Ferguson picked up a wicket off his first ball. ©BCCI
During Sunrisers Hyderabad’s run chase on Sunday (October 18), KKR head coach Brendon McCullum was asked about Lockie Ferguson’s inclusion in the XI by the commentators. Ferguson, in his first game of the season, had just picked two wickets in his first two overs to put his side in command in the defence of 163. Mccullum in response made a very interesting observation. He pointed out how Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians, the table toppers this season, have shown the rest of the league the blueprint for success.
When the decision to move the IPL to UAE was announced, the general consensus was that the teams with a strong spin attack will be having a distinct advantage over the rest. Considering the fact that 60 games were scheduled to be held across just three venues, it made sense to assume that the slow bowlers will be ruling the roost. But 35 games into the season, those pre-tournament predictions have been binned. Six out of the top seven wicket-takers this year have been pacers and all six of them consistently bowl above 140 which indicates that pace has indeed been a menace.
MI paired Jasprit Bumrah with Trent Boult this season and DC added Anrich Nortje to their attack that already had Kagiso Rabada. The result? Amongst all teams, these two pace attacks have the best record this year and that has seen them cement their position at the top of the table. RCB, who are just behind those two, have also been bolstered now by the return of Chris Morris who has already made a huge impact. And KKR’s ploy on Sunday to follow MI and DC’s footsteps has given them a significant edge over the other four teams in the race for a playoff berth.
Their marquee signing Pat Cummins was paired up with Ferguson and the move immediately paid dividends. On expected lines, Ferguson was not seen as a certified starter this season for KKR following Cummins’s arrival. Eoin Morgan was brought in to bolster the middle order and the likes of Andre Russell and Sunil Narine were the immovables. Ferguson didn’t help his cause with his performances as well last year where he picked up only two wickets in five games, conceding 10.76 runs per over. But his stocks have only risen since then. He finished the World Cup last year as the second highest wicket-taker, thus cementing his spot in the New Zealand white-ball squads.
With Narine entering tricky territory again after his action came under the scanner for the umpteenth time, an opportunity did arise for KKR to unleash Ferguson. And he made his entry in grand style, striking off the very first ball he bowled. A dangerous looking Kane Williamson perished while attempting an upper cut. He showed the tricks he had up his sleeve in his following over by executing a perfect legcutter that rattled Priyam Garg’s stumps. Those two wickets completely turned the game on its head as SRH lost their early advantage.
Two overs later, he was back again and made it three wickets in three overs with a fierce yorker that rattled the offstump to send Manish Pandey back to the pavilion. Following Ferguson’s arrival, even Cummins came up with one of his best outings to finish with figures of 1/28 in his four overs. McCullum’s calculations worked. But the job wasn’t done though and Ferguson’s biggest impact was yet to come. SRH kept fighting hard and the game ended in a tie. The 29-year-old then hit the timber twice in the Super Over to crush the opposition and eventually hand his side two points.
While it can be pointed out that it took KKR nine games to get to grips with the ongoing trend of unleashing raw, searing pace for success, it’s still not too late. They sit comfortably fourth now with ten points, 4 more than their rivals which gives them a cushion. The likes of CSK and SRH who have struggled this season do not have the same luxury in the pace department and the results have reflected in the points table.
SRH bowling coach Muttiah Muralitharan dismissed the suggestion of squeezing in Billy Stanlake in the XI in search of reversal in fortunes. And even if they want to contemplate such a move, they already have a conundrum in terms of their overseas personnel which will not allow them that luxury to include the Australian pacer. CSK are pretty much in the same boat and the likes of Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab do not have reliable resources to compliment Jofra Archer and Mohammed Shami respectively.
The fact that KKR have already five wins without even once putting up a complete performance puts them in a great position. Ferguson’s timely introduction has only further bolstered their chances of clinging on to that fourth spot.