4 runs required to win off the last ball. Having restricted the batsman in the first five balls of the over, the bowler takes the run-up to the crease for the last ball of the over, he notices the batsman making room. He decides to go for the yorker, hoping to cramp the batsman for room. Reaching the bowling crease, he releases the bowl just a fraction of a second too early. It goes all wrong… The ball falls invitingly for the batsman who hits it on the full. As the ball rolls past the boundary line, the bowler hangs his head in shame. The game ends in disappointment, disgust and defeat.
This season of the IPL has seen more than a few bowlers who suffered due to the death-over drama. Piyush Chawla, Ashish Nehra and Daniel Christian are among those unfortunate to be at the receiving end of the fireworks from batsmen in the last over of the innings, turning the tide of the game in favour of the opposition. A win turned into a loss for the bowling side. The bowler is accused and convicted of carelessness by fans and pundits alike. From hero to zero in just six balls.
So, how can a bowler deal with the pressure of bowling the last over? What makes some bowlers better than others when it comes to facing the heat? Is there a particular line and length that can restrict batsmen from scoring in the death overs?
One look at the successful death bowlers in the present age is sufficient enough to prove that there is no universally applicable formula. Far from that, variation is the key to successful bowling. Keeping the batsman guessing till the last moment is what makes the likes of Dale Steyn and Zaheer Khan effective when the batsman is looking to send every ball into the stands. When it comes to the death overs, a well-disguised slow ball or an occasional short delivery can do more wonders than a good length delivery at 150kmph.
Looking at it from a different angle, the secret of being effective towards the dying stages of the innings requires one to adhere to what I like to call the ‘Three Cs’.
Obvious, isn’t it? Even the best of plans are not worth much if they cannot be properly executed. There is little point in setting up the field for a yorker if it turns out to be a full toss and goes down the leg side. Also, do not expect a slower ball to beat the batsman if your fastest ball is a 120 kmph delivery.
A delivery can’t be called a ‘slower’ one if it is bowled six times in an over. Remember that a short ball is an invitation for trouble if it can’t be disguised well. Cricket is a mind game – it is difficult to win without using your mind.
The bowler is not the only person on the ground who puts the thinking cap on. The batsman would be keenly observing every step that the bowler takes and is difficult to beat if the bowler does not retain his composure till the last moment. Ability to improvise on the ball’s line, length or even pace at the last moment can be very useful as it adds an element of unpredictability, a very useful asset in the Twenty20 format.
Although coming in to bowl in the death overs is a risky proposition, statistics indicate that it can be highly rewarding as well if one pertains to the three C’s. While poor bowling would undoubtedly be punished, skill coupled with experience more often than not, gets rewarded well. After all, it is in such scenarios that reputations are made.