x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Malinga or no Malinga, batsmen have kept pace with the yorkers

Is the tried and tested delivery no longer as potent because players are better equipped to combat it, asks Osman Samiuddin.

Lasith Malinga remains one of few practitioners who employ the yorker delivery. Michael Steele / Getty Images
Lasith Malinga remains one of few practitioners who employ the yorker delivery. Michael Steele / Getty Images

Is the yorker dying, metaphorically if not literally?

All right, maybe not dying, not even metaphorically, but is it not less of a weapon now than at any time in the past 20 years? Have batsmen not improved at playing it?

This needs to be qualified a little. When Lasith Malinga, for example, has ball in hand, it might be especially foolish to pursue this argument - though tellingly, in this season's Indian Premier League, even his yorkers were not quite as destructive as before.

And as recently as the 2009 World Twenty20, at the death against South Africa, Umar Gul bowled near enough 12 yorkers in a row at Trent Bridge, stifling JP Duminy and Jacques Kallis just as they might have expected to surge in their chase. It was killer stuff.

But that it is not what it once was has snuck up on the limited-overs game, in particular since the growth of Twenty20s. Already in this Champions Trophy, it has been acknowledged by its absence, particularly whenever a filthy length ball happens to be planked over the batsman's shoulder for a boundary around the 48th over.

It can be mildly exasperating viewing, not bowling a yorker consistently at the death, particularly when the stray one or two that are bowled have worked so well that it seems obvious to just keep bowling them.

At its peak through the 1990s, the yorker was the default delivery during the final overs of an ODI, a weapon through which the bowling side took control.

Why not now?

Clearly it is not as simple as that. If yorkers still worked, they would be working, right? (That inescapable logic is inspired by what Hollywood had Mark Zuckerberg snap at the Winklevoss twins: "If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you'd have invented Facebook.")

Batsmen are better-equipped now to play it. Back in the 1990s, Martin Crowe was considered by Wasim Akram to be the best player of yorkers. Crowe stood out in a Test series late in 1990, when he was comfortably the best batsman in a 3-0 whitewash against Akram and Waqar Younis at their fiercest.

His success was a combination of fear, minor technical tinkering and a natural technique. Because he was so worried about Pakistani umpires giving him out leg-before, fear made sure he got his bat down to ball, always.

His stance was always a little open-hipped, so that his body and feet were never in the way of the ball. And growing up in New Zealand, his back lift was minimal, allowing him to come down on yorkers quicker.

But this was essentially about survival. Crowe's achievement was that he made it difficult for Akram and Waqar to get him out.

Crowe fell to Waqar only twice in six innings, in which the pair took 39 wickets.

Now it is about dominating.

Batsmen not only do not get out to the yorker, they attack it. A batsman, standing deeper into his crease, can now move outside off and scoop or paddle through fine or square leg. To yorkers on off-stump, still set well back, the batsman now squeezes through the off, often sneaking boundaries.

As response, the yorker has tried to reinterpret its intent. Right-armers bowling it from around the wicket wide outside off are saving runs, not looking for wickets, as was once the case.

But generally batting's great instinct of self-immunity has de-fanged it: yorkers have always been around but it was precisely because they became so lethal that batsmen had to evolve.

Another reason yorkers might seem less threatening now is that any lament by default invokes the success which Akram and Waqar, the delivery's poster boys, had with them. In their hands, the worth of the yorker stood hugely inflated, raising expectations to levels unlikely to be met again.

With that pair, it was not necessarily the length that defeated batsmen. In Waqar's case it was the late dip in trajectory, even more than the sudden, sharp bend, which also explains Malinga's success.

With Akram, there was dip, swerve and the crazy, new angles he was delivering from.

So idealised is the notion of their yorker, stumps shattered, appeals for a plumb LBW, so overbearingly successful that it includes as yorkers balls which were not yorker-length, in the term's strictest interpretation.

Often, they took wickets with deliveries that were merely full, even half-volleys; it was just that their unique attributes – the dip, the pace, the angles – made up for, say, the extra foot in length that would have made it a true yorker.

Inevitably, though, bowling must evolve in response. Slow bouncers, once an Andy Roberts set-up, are now a common tool. The slower ball, in fact, is no longer just a delivery but an entire genre with many sub-genres, with spectrums of pace changes and flight, in grip and so in which way, if at all, they turn.

Nothing yet, though, has been as consistently successful in containing the death overs charge as the yorker once was.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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