Losing plot by changing pace: There almost seems to be a compulsion to use change of pace for fast bowlers in the death these days. Yes, it’s of course a prerequisite in the modern era to possess a slower ball, if not a slew of them, in your bowling armoury. No longer can a fast bowler get away with saying “piss off” — like Wasim Akram had revealed to have in an interview to Cricinfo — when asked to swallow his ego and develop one. But perhaps there’s a case of overuse when it comes to the erstwhile surprise weapon that fast bowlers would use to deceive batsmen. To the extent that bowlers seem to think it almost mandatory that they give their slower ball a go when under pressure, regardless of whether it’s their strength or not. (IPL 2018 Home)
Marcus Stoinis in the crucial 18th over of Mumbai Indians’ run-chase was a case in point. The burly Australian all-rounder is your quintessential hit-the-wicket-and-surprise-batsmen-with-that-extra-nip-off-the-pitch kind of pacer. And he’d done just that in his earlier spell, even accounting for the well-set Suryakumar Yadav with a short-pitcher that came on too quickly for Mumbai’s half-centurion. But suddenly, now thrown in at the deep end, Stoinis decided to do away with what comes naturally to him and instead do what everyone around him does — change the pace — which in his case meant fiddling around with his fingers and dishing out innocuous hit-me balls.
The first one was a wide half-volley to Rohit Sharma, who had momentum going after having hit Mujeeb Ur Rehman for two sixes in the previous over, and he obliged with a scything cover drive. Two balls later, Stoinis had Krunal Pandya on strike. The elder Pandya brother had messed up Mumbai’s run-chase against Bangalore three days earlier, and was now under pressure to make amends with the defending champions now needing 30 off 15. Krunal’s hitting zone, which by now is well-publicized, is down the ground or towards the straighter parts of the ground anyway.
And he’s not used to facing nippy pace off a length and the ball rising at him, the stuff Stoinis specializes in. But the bowler thought this to be the right time to experiment with his add-on skills. He started with a mirror-image of the slow, wide, half-volley he’d bowled to Sharma earlier which Krunal flayed for four. Under pressure, he went for a yorker — despite having fine-leg in the circle — missed his length and was easily patted away to the fence.
Now with his confidence all but shattered like Punjab’s hold over the match, you’d have thought Stoinis would go for what he’s grown up doing in his career. But no, slower ball on length is what he chose, which Krunal happily walloped over the long-on fence to bring the equation down to 16 off 12. Krunal wasn’t done yet, and he hit a four and a six off Andrew Tye — who does have a good slower ball — in the 19th to help Mumbai win and keep themselves very much alive in IPL XI with an over to spare.
Hardik Pandya had been similarly guilty of not sticking to his strengths in the final over of Kings XI Punjab’s 20th over. The Mumbai bowlers had done a terrific job at the Holkar Stadium, with its ominously small boundaries, to keep the mighty Punjab batting line-up at bay for most parts despite Chris Gayle’s semi-belligerent half-century. The pitch was two-paced, and starting with Mitchell McClenaghan, they’d all smartly used their change of pace well, which also like many bowlers seem to forget these days means utilising your natural-paced deliveries. The younger Pandya, who too had kept his head in his 2nd and 3rd overs after being hammered by Gayle in his 1st, let it slip in his 4th, by dishing out numerous hitting opportunities to Stoinis with poorly executed slower deliveries which the Australian used to pump him for 22 runs and take Punjab past 170.
Best in business: If only Pandya and Stoinis had learnt from Jasprit Bumrah. India’s premier white-ball pacer once again proved just why he’s so highly-rated and he did so by sticking to his guns. While more than 50 per cent of the deliveries from his fast bowling colleagues were attempted slower balls, Bumrah bowled only 5 of them in his quota, and was by far the most economical bowler on show on a tiny ground with sensational figures of 1/19 in 4 overs. Though Suryakumar Yadav walked away with batting honours later in the day, it was Bumrah’s spell that won Mumbai the match. And he didn’t let the ground or the conditions dictate how he went about his bowling. He concentrated on hitting back of a length and rushing batsmen or he was aiming for the base of the stumps. McClenaghan and Ben Cutting for the record averaged speeds of 125.9 kph and 118.9 kph compared to Bumrah’s 134 kph and a fastest delivery which clocked at 146.9 kph. It was a masterclass on how not getting swayed away by trends and sticking to your own style always makes you a winner.