Rabbit Holes

What's the greatest over ever bowled in a T20? Is it a Malinga one?

Or Dale Steyn? Or Sunil Narine? Or Rashid Khan? Our staffers trawl through the T20 archives to find the best one

Lasith Malinga holds the IPL trophy and celebrates with Krunal and Hardik Pandya, Mumbai Indians v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2019 final, Hyderabad, May 12, 2019

Lasith Malinga: write him off at your own peril  •  Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

Mohammad Isam, Bangladesh correspondent: So we're talking about the best T20 over. How about some intro music?
Matt Roller, assistant editor: Isam, this theme song is mad, and I think we should all have it on repeat throughout. But I'll talk us through the topic. The idea came from the fact that in England, at least, most people have some kind of idea what the best over they have seen in Tests was - usually Flintoff vs Australia in 2005, or vs South Africa in 2008. But nobody seems to have an opinion on the best over bowled in T20 history, even though lots of the same ideas about setting batsmen up still exist.
We need to consider the usual things: match situation, standard of batsmen involved, group match vs final, etc - so an over bowled to tailenders in a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy group game is going to have a lot of work to do to beat one against a set top-order batsman in a T20 World Cup final.
Isam: Thanks for the endorsement of the music, Matt. I have very little to do with it, except for sending the link to everyone I know, all the time.
Roller: Shah, do you want to kick us off with a few suggestions?
Sreshth Shah, sub-editor: Okay, but before we get serious, can we just get the brilliant 20th over between Australia and Pakistan in St Lucia in the 2010 T20 World Cup out of the way?
Australia going from 191 for 5 to 191 all out in the space of six balls was one of those moments that have stayed with me forever. Mohammad Amir inducing an edge from Brad Haddin, then cleaning Mitchell Johnson's stumps up with a yorker. And then when Dirk Nannes desperately tried to bring batsmen on strike, he ended up running Steven Smith and Michael Hussey out as they tried to steal byes. Imagine Kamran Akmal being involved in two run-outs! Shudders. Here's the ball-by-ball from that over:
Isam: That's a great start, Shah. To be honest, this over is often forgotten because of Mike Hussey's last-over exploits in the semi-final of that 2010 tournament. But this was the first time many of us realised what a damn good yorker Amir has up his sleeve.
I think, strangely, a lot of these T20 overs get forgotten far too quickly.
Roller: Any over that includes Steve Smith coming out at No. 9 deserves a mention. I actually had that one and another Amir over on my longlist - 2016 Asia Cup vs India. Again, forgotten because of the result, but his first over was seriously good: Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane both lbw, ball hooping round corners, and a genuine threat that India might mess up a chase of 84.
Isam: I was at this game and remember being completely mesmerised by it. I ended up writing a piece on it, and not much else. It was an otherwise forgettable game.
Shah: From an India perspective, it was not forgotten at all! The first ball of the over looked mighty close too, and I thought Rohit Sharma was lucky not to be given lbw. What is with Amir and bowling jaffas every time he doesn't get a wicket off a ball he deserved to? *coughs* Champions Trophy final *coughs*.
Roller: To move past the Amir love-in for a moment, I think we'll all have considered this one, so it's probably worth bringing up early: Sunil Narine's maiden in a Super Over against T&T in 2014.
Shah: I think I need to meet a doctor for my throat. *cough* Let's look at the angle of his arm there *cough*.
Jokes aside, it was quite a move, getting a spinner on. The brilliance of that Narine over was that he was defending 11, so the batsmen surely thought they could do it in twos. I wouldn't want to be the non-striker in that over.
Roller: If those wild swipes at thin air weren't enough, Nicholas Pooran had actually got 37 off 17 balls in the match itself, including 11 off four balls against Narine.
Isam: How about this Narine Super Over? Not a maiden but he really varied his pace beautifully. It came nine days after Brendon McCullum chose Mustafizur Rahman over Narine to bowl another Super Over.
Roller: It's good, but doesn't quite do it compared to the maiden for me - hit for six off the last ball, and the second is a juicy full toss that Lendl Simmons misses out on.
Shah: Also, the CPL one was the first maiden in a T20 Super Over! The firsts are always memorable, they say. And he even celebrated a wicket - have you seen that from Narine before? Definitely a contender for one of the best overs in T20 cricket. It has my vote, for now.
Roller: While we're on CPL, btw, I was trying to find a way to get Mohammad Irfan's spell in last year's competition in there: 4-3-1-2. But weirdly there wasn't a single standout over - hard to split several of them. Similar to things like Rangana Herath's 5 for 3 vs New Zealand in the 2014 World T20, where it was a great spell but without a single standout over.
I guess it goes back to what the point of this discussion is, which is an over rather than a spell: if we're finding T20's equivalent of Flintoff to Kallis, it should be a single standout over rather than four excellent ones across a spell.
Shah: I was on commentary for the Irfan game in the wee hours of the morning over here in India, and that spell ensured I did not need any coffee to stay up. I was so hoping that his 24th ball would be a dot too. I think the third over of his spell was bloody good. Devon Thomas was trying to defend or drive off the first three balls, and he got beaten every single time! The fourth and fifth balls went to the keeper too, with the batsman offering a shot each time. I think he gave up before the sixth ball altogether. Imagine shouldering your arms despite facing five dots in a row from Irfan. No wicket, but it's up there.
Roller: Isam, you have a trump card up your sleeve, right?
Isam: A couple, hah.
Roller: Where's my four-in-four man, for starters? Al-Amin Hossain, right?
Isam: He took four wickets in four balls and five in the over. It was in a domestic T20 competition in 2013-14.
Isam: There's no known footage of this performance, but I called him up to describe the wickets to me, and this is based on what he said:
Mehedi Maruf hit a slower ball straight to deep point. After a dot ball, he had big-hitting Nazmul Hossain Milon caught at deep midwicket. Next ball, Suhrawadi Shuvo timed a length ball to mid-off. Naeem Islam Jr carted one straight to long-on to complete the double hat-trick. The icing on the cake came when Nabil Samad top-edged the last ball - a short-of-length delivery - to third man to make it five wickets in one over.
Roller: Isam, on the four-in-fours, a couple more to consider: Shaheen Afridi vs Middlesex - this was a dead rubber and he basically cleans up tailenders, so it can't really be the GOAT, but it's mouth-watering stuff, stumps flying every ball.
And another more genuine contender: Lasith Malinga vs NZ. Everyone knows what is coming - that vicious, swinging yorker, but just can't do anything about it. It's top-order international batsmen too. And the video makes me miss crowds even more after a summer of behind-closed-doors cricket over here.
Shah: Great shout, and it's one I keep watching. This over actually had greater impact than just the wickets. New Zealand had hammered Sri Lanka in the first two games of the series. And Malinga was off colour through the series. The hat-trick ball, where Colin de Grandhomme was bowled by a yorker that swung away after coming close to the bat, and the fourth wicket, where Ross Taylor got his toe crushed, could easily be contenders for best T20 ball of the century. ESPNcricinfo editors, are you reading this?
Isam: Then, Shah, you will definitely like this one from Dale Steyn. He defended six runs in the last over of a World T20 game, wet ball, sweaty palms. And the celebration in the end.
Roller: One more Malinga one, if I can? The 2019 IPL final: Malinga has 0 for 42 from three overs, he's an old man with a bit of a belly on him, he didn't get picked in 2018, everyone thinks he has no chance with nine to win and Watson on 76 not out. He goes for the blockhole every ball, nobody can get him away, and he celebrates in iconic fashion.
Shah: I'm actually having a moral dilemma here. What do you guys think is the primary facet of a best T20 over contender? Wickets? Drama? The lolz?
Isam: There doesn't have to be a lot of wickets, but I think a bowler handling the drama and avoiding the lolz...
Roller: I think this Malinga over is my favourite, because it combines all of those: execution under pressure, the redemption tale, the drama, the situation...
Shah: You've sold me, although I am a whimsical shopper. The four in four against NZ can be demoted. But the more I think of Malinga, the more I feel the top ten Malinga T20 overs could give the overall list of top ten T20 overs a run for its money.
Isam: Without considering Hardik Pandya's final-over gulps against Bangladesh in the World T20 match in Bangalore, how are you making all these calls, Shah!
Shah: The beauty of getting your plans spot on, inducing shots that go exactly where your fielders are. That over deserves a place in the Museum of Modern Art.
Roller: Controversial, perhaps, but I don't think Hardik's over was that good - more that Bangladesh lost their heads under pressure. Mahmudullah holed out off a full toss, and the last ball was short and wide.
Shah: That last ball is a story in itself. There was a team meeting at the bowler's run-up and some were saying to bowl a bouncer to the tailender. But MS Dhoni stepped in and said go wide because lower-order batsmen are more likely to try and slog across the line. The risk with the bouncer was a top edge that goes for four. Hardik was still quite inexperienced back then, and to execute the plan deserves some credit. It's up there, just not high enough.
Roller: The legend of Dhoni - only he can convince us that his plan to bowl short, wide rubbish at the death was a master stroke.
Shah: What is with Dhoni giving inexperienced people the final over? The 2007 T20 World Cup final was similar - Joginder Sharma, who never played another international for India, did this thing there. Both that and the Hardik over can simply not be forgotten.
Roller: Yeah, Joginder has to be mentioned for its importance in the growth of T20, right?
Shah: Barring that one six over the bowler's head, which was thanks to Misbah-ul-Haq's skills, because of how wide the full toss was, it was a well-executed plan. Go wide, stay wide, concede an extra if you need to, but don't bowl in his arc. It basically forced Misbah to try and shuffle across and play a shot he hadn't played all match - the scoop that did not go beyond short fine leg.
Roller: That's what makes the Malinga one so intoxicating for me - the fact that the GOAT of T20 bowling became the underdog in that game, and then has this amazing comeback in the 20th over of an IPL final. Has everything!
Isam: I am talking from memory here, but there's this one over from Sachithra Senanayake in the World T20 final in 2014 that I keep remembering. He conceded two runs in the 15th over against Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli. But then Nuwan Kulasekara conceded 16 off the next and the general feeling was that Kohli would tear into the Sri Lankan attack in the last four overs. Senanayake gave away four singles before Kula and Malinga conceded just 15 runs in the last three overs. India were 130 for 4 in 20 overs. This will hardly ever get a mention but I remember thinking back then that this 17th over gave Sri Lanka the final push they needed to keep Kohli down, and obviously, it panned out quite well for them in the end.
Roller: Isam, that is exactly the sort of over that deserves this crown, but sadly so much coverage of T20 is about its growth and the spectacle rather than the game itself. And impossible-to-find highlights, I don't doubt.
Isam: Oh for sure, Matt, and I think Shah brought up a good point about what constitutes a great T20 over. Sometimes, a great over is one where the underdog comes through.
Roller: On the topic of highlights, I also want to mention Kate Cross' final over for England against India in March 2019. India needed three to win, two to tie, and only managed one. But I couldn't find the grainy highlights I had once seen when preparing for this, so it's vanished from everyone's memory.
Shah: This Kate Cross over is the kind that deserves the crown. It sounds like a ridiculous over. You need more than just luck to pull off an over where you successfully defend two.
And sometimes poor overs become great overs because of luck as well. Two years before the 2019 IPL final, Mumbai were in the final in 2017 too. Mitchell Johnson took three wickets and defended ten against the Rising Pune Supergiant to give them a third crown as they won by one run. What's really funny is that there were at least three balls there that could have gone for boundaries, but ended up being caught or dropped.
Roller: As R Ashwin said: "Six well-constructed bad balls could be the way forward in T20."
Isam: No discussion of great T20 bowling is complete without Rashid Khan, though, and there was an over of his I wanted to mention - against Bangladesh in the 2018 bilateral series. He defended eight off the last over.
Shah: Is this the one with the crazy save at the boundary? Where a sure-shot four eventually ended up just as two runs?
Isam: Yes, that's the one. Afghanistan winning 3-0.
Roller: These plucky underdogs are all well and good but they can't beat the man himself. I'm throwing down my top three, in order:
1. Malinga vs the Chennai Super Kings, 2019 IPL final
2. Narine vs T&T, 2014 CPL Super Over
3. Malinga vs New Zealand, T20I, 2019
Isam: All right, if we're doing top threes:
1. Narine vs T&T, 2014 CPL Super Over
2. Dale Steyn v New Zealand, 2014 World T20
3. Malinga v CSK, 2019 IPL final
Shah: Sorry folks, but I can't look beyond Narine's Super Over. The dude celebrated a wicket! That's a first (and this has nothing to do with the fact that Narine plays for my Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL). Malinga vs New Zealand in 2019 is second for me, and the 2019 IPL final is third.
Roller: Looks like Narine is the man in that case, with honourable mentions for Malinga and Steyn.
Shah: Another so-close-yet-so-far moment for South Africa.
Shah: I'd love to get hold of that Kate Cross over, though.
Roller: It must be out there somewhere.