Mukesh Kumar: Mastering the Yorker Artistry

Mukesh Kumar (Image: BCCI)

In the 34th match of IPL 2023, Sunrisers Hyderabad needed 13 runs off the last over to beat the Delhi Capitals. In an age when even five sixes are cracked in the final over, it seemed to be a simple equation. But surprisingly, from a state of sure-footed security, Hyderabad slipped to a seven-run defeat. Capitals’ come-from-behind win was down to one man – Mukesh Kumar.

So, what was Mukesh’s successful template in that last over against Hyderabad? How does Mukesh nail one yorker after another in an era made up of well-pressed bats, or batters shuffling around their crease and taking on the yorker from the most audacious of positions? With the help of his final-over heroics, let’s delve deeper to analyse Mukesh’s tried and tested method as he gets ready to take field for India in South Africa, perhaps the most important tour of his career so far.

For the first ball of that over, Washington Sundar, the Hyderabad all-rounder, had opened up his stance. The intention was to clear the front leg and thump the ball over midwicket or long-on. Mukesh, however, watched the feet of the batter all the way through and ushered in a delivery that was slightly wide of off-stump. Although it wasn’t exactly a yorker, Mukesh had outsmarted his opponent and bowled to the field that was set on the off-side.

The next ball turned out to be a picture-perfect yorker, which was angled across the left-handed Sundar. Thereafter when Marco Jansen, Sundar’s batting partner, attempted to manufacture room, Mukesh once more watched the feet of the batter like a hawk and cracked the code of bowling the yorker. All that the duo could do was collect a slew of singles and twos.

Mukesh’s temperament also shone through, as he wasn’t just playing in front of a boisterous home crowd supporting the Hyderabad side, but the Capitals were allowed to station only four fielders outside the circle in the final over because of their slow over-rate. Basically, Mukesh had twinned the capabilities of a chess grandmaster and a seasoned bullfighter to pass the exam with flying colours.

A bit of number-crunching would give us more insights into how Mukesh has become an effective bowler in the slog overs. In the recently-concluded T20I series against Australia, nearly 17 per cent of all his deliveries were yorkers. In the slog overs – 16-20 – more than 40 per cent of the deliveries were dot balls. Moreover, he is a skiddy pacer who prefers to zoom the ball on the stumps, and seems to have developed the required muscle memory for bowling yorkers.

Just like many other pace bowlers from the subcontinent, tennis-ball cricket is the foundation stone for Mukesh having the ‘feel’ to crack the yorker-code. Wasim Akram, the legendary pacer, has an interesting take on it. “If you see, we are all products of tennis-ball cricket,” he had once told a news agency.

“When you play gully cricket with buildings on both sides and the batsman being deprived of playing cross-batted shots, they are forced to play straight then. And then you start pitching it up and in the process you learn to bowl at the base and prevent the batsman from going down the ground.”

Mukesh also has other attributes attached to his bowling. Just like Mohammed Shami, Mukesh mostly bowls with an upright and straight seam. So, he often finds a hint of shape and movement off the pitch. His control too is good enough. Although he is nowhere near Shami’s class.

As a result he could even come into the picture for the forthcoming Test series in South Africa, especially in the backdrop of Shami’s ankle problem. Although India might just end up picking the tall Prasidh Krishna for the first Test at Centurion if Shami gets ruled out, Mukesh isn’t a bad option either.

For now, though, Mukesh’s focus would be on the ongoing T20I series against South Africa. The Indian think-tank would trust the pace bowler to become their go-to yorker-machine in the end overs and make a telling difference to the side.

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