What to do when the 20th is upon you

Vinay Kumar... upending the opposition in the end overs.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Bowling in the ‘clutch’ boils down to knowing what ball to bowl — and being able to bowl it at will, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

In the winter of 2010, The Mighty Mullygrubber Malone appeared on bookshelves in Australia. The story of 12-year-old leg-spinner Mullygrubber Malone, who goes from school cricket to wearing the baggy-green in one summer, the book ends with the protagonist sending down the final over of the fifth Ashes Test, the urn hanging in the balance. A work of fiction (it must be clarified; even Australia’s desperation for a spinner has its limits), it is cricket’s Roy of the Rovers — its last-over heroics cricket’s answer to the romantic stoppage-time cup-final-winner.

This last week in the Pepsi IPL, R. Vinay Kumar and Kevon Cooper pulled off a couple of Mullygrubber Malones themselves. With nine unlikely runs to defend from Mumbai Indians in the final over at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Vinay steered Royal Challengers Bangalore home. Over at the Ferozeshah Kotla, Cooper throttled Delhi Daredevils, bowling with remarkable precision to steal victory for his Rajasthan Royals.

Although he hasn’t pulled off any last-over heists yet this season, Sunil Narine remains one of the most reliable operators in the format. He is his side’s go-to man in critical situations. Beyond the elementary difficulty that some batsmen have facing spin and beyond all the tricks, Narine’s bowling has the benefit of rigid accuracy. In the final of the T20 World Cup, when Nuwan Kulasekara was going berserk, it was him that Darren Sammy brought on, in the 17th over. Kulasekara was excised for the addition of two more runs; the match concluded in the 19th.

Bowling in the ‘clutch’ boils down to knowing what ball to bowl — and being able to bowl it at will. “Defending 10 runs in an over is very difficult, maybe three times out of 10 a bowler can do it successfully,” Vinay said after his efforts over MI.

Sunil Narine (extreme left)... the exterminator in the death overs.-K.R. DEEPAK

Feels Javagal Srinath: “Bowling in T20 is also about a lot of luck because batsmen attempt highly unorthodox shots. A bowler can’t go in with a preconceived idea of what a batsman is going to do — whether he will charge down the wicket or attempt a reverse hit — and bowl a particular ball. A lot of it is gut feeling.”

It is often high-risk business, requiring deep mental fortitude. Saeed Ajmal spoke of being “heartbroken” after the semifinal loss to Australia in the 2010 T20 World Cup, blaming himself for Michael Hussey’s blitzkrieg. Only last season, Vinay had gone for 15 in an Albie Morkel-conducted final-over loss to Chennai Super Kings. The over in the MI win too was far from perfect. The penultimate delivery reached Kieron Pollard as a low full toss and the batsman promptly thumped it for four. Yet, Vinay had the nerve to attempt a yorker on the final ball.

“The first few years (in the IPL) might have been difficult for me, but having played six years and more in this kind of format, I just kept telling myself that I am going to do what I am good at,” he explained. Cooper, similarly, had bled 23 from his first two overs; it took courage to bowl that last over.

The delivery of choice varies too. In the 20th overs of RCB’s contests with MI and Sunrisers Hyderabad (eventually a Super Over loss), Vinay employed with success the length ball (aimed at the top of off-stump), the slower one, and finally the yorker. Cooper, on the other hand, attempted yorkers alone — and pulled them off.

To most bowlers, there is not even a choice: the yorker is the only weapon. “Whether it is wide, sliding into the pads, or swinging away from the lowest angle — that’s the ball that wins games,” the South African bowling coach Allan Donald stated, evoking a sharpshooter’s fond words for his favourite rifle, earlier this year. “The ball that really does it, especially when you need a wicket — is a gun yorker.”

Some of Donald’s training has clearly paid off — on his South African wards at least; Dale Steyn secured it in the aforementioned Super Over for Hyderabad, harpooning in three quick, dipping, unplayable yorkers.

Kevon Cooper... turning on the heat.-R.V.MOORTHY

The only way to be able to bowl them at will, under the stifling pressure of expectation, is to create a repeatable action through days and months of practice, believes the former India spinner Sunil Joshi.

“I learnt how to bowl yorkers from Anil (Kumble) and Sri (Srinath) and then practised that skill every day in the nets. Even spinners can bowl them. I bowled yorkers that went with the arm, sliding into the batsman’s pads. The yorker is the ideal delivery — don’t give the batsman any elevation, don’t let him free his arms; let him step out if he has to. But I tell my players (Joshi is also coach of the Hyderabad state team) that without practice, they cannot pull it off in match situations.”

On a visit to Bangalore last year, Robert ‘Big Shot’ Horry, arguably the NBA’s greatest ever ‘clutch’ shooter, was asked what it took to become so unflappably accurate. “Perfect practice, confidence, and having fun,” he said. “Confidence is vital; if I’m one of your team-mates and I see you with your head down, I’m not going to give you the ball.”

At Wembley, Roy Race’s team-mates trusted him with the ball, like Mullygrubber Malone’s did at the MCG. In real life, though, these things often end in far less saccharine fashion. “It’s OK to fail,” Horry said. “I did sometimes. But I just enjoyed shooting.”