Buried in the block hole: Bumrah-Shami-Saini trio bowls yorkers with pin-point precision

Vishal Menon
india vs australia odi series, mohammed shami, jasprit bumrah, navdeep saini, ind vs aus odi series win, ravi shastri, cricket news

Mohammed Shami bowled Australia’s Pat Cummins with a yorker during the third ODI at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Sunday. (AP)

Pat Cummins knew it was coming, so did those back in Sydney glued to their television sets. But he was still late into the shot. The off-stump lay shattered. Mohammed Shami had delivered the prefect yorker — pin-point precision and an upright seam position with the ball tailing in prodigiously. He dismissed Cummins for successive ducks in a similar fashion.

"This game might be 130 years old, but that (the yorker) is still the best ball in the world. The exposure they (youngsters) get against the Australian outfit will stand them in good stead. Their mindset will be entirely different.”

This is what India head coach Ravi Shastri said following his team's emphatic 7-wicket win on Sunday. Displaying greater intensity on the field, taking tosses out of the equation and stellar acts from their top order have been factors that have contributed to Team India's comeback in the 3-match ODI series against Australia. However, the utility of a well-directed yorker cannot be overstated. It's the ability of India's three-pronged pace attack - comprising Jasprit Bumrah, Shami and Navdeep Saini - to bowl them at will that proved to be the fundamental difference between the two teams.

The ease with which Shami knocked out Cummins in successive games was just the tough proposition Indian pacers have become. Just to put things in perspective, in the Rajkot match, 30 out of their last 43 deliveries in the innings were either yorkers or full-length deliveries. The harried Aussie lower order only mustered 21 runs from those deliveries, and also lost three wickets in the process. In essence, this delivery had performed the dual role of containment as well as being the No.1 wicket-taking option.

india vs australia odi series, mohammed shami, jasprit bumrah, navdeep saini, ind vs aus odi series win, ravi shastri, cricket news

Lengths bowled by the Indian seamers in the recently concluded ODI series against Australia.

Delighted with his pacers, India captain Virat Kohli quipped: “I asked the bowlers what they wanted to do and they said this was the time to execute the yorkers. All three of them were really good with the yorkers, particularly Shami who changed everything in that over.”

Buoyed by their success in Rajkot, the trio performed even better in the series decider in Bangalore, where they hurled 32 yorkers (there were low and wide full tosses as well) between overs 42-50. Off these, Australia could accrue only 29 runs and lost four wickets. To drive home the point further, the last 24 deliveries of Australia's innings at the Chinnaswamy Stadium were all directed at the block hole. The old-fashioned good-length deliveries were banished, so were the short-pitched ones.

They might have made it look ridiculously easy, but bowling the yorker in ODIs has its own inherent risks. The margin of error is no minimal that if a bowler errs even slighly in line or length, the delivery can turn into either a half-volley or a full toss, both of which are fodder for modern-day batsmen. Back in the 1990s, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram could unleash yorkers to similar devastating effect.

At the start of this decade, Kohli is indeed blessed to have three fast bowlers, all in their prime, who can bowl at speeds in excess of 140kmph. Sustained pace is the extra weapon that emboldens bowlers to opt for a fullish length since it gives batsmen little reaction time. With his unorthodox slingy action, Bumrah's stock delivery is the back-of-the-length delivery that often puts batsmen in a quandary — whether to play on the front foot or back. His long sessions at the nets with Shami and Saini have helped the three perfect this art.

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In the last two ODIs, Kohli has preferred to rotate his pacers in the death overs — usually between overs 43-50 — when batsmen look to push the scoring rate. Bowling the predominantly fullish lengths have been their main weapon, but the trio has also used the short-pitched delivery to con batsmen. A classic instance being the manner in which Saini dismissed Mitchell Starc in Rajkot. The Delhi pacer had softened others with a barrage of full-length deliveries, before slipping in a bouncer that Starc hooked sheepishly to give wicketkeeper KL Rahul a simple catch.

If yorkers mixed sparingly with the short delivery is what they opt for at the end of the innings, their plans during the opening Powerplay and the middle overs are quite different. Here, they revert to a persistent back-of-a-good-length, with the odd full delivery in between. For instance, Saini bowled a searing yorker timed at 144.2kmph to Steve Smith as early as in the 10th over in Rajkot.

All this only illustrates that there's a proper method in play. Not long ago, the yorker was deemed a high-risk delivery in the shorter formats. It took an India-Australia ODI series and three supremely talented fast bowlers to bring it back in vogue.