In T20 cricket, the yorker is a win-or-bust delivery. When landed, it is the hardest delivery for any batter to hit; when missed, it is one of the easiest.
In IPL 2023, successful yorkers by seamers at the death have cost 6.2 runs per over, according to ESPNcricinfo’s data. But slot balls and full tosses by seamers at the death have both cost 13.1 runs per over – and even the best yorker bowlers in the league miss more than they hit.
On Sunday night in Jaipur, Rajasthan Royals were on the cusp of ending a run of four defeats in five games; a run which has seen them slip from pace-setters to mere play-off contenders. But Jos Buttler was back in the runs, Yuzvendra Chahal among the wickets, and fans dressed in pink considered slipping off early to beat the traffic, with the points in the bag.
With 12 balls left, Sunrisers Hyderabad needed 41 to win. At the crease were Abdul Samad, a 21-year-old who is still learning how to play the format’s most difficult role, and Glenn Phillips, playing his second game of the season and his first since April 2. They had faced three balls between them.
This should have been an easy game to close out. Sandeep Sharma, their leading death bowler this season, had an over left. So did Obed McCoy, who had bizarrely bowled a solitary over since being brought into the game as an Impact Player two-thirds of the way through the run chase.
Yet, Sanju Samson saw things differently: he threw the ball to Kuldip Yadav, who had bowled tidily but has played precious little senior cricket, let alone in such a high-stakes role. Sunrisers’ batting coach Hemang Badani later said he “found it a wee bit surprising that they went towards Kuldip, and not to McCoy”.
Royals have used their Impact Player differently from every other IPL team this season. Regardless of what happens at the toss, they name a starting XI with six frontline batters and five frontline bowlers. They have sacrificed depth when they bat first and limited their options when they bowl first.
Perhaps they have seen something that nobody else has, but the results suggest otherwise. With Trent Boult unavailable because of a niggle, they named McCoy, Jason Holder and Adam Zampa among their substitutes on Sunday night, who bowled a single over between them while their uncapped domestic bowlers went around the park.
As he prepared to bowl the penultimate over, Kuldip’s plan was simple: land his yorkers. But in the closing moments of any T20 match, let alone an IPL game that your side desperately needs to win, simple things can become difficult. He missed his first yorker, which Phillips sent back over his head for six; he missed his second, and Phillips duly obliged once more.
Now, Kuldip’s faith in his yorker was gone. He went for a slower ball, into the pitch, which disappeared into the stands over midwicket. After a chat with Samson, who ran from behind the stumps to put his arm around him, Kuldip bowled a wide, good-length ball, and Phillips was running hot: his outside edge skewed away past short third for four.
The next ball, Kuldip struck. He hit a good length, angling the ball across Phillips, and his miscue looped up into the covers, where Hetmyer took a steepling chance, running back. His final ball, another overpitched yorker, was chipped for two by Marco Jansen.
It was an over straight out of Kuldip’s nightmares. Plenty of young bowlers in the IPL must have woken up in cold sweats over the last month after watching Yash Dayal’s experience at the death against Rinku Singh, but with 17 still needed off the final over and Phillips out, Royals were at least still ahead of the game.
Sandeep, as he has throughout this season, backed his yorker. Bowling from around the wicket with a slingy release, he has a decent margin for error; even his full tosses and slot balls can be hard to pick. He went wide and full with his first ball, which Samad top edged to short third; somehow, McCoy failed even to get a hand on the relatively comfortable chance.
His second ball encapsulated how fine the margins are in this brutal format. His yorker was near-perfect, but just short enough for Samad to get underneath it. Samad swung it down the ground towards Joe Root at long-on, who leapt at full stretch but could only palm it over the rope.
Sandeep’s next three balls? Yorker, low full toss, low full toss. His yorker was squeezed out for two, just about the best result that Samad could have hoped for, and the full tosses were both low enough that they were toe-ended out to the deep. The game was back in Royals’ control, with five needed off the final ball.
Once again, this wide-yorker attempt was near-perfect. Samad tried to get underneath it, powering the ball down the ground, but could only find Buttler at long-off. Sandeep closed his eyes, grinned, and pointed to the sky – then heard the no-ball siren. Near-perfect, but not.
There was no way that Sandeep’s plan would change, and Samad knew it. This time, Sandeep missed the yorker on the short side, and by the time he had let the ball go, Samad had stepped so far across to the off side that his off stump was visible behind his pads. Down on one knee, he muscled Sandeep back over his head for six.
At the death, balls that pitch on a good length, or just shorter, have more margin for error than yorkers. The data suggests that there is a much smaller chance that they will yield a wicket or a dot, but they also have less chance of being hit for six. There is nothing sexy about hitting a hard length at the death – no scope for shattered stumps or crushed bootcaps, but perhaps it is a better option than conventional wisdom suggests.
And yet, even with T20 cricket several years into its data age, the yorker remains the go-to option for the vast majority of teams. It is a win-or-bust ball – but Royals have forgotten how to win.