India's yearning for yorkers

Ashish Nehra sends Darren Sammy on his way Getty Images

One yorker on Tuesday night could have won a close game for India but none came. There were attempted yorkers that ended up as full tosses and the dew certainly didn't help but there weren't any potent slower deliveries. It's an old weakness, as MS Dhoni acknowledged after the game, one that has periodically hurt India.

"Good yorkers and slower ones are always going to help you win the games but I am not too disappointed as it was tough to bowl yorkers here with the dew," Dhoni said. "But yes, we don't bowl too many yorkers even otherwise. It can't happen overnight. We have bowled yorkers well in patches and I would like to think we are improving but we have to keep practising. On wickets like these, and with all the dew, we have to rely a lot on variation of pace rather than line and length. Hopefully, the bowlers will get it right in the next games."

When was the last time you remember an Indian bowler bowling yorkers at will? It's an inexplicable gap in India's otherwise well-stocked arsenal, one brought into sharper focus on Tuesday when Chanaka Welegedara sent down two screaming yorkers to knock out the stumps of Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir.

In fact the two most memorable yorkers associated with Indian cricket history were not really yorkers. Kapil Dev's inswinging full delivery to Qasim Omar in the World Championship of Cricket in 1985 was one of the dramatic cricket images from the 1980s, yet it wasn't a yorker as it was well short of the blockhole. However, it became one in the retelling over the years. The second instance is Zaheer Khan's full delivery to remove Steve Waugh in Champions Trophy in 2000; again, it was not a yorker.

Manoj Prabhakar had a good slower one and a yorker and Venkatesh Prasad too could bowl a deceptive slower one but they were more an exception than the norm. The lack of yorker and slower one led to the most famous image of the 1980s - Javed Miandad swatting a full toss from Chetan Sharma beyond the boundary to win a game off the last ball, in Sharjah in 1986.

Back then, the conventional explanation for the lack of such a bowler was that India didn't produce really fast bowlers, yet that logic fell flat in the face of medium-pacers from other countries - Simon O' Donnell and even a young Steve Waugh - perfecting this delivery. Prabhakar's arrival was celebrated for his ability to fool the batsman with a slower one; finally, here was an Indian seamer bowling a yorker.

That same ability stood Ajit Agarkar in good stead and prompted some overlooking of his occasional indiscipline with line and length at crucial moments - just as Javagal Srinath's talents would be held up against his inability to bowl a yorker or a slower one, though he later developed a slower one and even bowled a yorker or two.

Today, a yorker is still a rare commodity in Indian cricket despite the unquestioned skills of Zaheer, the nous of Ashish Nehra and Sreesanth and the pace of Ishant Sharma. Instead, India's death bowling seems to be a mess. Zaheer overdoes the pace, Praveen Kumar overdoes the slow bouncer and Ishant can't seem to decide whether he has to bowl full or try to get more bounce from his natural short of length. Nehra looks better than the rest as he concentrates on bowling full and straight. Sreesanth is a much better bowler when he hits the deck and gets the ball to seam away, as he almost seems to float the white ball innocuously when he hurls it really full. No wonder, then, that for a while the best Indian bowler at the death was Anil Kumble.

It was a welcome change, then, when Zaheer and Nehra bowled tight lengths in the end in Rajkot last month to win a very close game against Sri Lanka. There might even have been a couple of yorkers involved.