Pat Cummins has played just four of Kolkata Knight Riders’ 11 matches this season. Like the Australian Test skipper and spearhead, South Africa’s Anrich Nortje played only his second game when Delhi Capitals played their 10th game against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Even considering the hip injury that delayed Nortje’s arrival and the Australian team’s Pakistan tour that meant both weren’t available for IPL’s first week, their appearances have been curtailed due to lacklustre displays.
As premier fast bowlers, they were expected to play the leading role for their teams, but have been restricted to bit-part roles. Cummins’s most notable contribution came with the bat, a 15-ball 56 not out to steer KKR to victory in a run chase against Mumbai Indians in his first game.
Their travails have played a part in Indian pacers overshadowing overseas counterparts this IPL season. Eight of them—T Natarajan, Umesh Yadav, Umran Malik, Mohammed Shami, Khaleel Ahmed, Avesh Khan, Harshal Patel and Prasidh Krishna—feature among the top 15 wicket-takers while only four foreigners—Kagiso Rabada (3rd), Dwayne Bravo (10th), Andre Russell (14th) and Jason Holder (15th)—making the list. More Indian players have the opportunity to score runs and take wickets given that at least seven feature in the playing eleven. But two seasons ago, for instance, three of the top five wicket-takers were overseas pacers. In the all-time wicket-takers’ list, Bravo and Lasith Malinga are the top two.
A perceptible shift took place last season with Indian pacers finishing as the top six wicket-takers. It underlined the increasing depth in India’s fast bowling pool, reinforced this year by a bunch of unheralded names. While Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami have taken 15 wickets each and Natarajan has overcome injury to claim 17, the rise of a new crop of pacers is very heartening.
Malik’s thunderbolts have drawn the maximum eyeballs.
The Jammu & Kashmir quick showed glimpses of his raw talent in the three games he played for Sunrisers Hyderabad last year. He has built on that with 15 wickets in 10 games this season. Yes, the 22-year-old will learn a few harsh lessons along the way, like the game against Delhi Capitals on Thursday where he erred by repeatedly pitching it short to David Warner. He has also gone wicket-less in the last two games, but his gift of speed calls for some leeway. Just a couple of games ago, he uprooted the stumps of Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha, David Miller and Abhinav Manohar and got Hardik Pandya bounced out to claim his maiden five-for. As he plays more games, he will grasp how to use his pace more effectively.
Lucknow Super Giants pacer Mohsin Khan may not set pulses racing like Malik does, but the Uttar Pradesh left-armer has also been very effective in recent matches. After featuring in Lucknow’s opening game defeat against Gujarat Titans–he conceded 18 runs in two wicketless overs—he was brought back only a fortnight ago. Since then, he has taken nine wickets in four games, including 4/16 in the victory over Delhi Capitals. Aside from being sharp enough to keep batters honest, his off-cutter is a handy variation in the slog overs. He spent three seasons in the reserves of Mumbai Indians, unable to get a look-in perhaps due to the presence of Kiwi left-armer Trent Boult. Lucknow have allowed him to blossom.
“I played him (Mohsin) in the nets a month ago and then didn’t want to face him,” LSG captain KL Rahul said after the win over DC. “He has been eager to learn and play. Even under pressure, he’s bowled some really big overs and performed for us. Hopefully he can learn, get better and keep doing the job for us.”
Left-armers Mukesh Choudhary and Yash Dayal too may not feature in the list of top wicket-takers, but have had their moments with Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans respectively. And Khaleel, Avesh, Harshal and Krishna too are making a strong case for inclusion in the T20 World Cup in Australia in October-November. Then there’s Jasprit Bumrah, who has featured among the top wicket-takers regularly in previous years, but is enduring a blip like his team Mumbai Indians.
Among the overseas pacers, only Rabada has hit his stride. He too has taken his time. After taking seven wickets in his first six games, he has scalped eleven in his last four games, including four-wicket hauls in back-to-back games. It has taken his tally for the season to 18. His economy of 8.72 is still high—Umesh, Shami, Krishna, Harshal, Avesh and Khaleel have been more frugal—but PBKS won’t mind as long as Rabada keeps climbing the wicket-takers’ list.
Regardless of where these pacers finish up on the wicket-taking charts for IPL 2022, India will have a plethora of pace options when the selectors pick the squad for the T20 World Cup in Australia.