If any England players had seen last summer’s one-day international between Ireland and Australia in Dublin they might have had an inkling of what was about to happen.
Australia mustered a decent 231 for nine on a tricky pitch. They thought they had enough but William Porterfield and Paul Stirling set off at a gallop, others joined in and Ireland were favourites to win until their nerve faltered and Australia got home by 39 runs.
What England would have learnt from that game was that the worst place to bowl in the latter stages against uncomplicated hitters is a good length. On easy-paced pitches those deliveries arrive at the perfect height to be manhandled over short leg-side boundaries. The same is true in the Indian Premier League. Some of the sixes Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit in the later stages are still orbiting the planet.
Against India on Sunday Tim Bresnan produced a sequence of perfect yorkers late in the innings to cut the total down to a respectable size. Those yorkers were conspicuous by their absence against Ireland.
Day in, day out they are the hardest balls to hit for runs. Batsmen have got clever at getting right back on to their stumps to make yorkers into half-volleys – as Yusuf Pathan did when he hit James Anderson for a straight six on Sunday. They are also adept at getting down on one knee and flicking them to the unprotected fine-leg area.
But percentage wise, the yorker is still the best option, especially to a batsman who is swinging repetitively through the line. They struggle to hit them anywhere but straight. Yorkers have a ‘you-miss-I-hit’ threat.
Anderson produced an ideal toe crusher in the 36th over, which Kevin O’Brien just dug out. But there was not another yorker for 10 overs. Instead, the bowling was good length or short of a length, right in O’Brien’s lusty arc. With modern bats, shortish boundaries and the thinner air at this 3,000ft elevation, hitting maximums is not hard at Bangalore. But some of O’Brien’s hits were huge. One, off Bresnan’s length ball, went so far it should have been worth at least eight. He adhered to the simple philosophy – “play the ball not the man”.
It is baffling why England should be so reluctant to aim for the blockhole. True, there is little margin for error, but a low, straight full toss is better than short balls which, if middled, sail over mid-wicket, if edged fly to third man and if missed fly harmlessly through to the keeper.
A yorker, on the other hand, if edged or missed usually ends up hitting the stumps. Glenn McGrath, who has the best strike rate in World Cup history (27 balls per wicket) produced them at will. Wickets, a fielding team’s oxygen, come about by persistence in Test cricket. In one dayers they are achieved through stealth and deception. The word yorker is derived from an 18th century phrase to “put Yorkshire on someone” which meant to deceive them of something.
For England, weary and still mentally fragile after their exhaustively prepared Ashes campaign, this accident was waiting to happen. Their batting lacked exploration and their bowling lacked explosion. For Ireland it was a triumph of will over reputation.