The shooting yorkers will continue to haunt the best in the business
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
ICC World Cup 2011. Sri Lanka vs Kenya. Venue: R Premdasa Stadium, Colombo.
Over 41.6: Malinga to Mishra. Malinga fires into the boots of Tanmay Mishra, as Mishra is caught clueless in front of the crease. Leg Before Wicket. LBW. Out.
Over 43.1: Malinga to Ongondo. Bowled. The 144 kmph yorker cleans up the middle stump.
Over 43.2: Malinga to Ngoche. Out. Fires into the legs as stumps shatter out of the ground. This is the second hat-trick for Malinga in a world cup tournament.
At his lethal best, Lasith Malinga can slinga-handedly fire yorkers at will. If the team wants yorkers, they get yorkers on demand - anytime, anywhere, in all time and space. Nicknamed 'Slinga Malinga', the blonde Sri Lankan round-arm action bowler is an expert in deceiving the batsmen with his fiery spells of toe-crushing deliveries that have made him the world's most dangerous bowler. Some of his flummoxed victims have had to literally bite the dust. His capability to bowl accurate in-swinging yorkers in the death overs in the shorter forms of the game defies imagination.
Cricket has changed by leaps and bounds in its long span extending for more than a century. From the subtle nuances and artistic, dogged resilience of Test cricket to the commercialised and lucrative one-day and T20 formats, cash-rich cricket has been converted into a one-dimensional, bang bang batsman's game. The multiplicity and complexity of a kaleidoscope of strokes, or the brilliant, patient brain game by a bowler of thinking a batsman out, has been replaced by the hysterical mob longings for sixes and fours. The modern day pitches are thereby suitably doctored for the batsmen so that spectators can witness a high scoring game. Gone are the days when lanky fast bowlers at their menacing pace used to send a chill down the batsman's spine, or when a wily spinner would actually plot the downfall of an entire team. The seaming, swinging and bouncing pitches are a rare sight; hence the text-book weapons in the fast bowlers' armour are rapidly losing sheen. Except for the yorker.
However, the solitary yorker is a lone weapon which, if bowled with accuracy and perfection, no matter if the wicket is green or dead, bouncy or flat, the condition overcast or dry, finds its shooting destiny. The sight of uprooted bases of the stumps pumps extra adrenalin in the bowler's veins. Yorker, a diabolical, nightmare ball for the batsman, present in every fast bowler's arsenal, is not really difficult to bowl, but it is very difficult to control. It is this control that most fast bowlers lack and therefore get whacked all over, all around the park.
Fired in the air like a guided missile, a yorker lands near the batsman's feet, making it unplayable. If the batsman is not fast enough to drag his bat in between his legs in good time, the ball rips the stumps from its base or even hits the pads in front of the wickets, resulting in a tame LBW dismissal.
The term 'yorker' has no specific meaning or historical narrative. It is an outcome of a local expression in Yorkshire in United Kingdom meaning, to trick or deceive. However, there is no evidence which clarifies the real meaning. Clearly, after being much debated and discussed on various occasions in the past, even on a BBC radio programme, Test Match Special, there has been no conclusive finality about the term's origins.
Yorker has its roots in the early 1970s. The ball was effectively developed as an easy way to dismiss tail-ender batsmen, who, mostly, lack batting skills. The batting stance of tail-enders is considered unique, as most of the lower order batsmen those days used to be much taller. Predictably, the extra height and short length of the bat used to create a big gap between the pads and the bat, which the bowlers targeted to their advantage.
However, it was the era of super fast bowlers Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee which set the highest standards in pace bowling, with their unique combination in the 1970s. Lillee was a master in bowling bouncers. His in-swinging balls would target the batsmen anywhere from their head to the waist. His bowling partner Thomson was an expert in throwing furious missiles at the feet of the batsmen. 'Thommo' was simply unplayable as his 'sandshoe crushers' were delivered at a furious pace of 100mph and most batsmen simply moved away from the wicket to save their toes.
Another man who sent a shiver down the batsman's spine with his devastating yorkers was the 'Big Bird' from Barbados, Joel Garner. The 6ft 8-inch fast bowler, along with the ferocity of fellow fast bowlers Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and later Malcolm Marshall, helped the West Indies reach unprecedented heights in both Test and one-day cricket. Garner was a bit different from his fellow bowling partners. The extra height helped him release the ball in a different manner, gaining a sharp angle as well as extra bounce. Such was the havoc he unleashed that Geoffrey Boycott, legendary English opener, once joked in an interview, "They should cut Joel Garner off at the knees to make him bowl at normal height."
However, no one can forget the contribution of Pakistani fast bowlers in perfecting this specific skill. The small, troubled country in South Asia, with very limited infrastructure and rocked by perpetual scandals, has produced some of the best swing and seam bowlers in modern day cricket. It started with the likes of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, but the bowler who mastered the art of yorkers was a soft-spoken lad from Burewala in Pakistan's Punjab. Often nicknamed as 'Waqar the Jhakkaas Bowler', among his fans Waqar Younis was a true master of swing, pace and control. Unlike West Indian or Australian fast bowlers, Waqar was not much into knocking heads off, and believed in shattering toes and fingers. Such was the havoc of his yorkers in the English County Circuit in his early days that Englishmen would not dare to stand on the batting crease without 'steel toe shoes'. "You don't need a helmet facing Waqar Younis so much as a steel toe cap," said Simon Hughes about Waqar's swinging yorkers.
Batting legends like Brain Lara, Graeme Hick, Steve Waugh and many others literally rolled their bats in order to salute the master and save their toes from getting crushed. Waqar, in his prolific career of 372 wickets in Test cricket, had the amazing achievement of 110 LBWs and 102 bowled dismissals. The sultan of swing considered himself lucky, as he had the natural talent to curl the ball into the batsman. He considered his slingy action as the main factor that helped him master his quirky weapon. He was dead accurate in his follow-through; the long run-up helped him target the ball outside the off stump (the sixth stump), as quoted by his team-mates, and he would swing it unconventionally in the air to hit the middle or leg stump.
Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar took the baton from the likes of Waqar and Wasim to carry forward the legacy of fast bowling. The sheer pace of Lee and Akhtar was hard to read, as they fired yorkers at a pace of almost 100mph every now and then. Due to his genuinely classy action, Lee still has his aura intact, whereas the fiery yorkers of an erratic Shoaib had become a rare sight long before he retired after the 2011 World Cup.
In modern day cricket, Malinga can easily be dubbed as the king of yorkers. Slinga is the only bowler to get four wickets in four balls, including a hat-trick, in an ICC World Cup 2007 match against South Africa in Guyana. With Africa needing only five runs to win with five wickets in hand, the game was almost over before Malinga took charge. He fired his deadly yorkers to remove Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini in four successive balls to create unprecedented chaos in the match.
South African pacer Dayl Steyn, West Indian Kemar Roach, Australian Shaun Tait and India's Zaheer Khan are the other fast bowlers who also utilise yorkers on some occasions - but they lack accuracy and quality. Indeed, reverse swing was a myth, until Waqar Younis discovered it. Who knows, one day some fast bowlers would come out with a new creative invention with the leather ball to out-fox the batsmen. However, the unpredictable shooting yorkers would continue to stalk and haunt all cricketers, including the best in the business.