Jofra Archer runs in to bowl as casually as you would if a kitten was after you. But he delivers the ball as fiercely as you would if you were to bounce out a tiger shark charging at you.
Archer has been doing this all tournament now - running in at a pace you think is not his quickest, picking wickets as regularly as you've been attending Zoom meetings recently, bouncing out top-order batsmen for fun, returning in the death overs to scare the lower order and the tail, and then going back to play his XboX. And just like that, he has 19 wickets from 13 games for the Rajasthan Royals with a stunning economy rate of 6.69, which is far better than even Kagiso Rabada's 8.13, Jasprit Bumrah's 7.18 and Mohammed Shami's 8.67, who are all marginally ahead of him on the wicket-takers' list.
But there's one thing each of those bowlers has that Archer doesn't: strong bowling support from the other end. The Royals' over-dependence on Archer shows in many ways. It's evident in the statistics, in their use of Archer against the opposition's top batsmen, in the way oppositions look to see his spell off and target the other bowlers, and how the Royals seem handicapped when they need one more over of tight bowling from the other end to sustain the pressure when Archer has just finished his over. But there's nobody to turn to.
If Rabada has Anrich Nortje to share the responsibility, Bumrah is flanked by Trent Boult and James Pattinson, and Shami has had Arshdeep Singh of late in the powerplay or Chris Jordan at the death. Archer is standing tall and alone at the top for the Royals. Their next best bowler (Shreyas Gopal) on the wicket-takers' list is not even in the top 20 overall, and their next best quick bowler is not even in the top 30: it's 19-year-old Kartik Tyagi, who has impressed but can't be expected to share such a responsibility at this stage of his career. The more experienced Jaydev Unadkat has four wickets with an economy rate of nearly 10 an over, and Ankit Rajpoot has only two while leaking 11.70 runs per over.
In short, Archer's 19 scalps are exactly half of the 38 wickets the Royals pace bowlers have picked this IPL, and while his economy rate is well under seven, the others collectively concede 10.51 per over. According to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Starts, Archer's bowling impact is also twice as good as the next best Royals bowler in IPL 2020.
This over-dependence was briefly evident on Friday night against the Kings XI Punjab when the Royals wanted Archer to bowl his raw pace to Chris Gayle upfront. And to make that happen too, they needed Archer to strike early because Gayle has been batting at No. 3 this IPL. With his same casual-looking run-up, Archer bounced out Mandeep Singh with a ferocious 144kmh delivery at the end of the first over, and out walked Gayle. Even more casually.
Archer must have been itching to bowl his next over to Gayle, hoping that he would retain strike. Instead, he gets a boundary off an inside edge, and Archer has to bowl to KL Rahul again. He waits long, for another five balls, before Rahul finally takes a single and he can bowl to Gayle. Archer bangs the ball in, it whizzes past Gayle's chin as he drops his hands and Archer's two overs are done after having bowled only one delivery to Gayle.
The Royals have needed Archer's two overs so desperately at the death that they haven't bowled more than two of his even once in the powerplay this IPL. The temptation is there to make him bowl a third in a row this time. Gayle is still fresh; get him early and the middle order could stutter. The season is on the line. Two legspinners have to be bowled later, and Gayle will pounce on them.
But Archer is taken off. It's probably to contain the damage at the end.
"There's always a consideration to bowl Jofra in many phases of the game but he's got only four overs and we've got to position that in the best way we see," the Royals coach Andrew McDonald told the commentators during the game on Star Sports. "It's always a consideration to get two great overs upfront and then the third over is always going to be questionable but we need a couple of other bowlers in support there. We saw Varun [Aaron] almost got the breakthrough as well, so it's always bowling around him (Archer) most importantly."
Lack of support from the other end has also meant the Royals can't use him the way the Delhi Capitals bowl Rabada or how the Mumbai Indians employ Bumrah. Because of Nortje and the spinners for the Capitals, and Boult and Pattinson for Mumbai, Rabada and Bumrah bowl just one over in the powerplay, one just after the halfway mark, and two precious overs at the death. Archer, on the other hand, has mostly been bowling two in the powerplay and two at the death, leaving a lot of space in the middle overs for oppositions to cash in on.
On Friday, the Royals managed two points because their batting has stepped up in the last couple of games. Now, they have just the one game left to reach 14 points which can possibly get them a playoff spot. With this being Archer's best IPL - in terms of both wickets and economy rate - all the Royals need is for someone to bowl with the same intensity as Archer for one more match to not let their season end on Sunday.
With stats inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman