Each team has played three matches so far in IPL 2020, and it has not been short of entertainment. So far we have witnessed two Super Overs, a record chase and some majestic sixes. Let us look at some of the early trends that have developed in this tournament.
Note: All stats and facts are correct as of September 30.
Wins all around, no runaway leader
Not often would you see the champion teams from each of the last five seasons languishing in the bottom half of the table. With no home advantage this year, the results are favouring teams that are adapting the quickest to the unfamiliar conditions. By the 11th match, every team has at least one win. Barring the 2009 season, this is the least number of matches taken for all eight teams to register at least one win. Incidentally both the 2009 (South Africa) and the 2020 season are at neutral venues. Only one win separates the first and the last placed team so far this year.
Win toss, lose match
Over the last two IPL seasons, we have seen teams winning the toss and choosing to field first in the first half of the tournament. This year teams are reluctant to bat first in spite of results favouring the sides defending. In fact, only once has a team - the Sunrisers Hyderabad against the Kolkata Knight Riders - won the toss and chosen to bat. And, they lost that game.
Almost every single time the reason stated for the team winning the toss and bowling has been dew. Although dew has played a part, it has not been very significant in most games. In Dubai, the team batting first has won all the matches so far but still teams have chosen to chase all the time. Similar to previous seasons, teams are likely to slowly start batting first as we reach the second half of the tournament and the pitches get slower.
Batting away the impossible
Would you have ever imagined teams scoring 79 runs from the last four overs to tie the game, or a bowler conceding five sixes in the 17th over to let the opposition back into the game? It's early days in the tournament yet, but death-over batting has been taken to new heights. In the last four overs, teams have scored at an average run rate of 11.94. Incredibly, we have seen 70 sixes and just 74 fours in this period. This run rate is the highest at the death at any T20 tournament so far. On six occasions, teams have scored in excess of 60 runs in the last four overs.
It is not just that relatively weaker bowlers are getting hit at the death - we have seen the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Dale Steyn concede in excess of 25 runs in an over. In the entire IPL season last year, there were only six occasions in which a bowler conceded in excess of 25 runs in an over. This year we have already seen six instances, in just 12 matches.
The average run rate in the 20th over in the tournament so far is a monumental 14.24 and, interestingly, four of the ten most economical overs are in the powerplay. With the way the season has started, teams need to double down on their death-bowling strategy to bring in some balance between bat and ball.
Different venues, different strategies
One trend that is quite evident this season is that teams need to think completely differently based on the ground they are going to be playing at. The pattern of scoring, the length, and the end from which to attack are all very different across each of the three venues. Sharjah is a bowler's graveyard while Abu Dhabi's long boundaries have kept the bowlers more in the game. Dubai so far seems to be the most balanced for both batsmen and bowlers, giving everyone an equal chance of success.
In Sharjah, a six has been hit once in eight balls while in Dubai and Abu Dhabi it is once every 20 and 23 balls respectively. Interestingly, if we look at fours in Sharjah and Dubai it is once every nine balls while in Abu Dhabi it is once every 10 balls.
The small ground in Sharjah needs different tactics in terms of balls and length bowled for bowlers, while for batsmen it's pretty straightforward: see ball, hit ball. In Abu Dhabi the batsmen need to do a lot more running and have to manage the heavy wind and take into account the long square boundaries.
Even in the fielding department, the grounds provide different challenges. Catching in Dubai has seemed a tad harder than the other grounds. The reason why more catches are dropped in Dubai than the other grounds is still not clear - there are a few players who believe that the "Ring of Fire", as the stadium's floodlights have been nicknamed, is not the cause. So far, 15% of the catches on offer have been dropped at this venue. In comparison, Sharjah has seen just 8% dropped, and Abu Dhabi 11%.
Pace in the powerplay, but not among the batsmen
With the tournament moving from India to the UAE, one major change has been the way the teams have approached the powerplay. Due to the lack of familiarity with the pitches, batsmen have been conservative with their choice of shots and have looked to preserve wickets and attack later on with set batsmen. The batting average of 35.80 in this phase is the second highest across all IPL seasons.
From a bowling point of view most teams have attacked with their overseas quicks. Teams like the Delhi Capitals, the Mumbai Indians, the Kings XI Punjab and the Kolkata Knight Riders have used raw pace and swing to trouble the batsmen in the powerplay. The likes of Kagiso Rabada, Pat Cummins and Mohammed Shami have impressed.
Teams have been so reliant on pacers that the spinners have hardly been used in this phase. Only 11% of the balls bowled in the powerplay have been by spinners, while at the same time in the last three seasons spinners had bowled close to 25% of the deliveries in the powerplay.
It is likely that the likes of Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Mohammad Nabi and R Ashwin will play a much bigger role in the powerplay as the tournament reaches its halfway stage and the pitches start to tire.