T Natarajan
T. Natarajan of Sunrisers Hyderabad celebrates the wicket of Marcus Stoinis of Delhi Capitals. The left-arm seamer’s yorkers have been a feature of Hyderabad’s bowling in the slog overs. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

The death overs in T20 cricket. As a bowler, what do you do? Fire yorkers. Simple. But it’s not so simple. Accuracy is the key. If the delivery is not on target, it’s not a yorker. And bowling yorkers consistently requires practice. With practice comes accuracy.

T. Natarajan’s pinpoint yorkers have been the topic of discussion in IPL 2020 this week. The-arm seamer repeatedly hit the blockhole when Delhi Capitals were trying to lift the scoring. Natarajan’s accuracy ensured that Sunrisers Hyderabad notched their first victory in IPL 13.

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Navdeep Saini’s yorkers played a decisive role in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s games. He seems to have solved RCB’s death bowling woes to some extent. Over the past several seasons, it’s been the Achilles heel of a side that boasts of excellent batting potential.

Any discussion on yorkers would be incomplete without Lasith Malinga. The Sri Lankan bowler with a slingshot action is the king of yorkers. He’s proved that time and again for Mumbai Indians in the IPL. The winning delivery in Mumbai Indians’ victory in IPL 2019 final was a Malinga yorker. With the Chennai Super Kings requiring two runs off the last ball of the match, Malinga nailed it, trapping Shardul Thakur in front. That delivery has passed into IPL folklore.

What’s a yorker?

A yorker is a full-pitched delivery that lands on or near the batsman’s crease. It’s targeted at the point where the bat meets the pitch. That makes it difficult to hit the ball. The best a batsman can do is dig out the ball. If the bat comes down a bit slow, the stumps make for an ugly sight.

Since a batsman is cramped for space to swing the bat, it isn’t easy to score off yorkers. At best, a single can come off it. But C.S. Marriott, in his book, The Complete Leg-Break Bowler, says that Australian great Wally Hammond used to send yorkers to the boundary regularly.

Hammond never played limited-overs cricket, where a yorker is the weapon of choice for bowlers in the slog overs. Its ability to restrict scoring makes it an attractive option.

Typically, a yorker is directed at the stumps, so it becomes a wicket-taking delivery if the batsman’s misses. A cleaned bowled or an LBW is the result. Now the proliferation of limited-overs cricket has led to variations in yorker.

The indipper, or the inswinging yorker, has been around for a while. Former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan has been a good exponent, and Waqar Younis was another. Imran’s indippers have even crashed through the defence of legendary Indian opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar in the 1982-83 series in Pakistan. Indipping yorkers, the ones that swing late into the batsman, can be quite lethal.

Then there’s the slow yorker, the ones that Dwayne Bravo bowls very well. They are tough to handle, especially in the slog overs. The Chennai Super Kings are missing Bravo in the slog overs.

Limited-overs cricket has given birth to the wide yorker. That should land beyond the reach of a batsmen, but not too far to be called a wide. It’s a bit risky since an alert batsman could slash it to anywhere between point and third-man fence. So a wide yorker tends to be a slower delivery.

Why’s it difficult to bowl yorkers?

A yorker relies on precision. Precision is what makes it a yorker. Pitch further up the crease, it becomes a full toss that’s most likely to sail over the ropes. If it lands a trifle short, it becomes a juicy half-volley that any batsman can send to the boundary blindfolded. This is why a yorker is so difficult to bowl.

Ask Dale Steyn. The South African is arguably the best fast bowler of the decade. For a pace bowler of immense speed and skill, Steyn has been unable to hit the spot regularly with his yorkers. That’s one reason why he’s not been able to replicate his Test success in T20 cricket.

Where did the yorker come from?

Liam Herringshaw, writing in ESPNcricinfo, says the cricketing yorker was first documented in August 1861, when Bell’s Life in London & Sporting Chronicle reported that “Buchanan stopped some time, and bothered the bowlers much, as he would not hit even a ‘Yorker’.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says the term originated in the English county of Yorkshire, the home of Geoffrey Boycott and many other cricket greats. Wikipedia suggests that yorker may have derived from the 18th and 19th-century slang term “to pull Yorkshire”, which means to trick or deceive.

Whatever may be the origins of the term, a yorker has always been a difficult delivery to negotiate. A first-ball yorker to a new batsmen used to be a standard practice since there’s a tendency to play all over the ball.

Sandshoe crushers or toe-crushers: the yorker in Tests

The yorker was as much a part of a fast bowler’s armoury as the outswinger. It’s a common tactic to work the batsman over with a few bouncers before slipping in a yorker. Some pacemen place fielders on the square leg and fine-leg fences to convey the impression of an impending bouncer only to fire a fast one into the blockhole.

Batmen employing high backlifts were considered vulnerable to yorkers. That’s no longer the case. You find plenty of batsmen with high backlift tackling yorkers effectively.

In the earlier days, they used to call it sandshoe crushers or toe-crushers. Former Australian fast bowler Jeff Thomson used it effectively against Tony Grieg in the 1974 Ashes series. The 6 feet 6 inch Greig had trouble in getting down in time to keep out Thommo’s thunderbolts.

Waqar Younis’ inswinging yorkers prematurely halted the career of Zimbabwean Graeme Hicks when he turned out for England. Curtly Ambrose’s perfect yorkers are legendary, and England captain Mike Atherton would attest to that, having been dismissed at least 17 times in Tests by the tall West Indian.

Can spinners bowl yorkers?

Why not? If pace bowlers can bowl slower balls and slow yorkers, why can’t a spinner bowl a yorker. Irrespective of pace, a yorker can be a tricky delivery to tackle. If a batsman lifts his head while playing it, there’s always the risk of hearing the rattling timber.

C.S. Marriott, while discussing tactics in his book, harps on the need to make the batsman play off the backfoot repeatedly before slipping in the yorker. This advice is to aspiring leg-spin bowlers. But then the scenario he describes belongs to longer formats of cricket. One-day cricket rarely affords the chance to set up a batsman.

How do you score off a yorker?

Yorkers are a staple in the death overs. Batsmen will try to score big, so bowlers have to fire in a few yorkers. Then how do you score? Present day batsmen tend to stand deep inside the crease to get under the yorkers. That would give them the necessary elevation to send them for sixes.

But it carries a risk. You could hit the wicket with your backlift. It happened to Mumbai Indians’ Hardik Pandya against the Kolkata Knight Riders. Risks is part of the T20 game. A hit wicket will not prevent the batsmen from using the ploy.

One batsmen who consistently dispatches yorkers to the boundary is Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But then his technique does not belong to the manuals. He’s a natural and some of his shots are his own. Don’t try them, unless you are Dhoni.

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