Lasith Malinga is known to produce toe-crushing yorkers at will © IANS
In the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014, bowlers have found it difficult to keep the batsmen in check on most occasions. Bharath Ramaraj looks at various ways through which bowlers have tried to find out vexing answers to their problems.
In IPL 7, many turbo-charged batsmen with those meaty bats have already left dreadful scars on the minds of bowlers. The bowlers in IPL 7 have winced with pain when even a perfectly pitched good length delivery on off-stump has disappeared into the stands, and that too not off the sweet spot of the bat. Riding high on the magical upsurge of spellbinding energy, batsmen have proceeded to clouting hapless bowlers to all corners of the ground, and leave the crowd in a jam-packed stadium in a state of unbridled joy and happiness. But for a moment, spare of thought for the poor bowler, who after each of those skyrocketing sixes ends up in the stands, remains motionless and wonders what he can do next to stop the volley of merciless strokes.
It is a scary prospect to even imagine how a batsman can be kept on a tight leash in Twenty20s (T20s). But let’s not despair too much, and instead look at possible ways to bait the batsman like a temptress and plot his eventual downfall. To start with, every team in IPL 2014 would have drawn up strategies and plans to keep the batsmen in check. In any format, it finally comes down to how well a set of bowlers execute their strategies to perfection.
There are also innumerable occasions when a bowler himself won’t know exactly how he produced a treasured gem of a delivery to snare a wicket. For instance, Wasim Akram’s magic deliveries to Robert Croft at Oval in 1996 or the one that he produced to Rahul Dravid in the Chennai Test in 1999. Mitchell Johnson himself, in the WACA Test against England in 2010-11, with what seemed like seam being all over the place, wobbling on a diagonal line moved very late. James Anderson’s outswinging yorker that swung extremely late in 2003 World Cup game to dismiss Mohammad Yousuf can be added as well to the list. But before hitting the bowling crease, a spinner or a pacer surely would have a plan in his mind to outsmart the batsman.
Leg-spinners can use the googly: In modern times, batsmen aren’t afraid to play shots in a 360-degree arc. Let it be trying out the slog sweep or reverse sweep (hit), switch-hit, Dilscoop and many more. You name the shot, they can play it. Glenn Maxwell has used that reverse sweep with gay abandon in IPL 7. It has left the bowler’s tribe in a state of complete shock, every time they have bowled at him.
Arguably one of the ways a bowler can give Maxwell a few headaches is by trying a googly. These days, batsmen tend to stand leg-side off the ball and look to hoick it across the line or try some other fancy shot. The days of playing with nimble footwork against a spinner seem to be long gone. However, in doing so, most batsmen seem to be struggling to pick the googly. A fine leg-spinner with a potent googly up his sleeve may just trouble Maxwell, if he uses it as a surprise weapon. Here, a bowler has to sense the right moment to bowl it. If a batsman like Maxwell plays a few dot deliveries, something is bound to happen. Now that is the time a fine bowler usually goes for the kill by trying to deliver the knockout punch. Of course, a fine leg-spinner will have a stock delivery to bank upon and mixes up his pace and length to tease the batsmen into a trap.
Adding more variation in the attack: Some captains have tried to bring variety into their attack by getting their left-arm pacers to bowl from over the wicket. Right-handed batsmen will have to get adjusted to a different over the wicket angle. The left-armer can also bowl from around the wicket. These days, slow left-arm bowlers too are in vogue. Most of them tend to dart it into the batsmen with a few straightening off the surface. ‘If you miss, I hit’ is the mantra here. Shahbhaz Nadeem of Delhi Daredevils (DD) is one of those bowlers who sticks to his basics in IPL and has been a consistent performer.
Pacers bowling from around the wicket to right-handers: While watching Dwayne Smith of then Mumbai Indians (MI) taking his team to a nail-biting victory over Chennai Super Kings (CSK) with his whirlwind innings in IPL 2012, one couldn’t stop wondering whether Ben Hilfenhaus had lost the plot. Before criticising Hilfenhaus, it has to be remembered that every bowler in T20s can have an off day, as such is the nature of the format.
Hilfenhaus missed the yorker by a fraction, every-time he tried. Smith kept depositing it over his favourite long-on and mid-wicket region to thwack three boundaries and win the game for CSK. If Hilfenhaus wasn’t confident of bowling those toe-crushing yorkers, he could have bowled from around the wicket and tried bowling full and wide of off-stump with a packed off-side field. A risky tactic in the sense that a bowler can be prone to giving away wides, but a strategy that can work in pressure cooker situations. England have used that tactic in T20Is, but with mixed results.
The tried and tested formula of bowling yorkers: The yorker is one of those tried and tested weapons that has always worked for a bowler. But as most pro fast bowlers say, it needs a lot of practice and a pacer needs to have incontrovertible confidence to deliver it in the end overs. It is also said that you need to sprint into the crease to get the maximum effect of it. Now that is easier said than done, as if you miss it ever so slightly, your delivery may disappear into the stands. Lasith Malinga has been a symbol of excellence in that regard. He can bowl toe-crushing yorkers at will, and wide yorkers with his round-arm action to perfection. He showcased his class in ICC World T20 2014 final.
Slower deliveries: Bowlers have evolved over the years and they have developed a variety of slower deliveries including the back of the hand stuff and the slower bouncer. One first heard about it when Steve Waugh would try a few of them. He once in a Test match played at the Gabba, Brisbane in 1988-89 against the West Indies almost fooled the great Viv Richards with a back off the hand slower one that gently hit Richards’s helmet with him ducking into it. A lbw shout was turned down by the umpire. If we turn our attention back to IPL, CSK will definitely miss the services of injured Dwayne Bravo, as he is well-versed with bowling a variety of slower ones. The likes of Dale Steyn and Johnson use the cross-seam delivery to their advantage. One can’t discount the ‘knuckle ball’ as well. It is basically about using slightly different grips to fool the batsmen.
The conundrum of bowling to left-handers: Last but not the least, there is the conundrum of bowling to left-handed batsmen. For years together bowlers have struggled to work out a plan to tie them down. One of the standard ways to out-think the left-hander is to bowl from around the wicket and tuck him up for room. But it won’t be easy for a pacer to do that on slow tracks of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India. Perhaps, Morne Morkel of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) is one of the few who can extract something out of even dead surfaces. He has troubled left-handers in the past by bowling from around the wicket. Off-spinners too have used that around the wicket tactic to their advantage in recent times. But barring Graeme Swann of England, most off-spinners have succeeded on the back of having a doosra up their sleeve.
With those bazooka bats, shorter boundaries, free hits and tracks that seem more like a national highway, bowlers are always under the pump in T20s. However, one still expects the members of bowler’s tribe to banish all their inner demons and bowl with zest, verve and gusto to penetrate every crevice of a batsman’s defence in IPL 2014.
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(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)