Deciphering Malinga's unplayable yorker

The magic ingredient is the dip

Lasith Malinga

What makes Lasith Malinga’s yorker so much deadlier than others? Sure, we know it’s the merciless pace, unrelenting accuracy and the sharp in-swing that works wonders. But there’s a small but significant event that sets Malinga’s yorker apart. It’s the late dip.

The dip is practically invisible to those of us watching on TV. But the batsman who has been made to look foolish knows exactly what did him in.

The batsman prepares to play the yorker when the ball is around knee-high in its trajectory. But at the last decisecond, the ball drops a few inches. The drop is sudden. At Malinga’s high pace, this minor deviation is enough to beat the bat and smash the stumps, or hit the pads for the LBW.

Long story short, Malinga’s dipping yorker is practically unplayable for batsmen of lesser skill.

Many great spinners have used the dip to great effect. They tease the batsman forward to drive a ball only for the batsman to find the ball dropping short of drivable length. The dip spoils his timing and causes a false stroke. It is said Erapalli Prasanna bowled like had the ball on a leash – he could tug at it and make the ball dip magically. But few quickies have been able to master the dip, primarily because it needs a whippy side-arm action that Malinga has.

Your writer made a completely accidental discovery of this unplayable dip during a knockabout in the office corridor. His colleague, the venerable Bikash Singh, was hurling a tennis ball at him. Mr. Singh’s throw-down was a cross between how a baseball pitcher would throw and how Malinga would bowl – there was no run-up, the action was a side-on whip, but the elbow was bent.

With the action, the ball dipped alarmingly in its last couple of yards, making a complete mess of your writer’s forward prod (not that it was any good to begin with). It gave us an insight into how Malinga was messing with batsmen’s heads. It’s one thing facing Mr. Singh with a tennis ball in the office corridor, quite another facing Malinga aiming a 145-KMPH missile at your toes.

Happy we were to figure out Malinga, but it still needs an expert to ratify our 'finding'. And the ratification comes through Nagraj Gollapudi’s interview of Waqar Younis, the man who has forgotten more about swing bowling than most of us would ever know.

The Pakistani great says:

How does Malinga keep coming up with those reverse-swinging yorkers? You can't even block them at times. That is because at a certain point, as the delivery is coming towards him, the batsman takes his eyes off it. I know this only because it happened when I was bowling, and I was hitting the stumps more than anyone else, just like Malinga does now. About a metre and a half from the batting crease, the ball starts dipping. The batsman thinks it is in his batting area and takes his eyes off. Some batsmen are good and look at the ball till the very last instant. But at least 80% plant their foot to kill the swing. They get LBW or get bowled by a yorker.

So how has Virat Kohli figured out Malinga?

Kohli has had plenty of innings in the last year where has he thrashed Malinga senseless. It’s hard for the untrained eye to see what Kohli is doing right. He recently said he’s been trying a few things in the nets that have worked wonders against Malinga. The evidence suggests that Kohli prefers playing Malinga deep from the crease. He watches the ball till really late and lets the yorkers swing into his legs. A slight shuffle to the off-side sets the ball up for a flick. Kohli being a wristy player, he flicks those balls away for on-side runs.

Needless to say, it’s takes immense talent and skill to whip away a fast, swinging, dipping yorker. And it makes Malinga vs. Kohli a compelling rivalry.

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