Delivering the yorker with deadly accuracy

Jasprit Bumrah has been Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s primary option at the death, thanks to his exceptional yorker bowling skills. (Reuters Photo)

Just when Bangladesh appeared to be getting too close for comfort as their lower order made a spirited chase of India’s target at Edgbaston on Tuesday, Jasprit Bumrah hastened their end with two perfectly executed yorkers.

He cleaned up both Rubel Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman with two successive balls in the block-hole to leave the dangerous-looking Mohammad Saifuddin stranded at the other end. Not since Zaheer Khan rattled the timber of Steve Waugh in Nairobi during the 2000 Champions Trophy as a teenager, has an Indian paceman bowled those toe-crushers with such accuracy and effect and so consistently.

As hard as a yorker is for a batsman to score off, it’s equally tough for a bowler to master that craft. The rewards for attempting a yorker are commensurate with the risks because the margin for error is too small. A foot less or extra in length can result in a juicy half-volley or a full-toss, and instead of getting a wicket or a dot ball, you may end up conceding a four or six.

As an attacking delivery, especially for the tail-enders, it’s an effective ammunition for an express bowler. It’s not for a bowler who clicks in early 130s because the batsmen have enough time to adjust. Speed, therefore, is essential for a yorker to be impactful. Defensively, too, it can be quite handy when the batsmen are looking to hit every ball. A good length ball can easily be scored off, more so on a good batting surface, while a yorker, which takes the pitch out of the equation, can greatly reduce scoring opportunities.

Apart from the risk involved, very few attempt the yorker as it takes so much out of a bowler because it’s an effort ball. That’s why we have so few pacemen, past or present, that have been known for delivering the ball in the block-hole.

Wasim Akram was famous for producing those unplayable balls but then he had so many varieties in his armoury that the left-arm paceman used it only sparingly. His fellow new-ball bowler Waqar Younis, however, used it to great effect. Hurling the ball in the upwards of 140 kph with a perceptible sling of his arm, he threatened the limbs of batsmen and base of their stumps if they failed to dig out the sphere.

Lasith Malinga was another fine exponent of yorkers which was his bread and butter in T20s. With advanced age and reduced pace, he has used it intermittently and that’s why he is lesser the bowler today than he used to be a few years ago. Over the years, yorker had gone out of fashion. Not only because it was hard to perfect, but it put so much stress on bowlers’ bodies. Instead, they relied more on swing, reverse swing, cutters, wide yorkers (as opposed block-hole deliveries), slower balls and bouncers.

With two new balls being used in one innings of an ODI, it has taken reverse-swing out of the game and with batsmen countering bowlers’ variations with their innovative shots, yorker has become the best antidote in a format that’s heavily loaded in favour of willow wielders. It keeps the top-order batsmen quiet while the tail-enders barely survive it.

Getting them inch-perfect every time you bowl them in a match requires putting in the hard yards in the nets, and Bumrah credits his success rate to his preparation.

“I do it again and again and again in the nets,” he said. “So the more you do it, you get decent at it. You can’t master it. You’re still trying to get better at it. Yeah, it’s all about repetition. It’s like any other ball. If you’ve bowled so many length balls, just like that. So, you have to do it again and again and try to replicate in the game.

“So, whenever I practice in the nets, I practice each and every situation, be it with the new ball, be it with the old ball or bowling at the death. So, if I’ve ticked all of the boxes in the net, in the match, it’s all about execution and keeping a clear head. All of that preparation helps me in the matches. If the work ethic is good, I think the execution feels much more easy in the game,” he offered.

Bumrah, along with Mitchell Starc and to an extent Kagiso Rabada, has to be the best bowlers of yorkers today. They are express fast and can swing the ball at high speeds. More importantly, they are willing to be hard on their bodies.

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