Three of the quickest in the business went head to head at the Ring of Fire on October 14 night in Dubai. Jofra Archer (Rajasthan Royals), Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada (Delhi Capitals) gave one of the finest demonstration of what classic seam and pace can do if it can be delivered with precision and intelligence. If Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers’ batting for Royal Challengers Bangalore has made the headlines, Archer, Nortje and Rabada have been the flag-bearer for pace on UAE’s sluggish and often two-paced pitches.
The IPL has been a laboratory for cricket’s upstarts, said Shane Bond in an interview to Outlook earlier this year. Bond, one of the quickest of his times, is now the bowling coach of Mumbai Indians. The New Zealander spoke about how batsmen manufacture strokes but the bowlers have tried to counter them with all kinds of deliveries – the yorker, the low full toss, the wide full toss and even the slower ball.
On Wednesday, during the Delhi Capitals versus Rajasthan Royals IPL 2020 match in Dubai, it was the classical demonstration of pace, swing and the cutter. Three artists were at work at various stages of the match and each a purist’s delight.
The England seamer, with a heavy golden chain dangling around his neck, unleashed a rocket of a first ball. The delivery landed on the seam, just short of length, jagged back, found the gap and castled Delhi Capitals’ in-form opener Prithvi Shaw, India’s big hope.
Jofra Archer. Photo - BCCI
It was a telling blow for DC, one of the most consistent and balanced sides in IPL this year. Young Shaw, just out of his teens, has given DC blazing starts. When the Mumbai lad gets going, the stocky Shaw is a sight to savour. His hand-eye co-ordination is exceptional; the feet don’t move much his bat does the talking with a repertoire of traditional strokes on both sides of the wicket. But Archer tamed him with a beauty.
Archer’s opening spells have been sensational in this year’s IPL. They have been fast, hostile and laser guided. Rarely have the best in the business had the skill to score consistently of him in those initial overs. The lengths have been spot on and the bounce the wiry pacer from Barbados has extracted has made a few hop around that batting crease.
What remains an exceptional aspect of his game, is Archer’s approach to the crease and then the release. This summer as cricket in whites resumed in the UK, Jofra Archer’s short ball was once again the talking point, it came out of nowhere and even set batsmen were falling prey to that delivery. The broadcasters did a brilliant piece of analysis on Archer’s action. On a three window split, they had the bouncer and two normal deliveries. The question was – can one differentiate the release of the short ball from the two other deliveries? There was absolutely nothing to choose from!
It’s now become the norm - Jofra Archer has thunderbolts of different lengths at his disposal and they come without a warning!!
As Anrich Nortje ran in to bowl the third over of the chase, Rajasthan Royals, thanks to their two superstars at the top of the order, Ben Stokes and Jos Butter, had galloped to 21 after the first two overs. Chasing 162, Steve Smith’s side couldn’t have asked for a better start.
Anrich Nortje. Photo - BCCI
Then comes Nortje, the rather unheralded South African in this year’s IPL. Nortje’s first ball is clocked 148 km/hr and Buttler effortlessly deposited that over long on. The South African though was in no mood to step back as his next two deliveries touched speeds of 152.3 and 152.1 km/hr. Even as the mercury rose, Nortje’s next two balls were brilliantly ramped over short fine leg by Butler. It was a statement of arrogance being issued by one of the most destructive top order white ball player in the game.
Nortje had been attacking the stumps with pace and the Englishman had been toying with his length, and then finally, came the last ball, at 155.4 km/hr, and Jos Buttler’s middle stump went cartwheeling. Mark Nicholas, a former first-class cricketer, now a respected commentator, was to say on live TV that “Nortje rarely moves away from his plans. Even if he is being targeted, the young South African has always shown the ability to stick to his line of thought. In the cauldron of high pressure T20 games, staying unmoved from the mayhem that is threatening to engulf you, has to be a special trait that one possesses.”
With 29 to get in three overs, it was Nortje’s 18th over that derailed the chase for Rajasthan Royals. Just four runs came off this over and Nortje also removed the dangerous Robin Uthappa. As it has been for the 26-year-old from Cape Town throughout this tournament, it isn’t just about the new ball, it also is about providing control in the death. And there is ample proof.
Eleven nights ago, England’s captain Eoin Morgan was threatening to take the game away from Delhi Capitals. With 54 needed from three overs, Morgan plundered Kagiso Rabada for three consecutive sixes. By the time the 18thover finished, Kolkata Knight Riders needed 31 of the last two overs. Till then the surface at Sharjah had been a belter. KKR were within sniffing distance of victory. But Anrich Nortje changed the complexion of the match by conceding just five runs and bagging the wicket of a marauding Morgan. With a clever mix of deliveries, Nortje did not let Morgan free his arms and that’s what composure of a bowler is all about.
Kagiso Rabada remains the poster boy of the Delhi Capitals pace attack but credit also needs to go to his deputy, Nortje. It’s not just about pace, it’s also about maintaining one’s composure!
Kagiso Rabada against the Royals. Photo - BCCI
As IPL 2020 inches towards wrapping up its first month, Rabada is the highest wicket taker in the tournament. In eight matches he has picked up 18 wickets at an economy of 7.61 and a strike rate of 10.8, which suggests, that going by his current form, in a four-over burst he’ll end up getting at least two wickets per game. Now, that is taking consistency to a different level.
He has been like a smiling assassin. Whenever Delhi captain Shreyas Iyer has looked up to his pace spearhead, an unflustered Rabada has glanced at the batsmen with the corner of his eye and then worked up a quick geometry of line and length and delivered with surgical precision with amazing regularity.
After he and Nortje strangled Rajasthan Royals, Rabada said that when a job has to be done, the focus is on the next ball. Rest is sundry. “When we play, we’re just thinking about the delivery. Not the speed gun,” Rabada would tell the pundits on TV. Bull’s eye!
(The writer is an executive producer in a leading sports channel. Views are personal.)