, $2.1m and $2m, respectively. The oft-derided Ravinder Jadeja is the only other player to reach that threshold, having been sold to Chennai Super Kings in 2012 for $2m.

The most expensive player transaction this year was the Mumbai Indians' purchase of Glenn Maxwell for $1m, while 2010 represents the only year without a single million-dollar player transaction.

Runs, runs, my kingdom for more runs

Batsmen are the kings of the format, so runs are the dominant currency. Over five seasons, runs have been scored at an average of 7.89 per over. The highest run-rate for an entire season was in the first IPL, when teams scored at an unusually high 8.30 runs per over.

The lowest seasonal run-rate was 2009 in South Africa, when teams scored at 7.48 runs per over. That season also saw the lowest number of 50s and 100s (with 68 and two, respectively). In three seasons, including 2012, there have been six hundreds in the league, but the 96 fifties last season was comfortably the highest number of fifties ever in an IPL season.

Boundaries please, more boundaries

The most tiresome, untested assumption about modern cricket is that fans and spectators have been entertained only if they have seen plenty of boundaries and sixes. If we take it to be true then the argument can be made that the IPL has not failed to entertain over the years.

Over five seasons, 3,083 sixes have been struck, which makes for an average of 9.54 per game. The last season was the most productive in terms of sixes hit, with a total of 731. The lowest total was in 2009, when only 506 sixes were hit, which was not surprising, given that the IPL was staged on the more bowler-friendly surfaces of South Africa that year.

Incidentally, 8,551 fours have been hit before this season, an average 26.47 per match, or a little more than one an over.

Pace or spin?

One of the prominent themes through every season of the IPL is how the faster bowlers do in comparison to spinners. Over five seasons, fast bowlers have taken 2,239 wickets, while spinners have taken 1,079. The disparity is normal: there are simply more fast or fast-medium bowlers around than spinners.

But other than the inaugural season, spinners have always been more economical. In 2008, pacemen gave away 8.09 runs per over, while spinners conceded 8.18. Taken as a whole across the remaining four seasons, spinners have, on average, conceded 7.16 runs per over, while pacemen have conceded 7.9.

The last season, in fact, was the first time since 2008 that spinners were taking wickets at more than 30 runs per wicket. The 31.35 spinners averaged last season was, collectively, the highest they have averaged in the IPL.

Striking while it is hot

Twenty20 cricket should ideally be taking cricket statistics into new territory. Here, traditional averages barely matter in bowling or batting; 30s and three-fers are more relevant individual targets than 50s and five-fers The key numbers are the strike rates; how quickly do you score and how quickly do you take wickets?

It should not be surprising to find Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle occupy the two top slots for highest IPL career strike rates among batsmen who have faced at least 125 balls. Sehwag scores at 167.31 runs per 100 balls and Gayle at 161.79.

Gayle hits, on average, a remarkable three sixes every innings he plays and there are only three Indians in the top 12 strike rates (Harbhajan Singh is one, Yusuf Pathan the other).

Albie Morkel has the highest-ever recorded strike rate for an innings of at least 25 runs: he went at 400 runs per 100 balls in making a seven-ball 28 last season. The fastest hundred remains the 37-ball effort that Pathan hit in the third IPL.

Sreenath Aravind, Royal Challengers Bangalore's left-arm medium-pacer, has played only two seasons, but he has the best strike rate among those who have bowled at least 250 balls, picking up a wicket every 14 deliveries. But strike rates are most revealing over a longer period, so it is not surprising to see Lasith Malinga at the top of those bowlers who have played at least 50 games, or taken over 50 wickets.

Owner of arguably the best yorker in the world, Malinga has taken a league-best 83 wickets at a strike rate of 15.6. Amit Mishra, the Indian leg-spinner, is the IPL's joint second-highest wicket-taker (74 wickets) and possesses the second-best strike rate, taking a wicket every 17.4 balls. Munaf Patel has taken his 70 wickets at exactly the same rate.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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