After 60 games, accompanied by as much noise, close finishes, VIVO perfect catches and Andre Russell sixes to last you a lifetime, IPL 2019 ended with a climax that befitted its status as the world’s leading franchise T20 competition.
Prior to the final over of a tight final, Lasith Malinga was having a day for forget. The seamer had bowled three expensive overs at a cost of 42 and had also dropped CSK’s key man, Shane Watson, on 31. However, after Jasprit Bumrah had bowled a brilliant penultimate over to keep Mumbai Indians in the game, captain Rohit Sharma decided to entrust the Sri Lankan with the final over.
Faced with just eight runs to defend and with Watson well set on 76, Malinga had the challenge of bettering his average T20 economy when bowling the 20th over, which based on matches since 2010 stood at 9.24 from 28 innings.
After conceding seven runs from his first five deliveries, which were all full of a length and included the crucial run-out of Watson, the final ball equation was simple. Malinga needed to restrict Shardul Thakur to a single to force a Super Over or claim a wicket or dot ball to win.
Before the final, Malinga had bowled the 120th ball of a T20 innings on 27 occasions, taking four wickets and conceding 45 runs. 82% of these deliveries had been either yorkers, low full tosses or half volleys – i.e targeting the block hole, so Thakur would have been forgiven for expecting that would have been the likely delivery.
In addition, on the eleven previous occasions when Malinga hit his yorker length he had proved difficult to hit – only conceding six runs – which reduces to one run from four balls when only taking into account yorkers directed on off or middle stump. Based on these numbers, you would have expected this would have been his go-to tactic.
Instead, Malinga went for a tactic he had only attempted once previously in all his T20 matches this decade. He bowled a slower ball. Thakur, perhaps surprised by the lack of pace, was trapped in front lbw and Malinga had won the game for Mumbai – and a record fourth IPL title.
On the surface this tactic may have come as something out of the blue, however when we look at Thakur’s career T20 batting record, Malinga’s decision makes more sense. Thakur had only previously faced a slower ball on three occasions (once against Malinga himself), but on each occasion he had not only failed to score, but had also been dismissed twice.
Malinga’s choice of delivery is a perfect example of an elite bowler having clarity of thought under pressure – weighing up the options available before deciding whether to attempt to perfectly execute a yorker, a notoriously hard skill, or try and exploit a lower order player’s weakness, which may have been uncovered before the match with the support of data analysis.