As Jasprit Bumrah walked to top of his run-up for the last ball before lunch, his captain at Mumbai Indians Rohit Sharma sidled up from mid-off for a chat. “It’s the last ball, you could try a slower ball. You use it a lot in white-ball cricket and could still try it,” Bumrah would reveal Rohit’s suggestion later. It turned out to be the trigger for one of the contenders for the ball of the year. The slower-ball yorker left the well-set Shaun Marsh petrified. It encapsulated everything that is special about Bumrah: Eager to soak up advice, astounding skills and accuracy to execute, and total control over his art. To beat a batsman solely intent on defence with a slower ball in Test cricket requires wizardry.
Like a curveball of cricket’s distant cousin baseball, the ball floated, then drifted before it dipped deviously onto his pads. It was an amalgam of pace or the lack of it thereof, late swerve and sudden drop that defeated Marsh. It needed all those three traits to bewilder Marsh; anything less, he probably would have managed to stab it away.
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The floating-effect would make you believe that it was the knuckle ball, that postmodern T20 bowlers’ weapon, but it was more of an orthodox off-cutter, fingers cutting down the side of the ball to ensure it loops. We have seen Pat Cummins use the cutter but he prefers a scrambled seam to grip the surface; Bumrah took the pitch out of the equation with his method. It was all done in the air — the float, the swerve, and the drastic dip, leaving no time for Marsh to adjust. No wonder his technique went awry; the head flickered, the legs wobbled and the balance went asunder. The whippy, high-arm release, accentuated by snappy wrists, amplified the sudden drop. If you watch the footage, the release point was a little higher than his normal deliveries, exaggerating the sudden drop. Whatever the dynamics be, Marsh had little clue.
Bumrah didn’t blindly follow Rohit’s advice but saw the cricketing wisdom in it. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I could give it go. Nothing is really happening and maybe a slower ball there and some of their guys play with hard hands…’” If not an lbw or bowled, there lurked the possibility of Marsh spooning a catch to short cover, a typical dismissal on a sluggish surface. “I tried to bowl a slower one, a fuller slow ball. Maybe it will dip or go to short cover. So that was the plan, and it worked,” he explained.
Persuasion apart, there were two other reasons he probed fuller lengths. First, and primary, was the amount of reverse swing and second, the sluggishness of the wicket. And nothing deadlier than the cocktail of reverse swing and pace on a slow surface. It’s surprising then that he, or most of his tribe, sporadically bowls yorkers in Test matches, unless you’re a tearaway. A reason could be the sheer physical strain of bowling an yorker—the shoulder, thigh and knees take a battering. Agrees Bumrah: “It is a little different in Test cricket. In white-ball cricket there are only 10 overs. Yorker takes a lot out of your body. After bowling 25 overs it is difficult sometimes to execute the yorkers.”
It could also be that fully side-on action has dwindled, or rather discouraged. Most of the yorker-spewing mavericks had a side-on action, like Waqar Younis, and it’s considered an action more conducive to bowling yorkers. Now, the bowlers ingrain a blend of both side-on and chest-on, which means the lower half of body is predominantly front-on, with the top half side-on. It’s more exacting to bowl yorkers with such an action.
Then the fear of erring. Get it wrong and it becomes a long half-volley or a low full toss. It has to be spot-on. Bumrah concurs: “I believe you cannot overdo it because it’s easier for the batsmen if you get it wrong and easier to score as well. But you can use it in patches and when there is reverse swing it is more effective.” Maybe, Bumrah would make yorkers fashionable again, if he already hasn’t.