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Risk vs. Reward: The IPL 2020 Is Here

Same drama, different setting. With this year’s IPL being hosted in a whole new country, with a whole new set of conditions, we look at how teams’ strategies might change to suit conditions in the UAE. We also analyse the role of openers and finishers within a team’s batting lineup, and how sides can tread the line of risk versus reward to achieve maximum success.

By: Nathan Fox

The Indian Premier League (IPL), the pinnacle of franchise cricket, is set to get underway this weekend. Owing to Covid-19 related limitations, this year’s tournament will be played in the United Arab Emirates. Players and staff will be subject to restrictions within strict bio-secure environments. Consequently, overseas players playing in the Australia limited-overs tour of England will not be able to join their franchise squads in a playing capacity until 26th September – a week after the competition has begun. This may cause problems for teams who rely on foreign talent from both England and Australia such as the Rajasthan Royals who have five overseas stars on their roster who are likely to be playing in that white-ball series.

Momentum is key in franchise cricket and this seemingly small hindrance could be an early setback for teams if they are unable to start the competition strongly.

IPL 2019 By The Numbers

In this preview, we will look at a couple of key roles within the batting order (openers and finishers) and then look at how the balance between strike rate and average plays a part in the idea of risk versus reward and how a couple of teams have incorporated this into their batting line-ups. Finally, we will consider how playing in the UAE may affect the franchises.


This table shows a number of the top-performing opening batsmen from last year’s edition of the IPL.

Making the most of the Powerplay overs is a vital component of the batting innings and can set teams up for the rest of the match. In this respect, Sunrisers Hyderabad were extremely successful with both their openers (David Warner and Jonny Bairstow) recording high strike rates in the first six overs. This opening pairing was also outstanding in terms of balls faced and batting average, showing a capability to build a long innings rather than mere short cameos at the top of the order. This ensured their side kept wickets in hand allowing for a late surge towards the end of the innings for some of the lower-order batsmen.

IPL 2019 Batting Stats for Openers

There are two distinct methods of run-scoring on show in this table. Jos Buttler and Chris Gayle favoured the boundary hitting approach facing 3.9 and 4.0 balls per boundary throughout their innings and averaged 2.7 and 2.8 runs per scoring shot respectively. Despite this aggressive batting style, their strike rates from the powerplay overs were similar to that of Virat Kohli (139.0) despite Kohli averaging a boundary every 5.6 deliveries and 2 runs per scoring shot across his innings.

Kohli managed to reach a similar Powerplay strike rate by limiting the number of dot balls he faced. He had a dot ball percentage of just 28.4 (the lowest of the ten selected players) whilst Buttler and Gayle recorded dot ball percentages of 43.9 and 44.2 respectively.


This table shows several of the top-performing batsmen during the death overs (last five overs) in last year’s edition of the IPL.

The final five overs of an innings are always exciting to watch because of the sudden change in tempo of run scoring. Teams throw caution to the wind in a bid to get as many runs as possible without having to focus too heavily on keeping wickets in hand. Consequently, high strike rates are key.

In the death overs, one player that stands out is Kolkata Knight Riders’ all-rounder Andre Russell. His strike rate at the death last year was 260.7 and he contributed to 305 of his team’s death runs across the tournament. Also impressing with their strike rates in this scenario were Rishabh Pant (242.9) and AB de Villiers (255.8).

IPL 2019 Batting Stats - Finishers

There is a real emphasis on boundary hitting in these last few overs as that is where players can score runs most quickly. Andre Russell was again outstanding on this front, facing on average three deliveries per boundary. Hardik Pandya also enjoyed a season of boundary striking, hitting a boundary every 3.7 deliveries faced. One player who struggled relative to the other players in this selection was Mandeep Singh. Of the ten players listed, he had the lowest strike rate at the death and averaged a boundary every 8.6 balls, again the worst output of the players in the table. However, one aspect Mandeep was excellent at was limiting dot ball deliveries. Just 16.7% of the deliveries he faced went for no run, the lowest value of any player to have faced more than 100 balls last season.


There are two important factors in T20 batting: scoring lots of runs and scoring them quickly. There is a fine balance to be struck between trying to score too quickly and focusing too much on staying in, thus sacrificing run rate. Batsmen must therefore compromise in terms of scoring at a rate which is not too slow but allows them a good chance of staying in at the crease to score runs. Generally speaking, batsmen can be split into two categories: big hitters and those who choose to build their innings.

Below is a graph of batsmen who have faced at least 50 deliveries across the last two IPL seasons. The line of best-fit acts as a border between these two batter types where big hitters are above the line with a high strike rate and an often-diminished average, whilst players who typically build their innings are below the line with typically higher averages than the big hitters but at a slower rate.

Batting Avg. Vs Strike Rate IPL

Ideally, teams will try to have a mix of big hitters and players who are more inclined to build an innings amongst their line-up.

Royal Challengers Bangalore are led by Virat Kohli who leads from the front with the bat for his side. He sits on the border between the two styles and often bats for long periods of time. This approach is complemented by Bangalore’s big hitters (Moeen Ali and AB de Villiers) both of whom had strike rates of above 160.

Rajasthan Royals are also a team who combine batsmen who try to anchor the innings with players who take bowlers apart in the latter stages. Both Steve Smith and Ajinkya Rahane lie below the line of best fit on the graph with slow scoring rates. These two players looked to help rotate the strike and keep some control to the innings whilst big hitters like Jos Buttler (featured in the graph) took a more aggressive approach to run-scoring. With Rahane having moved to Delhi capitals for this season, more responsibility will fall onto Smith’s shoulders to keep the Royals’ innings steady.


Each team has their own style of playing. Some may favour a more aggressive approach with high risk but also high reward. Other sides may choose to play more conservatively in a bid to post a reasonable total for their bowlers to defend. Teams may also look to strike a balance between these two ways of playing, trying to get high reward in a controlled and reproducible manner.

Kolkata Knight Riders seem to favour an explosive batting innings with two of their key men (Andre Russell and Sunil Narine) scoring 3 runs per scoring shot with a strike rate of over 150; Russell’s was a huge 183 (the highest of any batsman to have faced more than 50 deliveries in the same competitions). While both of these players struck the ball well, Narine averaged just over half of Russell’s value of 35. This is why Narine is often used as a pinch-hitter at the top of the order as he throws caution to the wind from ball one in an attempt to set the innings off on a positive tone. In comparison to this approach by the Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad appear to have opted for a more balanced tactic. Whilst they still have a middle-overs hard-hitter in Mohammad Nabi (Strike Rate 147), they combine that with David Warner who has averaged an impressive 51 across his last four major T20 tournaments. This high average does come with a slightly lower strike rate of 137. This would suggest that the Sunrisers will be looking for Warner to bat the majority of their innings in a bid to set a platform for the middle order players like Nabi to increase the scoring in the final few overs.

In comparison, Sunrisers Hyderabad appear to have opted for a more balanced tactic. Whilst they still have a middle-overs hard-hitter in Mohammad Nabi (strike rate 156), they combine that with David Warner who has averaged an impressive 51 across his last four major T20 tournaments. This high average does come with a slightly lower strike rate of 137. This would suggest that the Sunrisers will be looking for Warner to bat the majority of their innings in a bid to set a platform for the middle order players like Nabi to increase the scoring in the final few overs.


These two innings from Andre Russell and David Warner highlight the difference in approaches between the two players:

Andre Russell 80 Vs. Mumbai Indians. Mumbai Indians


David Warner 81 V Kings XI Punjab
Both innings were played at roughly the predicted run scoring tempo so are typical innings for the two players. Whilst Russell’s innings may have been more effective, scoring almost the same number of runs as Warner off 16 balls fewer, the control rates of the two innings give some interesting insight. Warner played his innings with high control for the majority and never dropped into the low category until he was dismissed. In contrast, Russell only played with high control for his first seven deliveries and then played the remainder with either medium or low control. This suggests that although Russell was able to come up with very high reward on this occasion, his approach comes with a higher risk than Warner’s approach. Consequently, the innings that Warner played may be a more reproducible one to that of Russell.


This year’s IPL will be held in the UAE and the change of location could result in some changes to the games due to the unique conditions of the UAE. There have been IPL matches played in the UAE previously at the beginning of the 2014 edition whilst the Indian General Election took place. The 2014 IPL is very interesting because after the first 20 matches, the teams moved back to India where the tournament was concluded 40 games later. Because games were played in both locations across the season, we can reach some sort of conclusions about how the conditions may affect the players this year by making comparisons across the two countries from the 2014 season.

Seam Bowling By Location IPL 2014: UAE v India

Wickets Taken156 from 2,969 deliveries221 from 5,369 deliveries
% Wickets Taken71.257.1
Bowling Average23.335.7
Strike Rate19.024.3
Chances per Over2.42.1
Dot Ball %40.337.9
Balls per Boundary6.84.9

Spin Bowling By Location IPL 2014: UAE v India

Wickets Taken63 from 1,639 deliveries166 from 3,856 deliveries
% Wickets Taken28.842.9
Bowling Average32.129.5
Strike Rate26.023.2
Chances per Over1.71.6
Dot Ball %35.635.2
Balls per Boundary8.27.3

Both the UAE and India are known for their turning wickets and it is commonly known that pitches in Asia are often very spinner friendly. With regard to spin bowling in the 2014 IPL, the numbers across the two locations are not too dissimilar apart from the proportion of wickets taken in each location which is affected by the seam dominance in the UAE. Perhaps the numbers suggest that there are slightly better conditions in India to bowl spin compared to in the UAE.

The really significant point from these comparisons concerns seam bowling. In the UAE, seam bowling averages were significantly better than in India and in all of the categories, the numbers say it was more fruitful to bowl seam in the UAE than in India. This means that although batting against spin bowling may remain a fairly similar task in this year’s IPL, facing seam could be more challenging than normal. Consequently, batting sides may choose to play cautiously against pace bowling whilst looking to catch up on run scoring against the spinners and teams may choose to utilise a more seam-based bowling attack.


Neither Glenn Maxwell nor Kieron Pollard is a new name to the world of franchise cricket. Opposition players and fans will already be wary of the damage these two stars can cause. The reason they are ones to watch for this tournament in particular is their experience of the conditions.

Kieron Pollard has played a number of T20 matches in the UAE, the majority of which have been Pakistan Super League fixtures. Pollard has managed to maintain his high standards of performance in the distinct conditions the UAE pose and also comes into this tournament in good form with a strong showing from him across his last six major T20 competitions (excluding the PSL).

Glenn Maxwell is also coming into the tournament off the back of some strong performances. He has scored the third-most runs out of players to have played in his last five major T20 competitions. During the five matches he played in the UAE as part of the 2014 IPL season, Maxwell excelled with the most runs scored and an average of 60. He also showed his ability to take the game away from the opposition quickly with a strike rate of 201.3 across the five games showing that he’ll be an exciting player to watch with the bat.

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