It may not be as sexy as the bouncer, it's not going to inspire YouTube compilations like the yorker routinely does, but the slower ball is a staple for any T20 seamer. In T20 matches that ESPNcricinfo has recorded data for since the 2021 T20 World Cup, 20,866 cutters were bowled by seamers, compared to just 1123 yorkers. But who currently bowls the best slower balls in T20 cricket, the most fun to watch?
Mustafizur Rahman's ESPNcricinfo profile describes him as left-arm fast medium, but it's probably more accurate to call him a fast left-arm spinner. He can bowl with the seam up and occasionally hit speeds north of 140kph; sometimes he even swings the ball into the right-hander like other left-arm quicks. Mostly, though, he just lets his hyperflexible wrist do its thing.
Because he bowls with his left arm, the Mustafizur cutter is a difficult ball to put a name to. Is it a legcutter, because the ball goes in that direction? Or is it an offcutter, because that gives you a clearer picture of his wrist action?
Batters can sometimes look like they're puzzling over the semantics when they come face to face with Mustafizur's cutter and its unusual geometry. Delivered from left arm over to the right-hander, it pitches on or around leg stump, having at first dipped considerably, and breaks away with a surprising amount of kick.
A lot of slower cutters beat the bat and bounce a second time before reaching the keeper. Mustafizur's cutter can climb towards the shoulder of the bat like a Test-match away-seamer - like this delivery to Andre Russell. Slower-ball wickets don't look like that, but this is very much a slower-ball wicket; it clocks 123kph, and you can see that Russell has been foxed as much by the ball's lack of pace as by its behaviour off the pitch.
If you were to close your eyes and picture the trademark Mustafizur wicket, though, it would probably look like this: a right-hand batter looking to clip the ball into the on side, only for the combination of angle, lack of pace, dip and turn to cause the ball to balloon in an entirely unforeseen direction off the leading edge.
In its wake, a batter left looking utterly ridiculous: squared up, looking in the wrong direction, bewildered as to where the ball could possibly have gone.
The slower ball in itself is no kind of weapon at all, of course; it's the expectation chasm created in the mind of a batter that does the damage. In that sense, a slower ball is as much a Jedi mind trick as it is sleight of hand, and few can claim to have perfected the art more cunningly than Mills. Blessed with extreme pace, he has the ability to go through his rapid bowling action with ostensibly no modification, delivering a ball so much slower it frazzles most batters' minds. At his best, he would make the most skilful batters look complete novices; Yuvraj Singh in a T20I and Chris Gayle in the PSL come to mind. His slower one is delivered out of the back of the hand, but even after release, it has a hypnotic effect on both batter and viewer that it is speeding along and might crunch into the helmet any moment.
I made my choice primarily on aesthetic value, which led me straight to Nathan Ellis' back-of-the-hand slower ball. It's mesmerising: he bounds up to the crease, just as quickly as if he is about to bowl a 140kph yorker, and his collapsed front leg means he has an unusually low release point. But the key part is that he manages to keep the seam perfectly upright, meaning there is no real tell for batters.
It's effective, too. Ellis spent the Australian winter making English batters look silly during the Blast and the Hundred, and was unfortunate to miss out on Australia's squad for the T20 World Cup. Crucially, he knows when to dig into his box of tricks and is happy to do so under pressure, like when he beat Richard Gleeson's outside edge with the last ball of a chaotic final to seal Hampshire's Blast title this year.
On his Test debut, at Lord's, Bravo was quick enough with the ball to beat the likes of Andrew Flintoff and Michael Vaughan. However, he reinvented himself as a slower-ball specialist to get up to speed with T20 cricket.
T20 is about deception and denial, and Bravo is the master of it. He can not only deceive batters with lack of pace but also with dip. His can get everything to dip: from bouncers to yorkers. Bravo bowls these variations without a discernible change in his grip or action, which makes it difficult for batters - and analysts - to pick him even now, when he is retired from international cricket.
Among the million slower balls Bravo has bowled across the world, my favourite is his "Demon drop-ball", as the CPL puts it, to Faf du Plessis in 2016 in Lauderhill. Bravo and du Plessis were long-time IPL team-mates at Chennai Super Kings and Bravo knows that du Plessis' go-to shot is his down-the-track bash or the back-away bash through the off side. Du Plessis also knows that Bravo's USP is his slower dipper, but he still shimmied outside leg and then out of the crease for that shot. Bravo got his slower offcutter to dip on du Plessis so sharply that he stumbled and the ball breached his defences to knock over the leg stump.
The likes of Benny Howell, AJ Tye and Obed McCoy now have control over the slower dipper, but Bravo was - and is - the OG slower-ball specialist.
Slower balls are not really what fast bowling is about. Taking pace off? Nah, I'd rather you feel the heat. A good slower ball is an act of deception, some way removed from the macho posturing that goes into the standard quick's shtick. Bowling a cutter is in its own way an admission of defeat. But Archer's slower ball is in a different category. It is sleek, it is sexy. It slides off the knuckles, via a change of grip during his run-up that is in itself an outrageous flair move. It hovers in the air like a UFO, then dances like a disco ball before your eyes. And when you're expecting 90mph up your hooter, this chilled pill will make you look like a chump. Batters at the World Cup are getting off lightly.