Long-legged athleticism

Lasith Malinga... yorkers at will.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Since the 20-over format hardly affords space for strategic or even linear thought, segueing into a discussion on why Lasith Malinga wouldn't bowl a series of 24 yorkers in a match, seems only natural, writes Raakesh Natraj.

There were two entrants for the ‘Display of long-legged athleticism which despite making the perpetrator look like a giraffe doing the four-legged splits in a green rink, served the team well' gong recently. The first, a crucial Edwin van der Sar leg-hook which stud-poked the ball away from Chelsea's on-rushing Nicholas Anelka in Manchester United's Champions League fixture, not having anything to do with cricket, shall not be mentioned thus forth. The second such effort came in Deccan Chargers' 33-run win against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the second week of IPL IV (which, a few people argue, has as little to do with cricket as the previous contender), when Ishant Sharma crab-scuttled along the boundary ropes, going down in a glorious flailing of elbows and knees to come up with the ball, while whistling-in a throw to the 'keeper, in what looked like a peep into an alternate reality (refer to ball 10.2, D. Christian to S. Tiwary, 2 runs).

That was not the only cliche-breaking, myth-assaulting, streak-halting occurrence that evening. Deccan's pacemen called the shots on the Hyderabad (India, Sub-continent; to provide more locational and stereotypical specificity) wicket, picking up eight of the nine RCB wickets (at just over six an over) that fell, while the lone spinner, Amit Mishra, was clubbed for 41 runs off his four. Daniel Vettori belied his reputation for sanity, in inexplicably promoting Zaheer Khan (out for nought) to one down, ahead of the likes of Virat Kohli, A.B. de Villiers, Saurabh Tiwary and Cheteshwar Pujara. To round things off nicely, Deccan even managed to win at home, for the first time ever.

The Yorker man

Since the 20-over format hardly affords space for strategic or even linear thought, segueing into a discussion on why Lasith Malinga wouldn't bowl a series of 24 yorkers in a match, seems only natural. It is clearly not a question of ability. Unlike bowlers who telegraph their intent by bowling a series of over-pitched deliveries/full-toses before they can or cannot land one in the blockhole, Malinga can crush toes better than a bedpost in a blackout. Also, it is not like Malinga's yorker is wholly unexpected. Going by a conservative estimate which excludes low full-tosses and over-pitched deliveries, Malinga still managed to send down 23 inch-perfect yorkers (32.8 per cent, almost one-third of total deliveries bowled) in three matches, picking up seven of his nine wickets while at it. It is when he goes for the change-up stuff: the slower ball or the length delivery, that he invariably gets hit. That brings us back to the initial question of why Malinga won't keep going for the batsman's footwear, something he allegedly does in practice. Like in the Nasseruddin Hoodja story, it doesn't really seem to matter if someone's in the shoes.

PS: Malinga's five for thirteen against Delhi Daredevils is the third-best figures for the IPL. Four of his victims fell to his yorker. As the cliche goes, knowing what is coming your way is one thing, dealing with it is another.

Robin and Rudra

Robin Uthappa and R. P. Singh, along with the trembling, technicolour flowers strategically placed to obscure the on-screen, fast-fading, romantic interlude in movies, were probably designed to titillate. Both have had spells under the sun. Uthappa was a part of India's World T20 winning campaign, has five ODI 50s (in 31 innings at almost a run a ball, mostly batting down the order) while R. P. Singh (over 100 international wickets, violet cap winner in IPL 2009) gave a fair account of himself during tours of Australia and England. Uthappa was (and still is) one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the country, while Singh in his pomp, could get the ball to lift and curve in at pace. Neither are in line for a call up to the national side any time soon.

To see what went wrong, one just had to watch Pune's chase of Kerala's 148. In the opening over of the second innings to Jesse Ryder, Singh, after shaping the ball away from the left-hander for pretty much all his career, got one to move in, leaving the batsman with the sheepish, uncomprehending, look of someone who had just been nutmegged.

To be fair, it could be a Sandhu-esque one-off, but a couple of balls earlier, he had pushed one on to Ryder's pads, which was in all probability an attempt at the other one gone wrong. If this is not pure speculation, then Singh has added the definitive string to his bow, the ability to move the ball both ways, but as he later showed, what his real problem was not the lack of variation, but the inability to exercise control. If it was on the off, it ended up too short and if it was on the leg, well, it didn't matter. Singh finished with none for thirty in three overs.

Uthappa, coming in with 88 needed off 60 balls, cracked a reverse sweep off Muttiah Muralitharan for a boundary, first ball.

Sachin Tendulkar...unbeaten in his first three innings of IPL 2011 with an aggregate of 201.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

It is a risky shot at any stage of your innings, but doing it first ball, against Murali, is one hell of a gamble. Firstly, the turn and bounce Murali generates makes getting clean contact quite difficult.

Secondly, if one is to get out playing the shot, the ex post facto reaction of the skipper (who in this case was Yuvraj Singh, stationed at the non-striker's end) would be to bring a spiked paddle to your rear, or something to that effect. Nonetheless, he survived and Uthappa's 13-ball 31 was an exhibition of power-hitting, eventually brought to an end by, yes, an air-swipe reverse-sweep off Murali. Live by the sword, etc etc.

Nailing it with numbers

It is interesting (also fairly impossible to flesh out conclusively within the constraints of this space) to wonder if the conventional aesthetic frame-work can still be employed while ascertaining the worth of a T20 knock (going along with the format's assumption that bowling doesn't really matter).

For viewers, it is difficult to imagine a parameter more weighty than effect that will be used as the predominant tool for judgement. As for the statistically inclined, numbers are expected to conclude debates. They are also fairly easy to put down, and that is where we shall start. Paul Valthaty scored 120 runs (not out) in 63 balls with 19 fours and two sixes.

The pace at which he scored ensured that KXIP's chase (CSK had scored a mammoth 188 batting first) never lost momentum. 50 came in 5.1 overs, 100 in 10.1 and 150 in 15.5. It is the most a batsman has scored in an IPL chase and the third highest score, across all seasons.

As for the effect, suffice it to say that Valthay's breakout week (which also saw him pick up four for 29 and score 75 off 47 balls against DC) has meant that another extraordinary sequence of scores has more or less slipped beneath the radar: Sachin Tendulkar has scored 46 n.o., 55 n.o. and 100 n.o. respectively in his first three matches.