Back in February, when India had only a handful of Covid-19 cases but knew of the menace approaching, one of the possible contingency plans on offer was to hold the entire IPL in one city that has two or three grounds. It seemed improbable the IPL franchises would agree to such a move: they had assembled their squads with home conditions in mind and with the aim of getting as many points as possible from their seven home games.
Here we are now, ready to play the IPL in a whole new country, with a whole new set of conditions. As with everything, some teams will have to adjust more than others, and some teams will benefit from the shift more than others.
Home or away?
The concept of home games, where you play seven games at a familiar venue and any of your opponents only one there, ceases to exist. Some teams will have a home base. The Royal Challengers, the Delhi Capitals, the Chennai Super Kings, the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kings XI, and the Rajasthan Royals will play around half of their group matches in Dubai; for the other two teams, that venue is Abu Dhabi. But even their opponents will know the conditions just as well.
Going by ground records, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are not that different. The one ground that is significantly different, Sharjah, will host each of the eight teams for three matches apiece.
Slow it down
Let's start with a few riders. The data we have draws mainly from the months of February and March, the usual cricket season in the UAE. The pitches could behave differently in October and November. The timings of these matches will be different to those that make up the historical data. Also, we don't know what the strain of hosting 24 matches in about 40 days will do to the Dubai pitch towards the end of the tournament. If that in itself doesn't point to a lower-scoring tournament, here is data from the last three years.
On average, a score of 180 or over is posted once in four matches in the PSL. Chennai and Jaipur are the only IPL grounds where the ratio is close to that. Even Hyderabad sees a 180 once in three matches, though their team's strategy is based on low-scoring games.
Run, rabbit, run
It is not just how many are scored but how they are scored. In India over the last three IPLs, a six has been hit every 17 balls at the home venues of Andre Russell, Hardik Pandya and Rohit Sharma. Now they will play eight matches each at a ground, Abu Dhabi, where a six has been hit every 49 balls over the same period. Except for Sharjah, a higher percentage of runs is scored by running in the UAE compared to many of the Indian venues. Hyderabad and Chennai, two of the slower-scoring grounds in India, are at par with only Dubai in terms of how many runs are scored by running. (It helps those two teams that they will play half their group matches in Dubai.)
While the Super Kings and the Sunrisers will be more at home, Mumbai and the Knight Riders will have big adjustments to make. It could come through bigger roles for batsmen such as Shubman Gill, Dinesh Karthik and Rohit Sharma.
Higher premium on anchors?
The high-scoring IPL always provokes debates around long individual innings that tend to be slower than the match strike rate. With ten wickets over 20 overs, do you really need batsmen constructing innings in a traditional manner? Now, in slightly less batting-friendly conditions, such batsmen might find more acceptance. In 80 PSL matches in the UAE over the last three editions, only 28 innings of ten balls or longer have ended at a strike rate of 200 or more. None of those innings reached the crazy heights of three runs a ball.
In the IPL, in 179 matches over the same period, 127 innings have ended at a strike rate of 200 or more, with seven of them crossing the 300 mark. That four of those innings have come from Sunil Narine, K Gowtham and Stuart Binny adds fuel to the debate over innings construction versus hitting. But if the conditions are not conducive to such hitting, because of the slowness of the pitches or the big boundaries, more value might be placed on batsmen who can find gaps.
Win the toss and…
The toss has played a bigger part in the PSL than in the IPL over the last three years. In the PSL, two out of three matches are won by sides winning the toss; in the IPL the number comes down to three in five. However, it is interesting that the numbers are more skewed towards chasing teams in the PSL than in the IPL, where teams, especially in the second half of the tournament, find ways to successfully defend totals.
Spin, spin, spin?
Those toss numbers could perhaps have to do with PSL attacks built around pace. Successful teams - the Islamabad United, Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi - have a left-arm quick and rely on fast bowlers for wickets. Spinners play a role but are a secondary part of the attack. Expect that to change when theI PL rolls in and if the conditions are similar: even in less helpful conditions, IPL teams use more spin than PSL ones on average. That figure of only 6.3 overs of spin in Abu Dhabi might yet come as a blessing for Mumbai and the Knight Riders, who like to bank on their quicks.
What is the winning formula?
The strategy of successful teams in the PSL as centred on high pace, left-arm angle and wristspin or left-arm spin. Slow left-armer Mohammad Nawaz and leggie Shadab Khan at Nos. 9 and 10 have been the most successful spinners in the PSL in the UAE over the last three years. Legspinner Rashid Khan and Imran Tahir are at Nos. 2 and 3 in the IPL. One of the factors at play could be the 8pm or later starts in the PSL. The IPL matches will start at 6pm. That would mean less dew and a bigger role for spinners.
These 6pm starts could make the toss even more crucial with dew possibly affecting only the second innings of the match. MS Dhoni has for long been an advocate of late starts because of a more level playing field.
Expect fingerspinners to play a bigger role. In the IPL over the last three years they have been bowling the same number of overs as wristspinners and with a similar economy but significantly lower average. In the PSL, fingerspinners have almost the same average as wristspinners - 26.85 against 25.03 - and have bowled 633 overs to 400 by wristspinners.
Expect the batsmen to be less adventurous, as was the case the last time the IPL went to the UAE, in 2014. That year, the run rates went up as soon the tournament returned to India for the latter half of the event.
The Super Kings and the Sunrisers might feel they will have to adjust less to conditions in the UAE, having assembled squads for slow-bowler-friendly conditions for their home venues in India, but don't count against other sides rising up to the challenge.