Why should I bowl slower ones, when I can bowl fast — Legend says that’s what Michael Holding told the press during an English summer. Sure, somewhere up there in the horizon, the batting gods had cleanly taken some offence to it. As the game wore on with the advent of One-day Internationals in the 90s, bowling fast still meant you could get away with your pace. But still, occasionally the odd batsmen had the audacity to play some proper cricketing shots.
Then came Twenty20, where batsmen took attacks for granted. The faster the bowler delivered, faster the bat responded and quicker the ball disappeared. Yorkers, once what the ‘doctored ordered,’ were now ‘scooped’ by courageous batsmen and some outrageous ones like AB de Villiers even managed to hoist them over covers. ‘Margin of error?’ Are you kidding? ‘No way’. This is just how cruel it is for the bowlers.
It’s not about line and length anymore. The batsmen are so used to it and are quick to figure out with the fielding settings, that they premeditate the shot as they take a breather down the non-striker’s end!
With every new shot added to the book, bowlers have countered it with new variations. For instance, a slower delivery varies from pacer to pacer. There are ones that come from the back of the hand, the ones which are delivered with the roll of the fingers and the ones bowled with split fingers or lobbed up between the thumb and the index finger. With such mutants, the bowler keeps the batsmen guessing all the time. Smarter teams have gone for such bowlers in Twenty20.
Every bowler tries out different things, but execution is still not mastered. Few bowlers, who have understood the importance of execution, have thrived in the T20 arena. Be it Tests or ODIs or T20s, the bottomline is wickets. That is what acts as a stimulant. “This format has made everybody think. The reverse-sweeps and scoops even covert the yorkers into boundary balls. So the bowler has to be smart if he wants to outsmart the batsman. Hence, the variations come into play. Good bowlers keep the batsmen guessing. That is what is required in T20s. More than length, variations has become important, said Paras Mhambrey, the assistant coach of Mumbai Indians.
Variations don’t just stop with deliveries. Bowlers changing their action or using the crease have come into use more often. “Sometimes, the bowler’s action can catch the batsman off-guard. Take Malinga for instance. His slower ball almost floats before he snarls the batsmen with his deception. So unlike in Tests where good line and length will get you wickets, in T20’s it’s variation that is going to fetch wickets,” observed Mhambrey.
The scene is quite similar but different with the spinners. Their role has largely come down to containing the flow of runs when a set batsman is in the middle and go for the kill when a new batsmen arrives. But against the two, the spinner adopts a different strategy. If top-spinners and flatter ones are used against the former, wrong ‘uns, carrom-balls, doosra and flighted deliveries greet the latter.
“In T20s, spinners are used to put the brakes on the run flow. They compensate for the lack of pace with variations. And with every spinner, the variations vary. The margin of error is minimum for spinners so he has to get it right,” said former India spinner Maninder Singh.
Though many shots have come into play which are hard to describe, in the end the smarter ones have had the last laugh and more often than not, the smarter ones have been the bowlers. Because they are different!