It has been two weeks since the IPL started and it has been a captivating ride so far. After a few one sided matches to get the tournament underway, the last week has thrown some nail-biting last-ball finishes at us. Starting with the Mumbai-Deccan game right up to the thriller in Bengaluru last night, it has been some exhilarating stuff.
There have been some scintillating batting displays (Rahane, Owais Shah, Gayle, Albie Morkel) so far in the competition. There have been some fascinating last ball boundaries and thrilling chases, most notably that of Mumbai vs Deccan (where Rohit did a Miandad), CSK vs RCB (Virat Kohli won’t forget this one in a hurry), KKR vs RR (where Shakib once again proved his class), RR vs DC (powered by Brad Hodge) and RCB vs PWI (when the Gaylestorm hit Rahul Sharma, Ashish Nehra and Pune as a whole). While it has been great to watch from an audience perspective, with fours and sixes galore, what bothers me greatly is the quality of bowling; or the lack of it actually. Amidst the entire boundary hitting chaos, the highlight for me personally has been Dale Steyn’s fiery spell against the Mumbai Indians. It was genuine, threatening and dangerous fast bowling at its best. Dale Steyn showed his class and reiterated why he is not only the best test bowler, but the best fast bowler going around the world at the moment.
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The quality of bowling, especially death bowling, has been alarming to say the least. Death bowling is an art. Having grown up watching the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bowl those deadly reverse-swinging, toe-crushing yorkers, to now watching bowlers dish out half volleys, length balls, wide slower balls and full tosses is a highly unpleasant change. The commentators in this IPL have generally gone overboard describing the quality of the shots and the batsmen who have played them. Yes, the shots have been good. But at this level, in this format, you would expect the batsman to dispatch half-volleys or full tosses out of the ground, and that is precisely what they have been doing. What you would not expect though, is an international bowler like Dan Christian or Vinay Kumar (who has been hit for the most number of sixes in the ongoing IPL) or Ashish Nehra to dish out some absolute rubbish in the slog overs. This has also been India’s plight for a long time now. With Zaheer being the slight exception, no other Indian bowler has been able to deliver when the heat is on.
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Death bowling, like everything else, has to be practiced and mastered. Ask Malinga, who has spent hours on end, toiling, trying to hit a shoe in practice by keeping it exactly where a batsman’s toe would have been. Umar Gul is another exponent of this art, he rarely bowls a bad ball at the death and his yorkers are almost near perfect and swinging consistently (not a surprise at all, that he comes from the land of Wasim and Waqar). It is amazing that with so much technology, support staff and video analysts around, only these select few can bowl a good yorker consistently. When Nehra got rid of Gayle through a perfect yorker, why he could not reproduce that same delivery 4 or 5 times in the last over baffles me. Missing a Yorker is one thing, missing it by a mile so that it becomes a waist high full toss or a rank half volley is totally another.
It comes down to skill and dedication. It requires special efforts to become a Wasim or a Malinga or a Gul. If a bowler is not prepared to toil hard to sharpen his death bowling, it is not worth paying him a million dollars just to turn up and bowl rubbish. The batsmen are good, the bats are better, but any batsman will tell you that putting away a good, well directed yorker or bouncer is still a very tough thing to do. So let us not go overboard in praise of the batsmen, they are merely putting away bad balls. Let us hold the bowlers accountable as well for not having control over their art. Good death bowling is essential to limited overs cricket. Cricket is a contest between bat and ball. The moment it becomes a boundary fest and the bowlers are taken out of the equation, it ceases to be a contest. The greatest sight in cricket is always a good batsman consistently tested by good balls. I hope good death bowling returns again, the contest returns again. I hope this lack of good death bowling doesn’t lead to the death of bowling in the shortest format of the game.