Method and magic: It seemed pure magic, the ball seemingly wobbling away, before curling in, at high pace, before subtly deviating away off the surface as Ben Stokes plonked his bat to defy the low-flung projectile. But the ball was perfection embodied, with every aspect in its making well-weighted — speed, length, line, degree of movement, deviation off the surface.
It was as fast as they come — a 90mph corker. But pace without direction is redundant. So if the line had strayed a few centimetres away from the off-stump, the ball would have escaped the stumps. Similarly, a couple of centrimetres onto his pads, it could have evaded the leg-stump. The late inward movement made it deadlier — the amount of swing was neither too less nor too much. Starc had absolute control over the degree of swing. It began to swing only after traversing two-thirds of its track. Had the ball begun tailing in when it was mid-path, Stokes could have second-guessed the trajectory.
— ICC (@ICC) June 25, 2019
Equally important was where it began to swing. It started hemming in just outside the line of the off-stump and ended up inside the line. Stokes thought he had covered the line (though belatedly), but after pounding on the turf, the ball marginally shaped away from the batsman off the seam. The length, too, was millimetre perfect. A little bit either side of where it pitched, Stokes would have managed to retrieve the ball and prevent it from blasting his stumps. In that sense, it was crafted chicanery, than a freak, magical ball that negotiated an inconceivable S- shape.
The set-up: Lost in that moment of genius was how he gnawed at Stokes, weaving a dreamy web of assurance. Stokes, to begin with, was extremely wary. He knew if he weathered Starc’s spell, he could shepherd England home. With the old ball, neither Pat Cummins nor Jason Behrendorff pose as much threat as Starc. The first ball was a floaty full ball that moved away, drivable though Stokes was a trifle too late.
The next one was on middle stump, shaping into him at back-of-a-length. The England all-rounder was expecting it, and the length made it comfortable for him to tuck it onto the leg-side for a single. The balls he didn’t face too left an impression. Both were back-of-length-ish, creating an impression he was looking to exploit the spongy bounce (and sometimes variable too) that was on offer. A case of the ball holding up, or stopping at the batsman. If anything, Starc looked a little rusty. So Stokes hung on the back-foot. Mistake, he should have known Starc doesn’t trade in weaker currencies.
The mechanics: The strapping Australian is a programmable yorker-emitting bowling machine- he bowls one every five balls. He attributes this to hours of practice and the imbued conviction that he can do no wrong with his machine. As much as his precision might have helped in perfecting yorkers, what makes Starc’s yorker unplayable at times is his action and build.
A few anatomical quirks have helped him. One of them is his hyper-extended elbow. Though it’s not as pronounced as Jasprit Bumrah’s, he does hyper-extend his elbow, going slightly beyond the perpendicular, creating a slingshot effect without actually keeping his release at a lower point. It also gives him another yard of pace.
Moreover, because of his identical release positions, it’s difficult to pick whether he’s ganging up for a bouncer or yorker. He’s also a master of disguise. Generally, he goes wide off the crease for that exaggerated inward bend to the left-hander. But here he was bowling closer to the stumps, thus camouflaging his intentions. It’s this angle that initially created an impression that the ball was moving away.
Equally noticeable is the position of his arm, which is below the horizontal when he prepares to bring it through to release the ball. So naturally, the whip of the arm has to be quicker. A quicker arm-whip means a quicker delivery too. And of course, the taller the bowler (and naturally higher the release point) the more difficult it is to negotiate his yorkers.
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