The thrills and nightmares of last-ball finishes

A bowler, when tossed the ball to finish the last over, has no right of refusal. He has to bowl. That’s it. He has the faith of the captain and the wishes of the team. But essentially he is alone on the field, fighting his instincts.

Hardik Pandya came out on top after bowling a crucial last over against Bangladesh.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

Heartbreaking, crushing for some; joyous, invigorating for some; hero can become zero in the span of one ball or six balls. Cricket can be cruel and not always a great leveller. For every Gary Sobers, there is a Malcolm Nash (who was hit for six sixes in an over by the former in 1968). Ravi Shastri, Herschelle Gibbs and Yuvraj Singh emulated Sobers’ feat and were celebrated. But the bowlers off whom they hit six sixes in an over – Tilak Raj, Daan van Bunge and Stuart Broad – stood savaged and humiliated.

A bowler, when tossed the ball to finish the last over, has no right of refusal. He has to bowl. That’s it. He has the faith of the captain and the wishes of the team. But essentially he is alone on the field, fighting his instincts to bowl a particular ball because counselling comes from all quarters: “don’t over-pitch”, “no wides”, “keep it tight”, “don’t experiment”. He is the man under scrutiny, a sacrificial lamb. The world is tense. But he alone is mortified if he errs. Hardik Pandya got away the other night, despite conceding nine runs off the first three balls and bowling full tosses of the next two.

 

Saeed Ajmal, a parsimonious off-spinner, was not spared in a critical last over. He was shattered as Michael Hussey plundered 18 off his over, winning the semifinal in the 2010 World Twenty20 at St. Lucia. “I am haunted by that over,” Ajmal had remarked some time back. The memories would never leave him, just as they don’t leave Chetan Sharma, whacked for a last-ball six at Sharjah in 1986 by Javed Miandad. “I would still bowl the same ball,” Chetan insists.

Mushfiqur Rahim, however, would have pledged last night never to take a full toss casually.

It was a pulsating end to a cracker of a contest. Last-over excitement brings to mind the Mohammad Amir over against Australia in the 2010 World T20 group match at St. Lucia. He began with Australia 191 for five and ended with Australia 191 all out – Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tate falling to him in addition to run out dismissals of Hussey and Steve Smith. Amir, in contemporary cricket, is a brave bowler who loves it when the captain gives him the ball for the final over along with Ashish Nehra.

Pandya’s last over on Wednesday reminded of Joginder Sharma’s final over in the 2007 World Twenty20 final. “My heart sank even though I had released the ball a trifle slow,” was Joginder Sharma’s lasting memory of the moment when he bowled India to a sensational victory.

Chris Pringle is perhaps the most unsung of the last-over heroes in one-day cricket. The right-arm Kiwi seamer bowled six dot balls to his lanky Australian counter-part Bruce Reid with just two runs to defend. The finish at Hobart in 1990 is lost in pages of history but can be revisited on YouTube to celebrate an era when even the most sensational and unbelievable climaxes evoked a measured response from the winners unlike the frenzied acts of today.

If only Rahim had remembered Ravi Shastri’s tactical move in the tied Test when Greg Mathews had four runs to defend. Shastri took two and a single, passing off the strike to Maninder Singh. “I ensured we won’t lose,” was Shastri’s defence. Well, Test matches don’t have super overs. Some results are best justified when there is no winner.