In the 15th over of Delhi Capitals innings—just around the time the batting side had wrestled impetus from Mumbai Indians—Rohit Sharma rang in Nathan Coulter-Nile into the attack. It was widely interpreted as a defensive ploy—his inclusion at the expense of James Pattinson itself was considered counter-intuitive.
Until the fifth ball, the introduction seemed a folly, after Rishabh Pant had netted a brace of boundaries. The first was more of a paddle-flick, while the second was top-edged four. The latter embodied everything risky about a short ball, its ridiculously slim margin for error on a relatively smaller ground. Short-pitched bowling will always leak runs, often in boundaries and with top edges coming into play, it is difficult to predict where the ball will fly to, as there is a lack of protection behind the wicket-keeper. Then, good batsmen have an array of sophisticated strokes to take full toll of it, like the ramp and uppercut. A reason, it’s not considered as precious as a yorker.
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But that didn’t deny the West Australian from slipping in another short ball later in the over. This one landed around the same area of the pitch. Pant, instinctively as much as prematurely, was into the hook. Only that it took an eternity to reach him. It was also a shade closer to his body as he swivelled at the crease. And all he did, for the Sufi-dancer like pirouette of his body, was to splice the ball to the perfectly-positioned fielder, who was just shifted from short fine-leg to the deep.
The field change was the only sign of another impending bouncer, which he failed to read. The bowler dropped no clue at all. For Coulter-Nile had masterfully disguised it. As with any slower ball, the deception was in its disguise. The run-up and gather had the same bustle, the follow-through, arm-speed and release had identical intensity.
The difference was just about the grip. He had spread out the index and middle fingers so that the whip of the ball at the time of the release is reduced, which means the ball decelerates after landing. The ball rises up like a fast bouncer, but arrives around 20-25 kmph slower. Coulter-Nile’s high-arm action makes it all the more difficult to decrypt. His usual speed was 140 and thereabouts. But Pant’s wicket-ball was 125, while Axar Patel’s, later on, nudged 120.
Batsmen do cope with fuller slower balls. But well-guided and well-disguised slow bouncers are difficult to repel. For pulling and hooking are instinctive strokes.
There are no half measures about it. After judging the length, the batsman is already most of the way into the shot. So if the ball arrives unexpectedly slower, his balance goes utterly off-kilter. He can’t check the stroke, unless when he drives. Neither his hands nor wrists can bail him out of trouble. That is why you often see a batsman initially deceived by a slower bouncer making a desperate flap as it floats past him, invariably mistiming it.
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Like Shimron Hetmyer. The Guyanese has a fast blade and a pair of sharp eyes. So good that he had adequate time to detect Trent Boult’s slower ball, but didn’t have the heightened control over his muscle-memory to change his stroke. He was already committed to the upper cut, he tried to slow his stroke down but all he could manage was to slap the ball gently into the short third-man. What else could he have done? Maybe in a Test match, he could have withdrawn from the shot. But even that method is bound to fail.
The last bowler he would have expected a slow-bouncer was perhaps Boult, someone who sparingly uses his bouncers or relish in a drastic change of pace. In the entire four overs, he bowled one genuine shot ball and just one delivery below 115 kmph. The New Zealander, even in death overs, doesn’t normally resort to such new-age tricks. It only added to the shock value. Boult though does it differently—he cuts his fingers across the ball. With his slippery speed, Boult’s version is deviously good. The batsman would hardly anticipate such a dramatic change of pace.
Coulter-Nile has a variety of means to extract slowness from the pitch. Like Boult, he cut the fingers across the ball and release it with the knuckles too. One such delivery deceived Axar Patel. The delivery was even more difficult to comprehend as it barely rose above Patel’s mid-riff. He was expecting the ball to rise waist-high, but had to drag it from a much lower point. The dryness of the surface abetted Coulter-Nile, as the ball gripped and stuck in the pitch. Not even Shreyas Iyer could purchase boundaries off Coulter-Nile’s slow short-balls.
It was a moment of personal vindication for the strapping Coulter-Nile. There was rampant criticism over his inclusion at the expense of fellow Australian James Pattinson. As gifted and quick as Pattinson is, he doesn’t have the death-over expertise of Coulter-Nile. Not least, his slow short-balls that dealt a deathly blow to Delhi Capitals at the death.
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