October 22, 2013

The death of the yorker

Where are the bowlers who consistently land balls in the blockhole at decent pace?

James Faulkner consistently nailed the hitting zone under pressure in Mohali © BCCI

MS Dhoni's lament about the quality of death bowling after Ishant Sharma's latest meltdown highlights a trend in modern cricket that is difficult to comprehend - the complete inability to bowl yorkers under pressure. Perhaps Ishant was given instructions not to bowl yorkers. Whatever the reason, that performance was pathetic, made less so only by similar poor bowling throughout the world in similar circumstances by bowlers from all countries.

Contemporary cricket abounds with bowling coaches and technical analysis by video that is meant to enhance skills. Apart from the spinners' ability to bowl doosras, I fail to see how the standard of bowling has improved that much in the last few decades, despite all the technological and physiological advances.

Even allowing for the scoop (ramp) shot to full-pitched deliveries and heavier bats on smaller grounds, I'm not convinced that the modern international fast bowler holds a candle to the quicks of say 20 or 30 years ago. Perhaps there are just so many of them these days that it is unfair to compare them to the smaller list of elite fast bowlers of yesteryear. It is entirely another story as to why there are so many mediocre quicks playing international cricket but that may in part be due to the injury toll (despite sports science advances) and the plethora of cricket, much of it meaningless, played today and forgotten tomorrow.

To call them "mediocre" is indeed harsh but how else can you describe the rubbish that we've seen recently, not just in this series between Australia and India but regularly over the last few years? Yes, the batting is more innovative and cricket bats are more powerful but a waist-high full toss under pressure is still putrid execution of a basic skill at an elite level. Unless of course that was the plan from the brains trust in the dressing room, in which case, their skill set (and sanity) must surely be reviewed.

Mediocre. Putrid. Rubbish. How else can one describe those length balls from Ishant, ball after ball, each of them disappearing in the same direction? I've only seen James Faulkner bat a few times and I could have told you, without any expert video analysis, that he favours the length ball over midwicket. Or for that matter the full toss. Who wouldn't? Faulkner did similar damage to Ben Cutting last season in a domestic one-day match in Hobart. It's not rocket science to ask Ishant to bowl in a different hitting zone. We don't yet know if he was merely executing a plan (unlikely) or unable to execute a fairly basic skill for someone whose sole occupation is to practise these skills under pressure, 24/7, 365.

Even allowing for the ramp over fine leg, surely yorkers delivered consistently with the appropriate field set are not going to finish up going for multiple sixes. Joel Garner was admittedly the doyen of executing this delivery but even lesser mortals of that broad era were able to consistently land balls in the blockhole at decent pace, with all the disadvantages that accrued to them before the game was truly professional (in a medical, technological, over-coached, over-analysed sense). I recall bowlers like Simon Davis (Australia, circa mid-1980s) and even slower bowlers like Chaminda Vaas being able to land yorkers more consistently without them finishing up waist high and ripe for row 24 in slog corner.

Sometimes sport can become too complicated, even as it becomes more skilful in some respects. Clearly batting skills have risen to new heights, not just in terms of innovation, power and execution but more revealingly, the sheer courage and audacity to contemplate scoring 20-plus runs per over under pressure. Contemplation alone is one thing - actually executing it is another thing altogether.

That is one aspect of the game that has improved dramatically. Mind you, waist-high full tosses and predictable half-volleys don't require that much skill but they still require the batsman to continue to nail his hitting zone, ball after ball. It appears that the modern game has equipped batsmen with the requisite mental skills but the bowlers seem to have regressed to the point where in the future, an asking rate of 15-plus runs per over in the last few overs of an ODI will see the batting side favoured to win.

It used to be the case that when the run rate got past a run a ball, Richie Benaud would solemnly proclaim the death of the chase. Having seen the quality of bowling in the last few games, Richie himself would probably have bowled better, even at the ripe old age of 83. And he wouldn't have needed a bowling coach or video analyst to tell him where not to bowl.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Marshall on October 24, 2013, 11:11 GMT

    Another Important factor is the amount of cricket being played these days. It drains the bowlers physically and they end up being injured quite often. Also, it doesnt give them time to evaluate & enhance their skill sets. You cannot try out your variation in International Matches. You must keep bowling a similar delivery a 1000 times to gain control over it. The bowlers are playing more matches than they ideally should. Some might feel that bowlers don't have that amount of time? For me, they have time but don't use them well. During the period in which they must be working on their bowling, they choose to be the bowling machine for the batsman in all the PLs & BLs around the world. If a bowler feels that his bowling needs a review, he should abstain from these leagues and work on his bowling traits. I'm yet to see a bowler who has become better because of these leagues. Narine, Malinga etc already had the skills to survive.

  • TR on October 23, 2013, 3:11 GMT

    I dont agree with some comments against Malinga. He is still exceptional brain among all. He has perfected different kinds of balls. Not just yorkers. He bowled slow full tosses recently very successfully. Only the highest quality batsmen are able to counter him. Anything less would be bowled OR LBW within 10 balls. Only drawback with Malinga (and so is Styn) that they are not good against lefties.

  • Tony on October 22, 2013, 15:36 GMT

    Very good article Michael. Observation, a yorker is a ball that has the potential of going under the bat and, as much as a bowler can attempt to do this the batsman is sometimes complicit in it's perfect execution. We hear the term " the batsman "made it into a yorker" Having said that the successful bowler of yorkers has to know where to pitch the ball in relation to the batsman he is bowling to, for it to have the most likelihood of success. Modern batsmen in limited overs move all around the crease in an effort to either free themselves up or put the bowler off making it more difficult for the bowler. I agree with you that bowlers of today generally fail miserably to counteract scoring rates at the death of an innings. Your point of overcoaching and analysis reminded me of someone many years ago suggesting that if you want to bowl a yorker it helps to move your fingers closer together on the seam and for a short ball wider apart. Seems rediculous but strangely might work for some

  • Mark on October 22, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    Alfonso Thomas has been one of the best death bowlers on the scene for awhile. How he only played one game for South Africa I'll never know, way better than some of the guys they've picked in the past.

  • Yarman on October 22, 2013, 9:15 GMT

    Michael - great piece.. ! Stick to the basics.. too much technology and thinking goes into this now a days. Its quite simple..... Yorker middlle & off stump with mid off and mid on back , Third man fine, straight deep-midwicket. The batsman misses you hit .. let hem try and slog that...! no need to complicate it a it with slower bouncers and the other rubbish served up.. you can't slog something that lands on the batting crease! Even God would struggle in achieving that feat!

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 7:35 GMT

    There are people with talent Like Mohit Sharma, Vaurn Arron,Umesh Yadav,Iswar Pandy but selection committee seem to be blind to them, may be Dhoni doesn't want to keep for express pace bowlers.Why can't they not give a long rope for Umesh Yadav ?

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    @Biso...and yet those 2 bowlers were vacuum cleaned by Virat Kohli within a space of 1 month. Iin the last 7-8 years, specially since the retirement of Wasim akram n Pidge, no bowler has been able to consistently outbowl the batsmen, even less so during death bowling. Malinga comes good against slogging batsmen, but the ones with proper hitting shots, he has no clue against them. Why, look at steyn even, some times he ends up as the most expensive bowler in the SA lineup. As of now, there is only narine who is really effective, rest are merely making up the numbers and if yesterday ws Ishant, tomorrow it maybe Watto or Roach or Southee

  • Biso on October 22, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    Even a bowler with the pace of Johnson has not bowled well at death, forget Ishant who bowls utter rubbish at the death, bereft of any thinking. Most bowlers these days simply do not have the mental make up for delivering in death bowling situations. After Malinga and Umar Gul I do not see any bowler with death bowling skills.

  • Dean on October 22, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    Have you been listening to my conversations Fox?

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2013, 5:18 GMT

    Take the case of Javagal srinath. He was a one dimensional bowler like Ishant when he started. He worked hard and developed the away going ( the one which holds it line) delivary and other variation. He became our premium bowler for a decade in all formats.

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