There is never more pressure on a fast bowler than when they are bowling in the final few overs of a one-day game! These final few overs are often referred to as ‘the death’, and any bowler who is given the responsibility of bowling at this point in the innings will be counted on by their teammates to keep things as tight as possible. The batsmen will usually be looking to attack relentlessly at this stage of the game, meaning that us bowlers have to execute our skills perfectly if we want to take wickets and keep the run rate down.
In this post I’m going to share 10 of my favourite tips that will help you to improve your death bowling. Here they are:
- Develop A Yorker That You Can Bowl Accurately
- Work On Your Slower Ball
- Use The Bouncer To Push The Batsman Back
- Don’t Overlook The Value Of Length Deliveries
- Bowl A Good Mixture Of Deliveries – Don’t Become Predictable
- Try To Judge The Strengths & Weaknesses Of A Batsman
- Set Up Death Bowling Practice Scenarios
- Work With Your Captain & Bowl To Your Field
- Have Aggressive Intent!
- Be Ready To Change Your Delivery At The Last Second
I’ll now go into each of these in more depth to give you a better explanation of the things you should be trying to achieve!
Develop A Yorker That You Can Bowl Accurately
The yorker is the most effective weapon that a death bowler can possess. If you want to be a great death bowler, you have to be able to bowl the yorker well.
If you’re not sure what a yorker is, it is basically a delivery that bounces close to the feet of the batsman, or on the batsman’s popping crease. Yorkers are incredibly hard for batsmen to hit for four or six because the ball is hitting the ground as it reaches the bat! Therefore, most batsmen struggle to get their bat under the ball to hit it in the air, and they also find it difficult to hit square of the wicket!
If you’ve never bowled a yorker before, or if you have and you’d just like to improve your accuracy when bowling them, the only thing I can suggest is that you practice them relentlessly! Professional death bowlers will spend hours practicing their yorkers in the nets, and they will have attempted thousands of them in real game situations. Spending this many hours practicing yorkers means that you’ll get a better feel for bowling them, the movement becomes ingrained in your muscle memory. This will allow you to bowl them more accurately when you require them.
A very simple way to begin practicing yorkers is to put a shoe or a cone down where the batsman’s feet would be, and try to hit it. In this kind of practice scenario, you can work on your accuracy without worrying about bowling to an actual batsman who is trying to hit your deliveries. If you’re serious about practicing your yorkers, I’d recommend spending an hour on this a week. Try to get every delivery to strike the shoe/cone!
Once you’ve built up a bit of confidence in the accuracy of your yorkers, you should start bowling them to actual batsmen in practice scenarios. This is a little more difficult than bowling at a stationary object! In some of my practice sessions with my club I’d try to bowl nothing but yorkers at my teammates for the entire hour!
Final Things To Think About:
- Wide Yorkers Can Be Amazingly Effective! – Many professional bowlers try to bowl yorkers that are wide of the off stump. They use them as a variation because most batsmen are expecting yorkers to be bowled on the line of the stumps! Wide yorkers are also probably even harder to get underneath in order to hit in the air! Don’t overlook the use of the wide yorker! It can be a great containing strategy!
- It’s Better To Bowl A Yorker Too Full Than Too Short – Bowling a yorker slightly fuller than you intended will turn it into a low full toss. Low full tosses are still often quite difficult for batsmen to hit effectively, and you will often see them result in a catch being taken by one of the fielders! However, if you bowl a yorker marginally too short, it will turn into a half volley. Half volleys are arguably the easiest type of delivery for a batsman to deal with, and they’ll pretty much be able to hit them wherever they like!
Work On Your Slower Ball
I’d probably rank this at number 2 on the list of things that I think all death bowlers need to have in order to be effective!
Slower balls are great at any point in the innings, but they’re often even more effective when used at the death because the batsmen are trying to attack and take more risks! Slower balls work because they mess with the timing of a batsman. Imagine a batsman has been consistently receiving 135kph (85mph) deliveries, then all of a sudden the bowler bowls one that is 110kph (70mph). The batsman will still be expecting the quicker pace, and may mistime their shot when they get a slower one! If we can get the batsmen to mistime their shots then it can lead to more wickets for us and less runs for them.
In my opinion, all fast bowlers need at least one slower ball that they can bowl accurately and reliably to keep the batsmen guessing. There are a number of different ways that you can choose to bowl them, but the main ones are as follows:
- The Off Cutter – This ball comes out slower because the fast bowler applies a small amount of off-spin to the ball as it leaves their hand.
- The Leg Cutter – This ball comes out slower because the fast bowler applies a small amount of leg-spin to the ball as it leaves their hand.
- The Split Finger Ball – The gap between your index and middle fingers are widened for this ball instead of keeping them close to the seam in the conventional bowling grip. This means there is less of your hand behind the ball propelling it forwards, leading it to come out slower.
- The Knuckle Ball – Instead of having the index and middle fingers behind and over the top of the ball as it is released, both fingers are bent prior to the ball being bowled. The ball is now propelled towards the batsman by the knuckles, meaning it leaves the hand much slower.
- The Back Of The Hand Delivery – This ball comes out slower because the bowler rotates their arm just prior to the delivery. Instead of having the palm of the bowling hand facing the batsman like usual, it is now the back of the hand that faces the batsman, allowing the ball to be released and come over the top. There is much less force propelling the ball meaning it comes out much slower!
- The S.L.O.B (Slower Obsolete Ball) – This ball comes out slower because the fast bowler removes their thumb from the side of the ball just before they release it. This lessens the strength of their bowling grip, meaning that the ball will come out slower than usual.
This was just a brief explanation of each slower ball! If you need more detailed information about how to bowl each of those slower balls, I’d strongly recommend checking out my post on them by clicking here! In that post I take you through each ball in detail and give you a guide on the sort of grips and releases to use for each!
Finally – don’t practice several slower balls at once! Try to perfect one of them before you start practicing the next one. To perfect a slower ball, you want to devote a decent amount of time to bowling them during every practice session. Most professional fast bowlers have a maximum of two slower balls that they bowl regularly.
Use The Bouncer To Push The Batsman Back
A lot of fast bowlers overlook the bouncer in the final overs of the innings, but it can be very effective if used correctly!
Batsmen who are looking to attack fast bowlers will often look to come forward and hit the ball in front of square on both sides of the wicket. Bouncers are great when used against these types of players. A well-directed bouncer will put the threat of the short ball in the back of the batsman’s mind, hopefully making them more reluctant to get on the front foot. If we can stop the batsman getting forward as efficiently then it will make our full deliveries more dangerous! And of course, there’s always the chance that we could get the batsman out caught if they choose to play the hook or the pull to the bouncer!
Again, you should work on your bouncers extensively during practice sessions. The ideal bouncer should be directed at the body, towards the batsman’s front shoulder. This is the most uncomfortable height and line for the batsman to deal with. Use your practice sessions to work out what point on the pitch you should be looking to hit to get the ball up to this height. If you can hit this area consistently, and you bowl at a high enough pace, you will have success when bowling the bouncer!
A few extra things to remember when bowling bouncers are as follows:
- Don’t Bowl Too Many If You’re Not Fast Enough – Basically, if you’re not quick enough to bowl a bouncer, they won’t be as effective. That’s why you will hardly ever see medium pace bowlers bowling them! If you try bowling bouncers and consistently get hit for boundaries, it may be time to give them up until you can make them more effective. If this is you, why not try improving your bowling speed by reading my guide on how you can bowl faster? Click here if you’d like to check it out!
- Slower Ball Bouncers Are Very Useful – You’ll see a lot of professional fast bowlers throw in the occasional slower ball bouncer as a surprise delivery. These have become amazingly popular in the last few years, and you’d be surprised how many wickets are taken with them! Batsmen regularly mistime their shots and hit the ball up in the air or chop the ball on to their stumps! They can be very dangerous if you don’t use them too much and direct them properly!
Don’t Overlook The Value Of Length Deliveries
‘Length deliveries’ is the term that is usually used to describe the types of balls that pitch 2-8 metres away from the batsman. You’ll often see commentators describing these deliveries as the ones that are the easiest to hit for boundaries, and to be honest that is probably true! Batsmen in the modern game are incredibly skilful, and balls like this are the most inviting. They sit up nicely and allow the batsman to get underneath them and hit them aerially if they choose to.
All that being said, we shouldn’t forget about length deliveries entirely! This is especially true if you are:
- An incredibly quick bowler
- A bowler who can get the ball to swing consistently
Both of these things will give you a bit of added license to bowl length deliveries at the end of the innings. To put this into context, I believe Mitchell Starc (an extremely quick bowler) is a lot less likely to be swatted for a boundary if he bowls a well-directed length delivery at the end of the innings than David Willey (a slightly slower bowler) would be. Pace matters! And of course, if you’re getting the ball to swing, this makes length deliveries much harder to play than if you’re getting no movement at all! The batsman has more things to take into account when playing their shot.
You may also choose to bowl more length deliveries at the death if there’s a lot of pace/bounce/movement in the pitch!
To put it simply, length deliveries definitely have their use in modern day death bowling, as long as you don’t look to bowl them consistently. These days, even the tail end batsmen have the ability to put you away for boundaries if you bowl these kinds of deliveries on a regular basis! Use them as a variation and they should serve you well.
Bowl A Good Mixture Of Deliveries – Don’t Become Predictable!
The battle between a batsman and a fast bowler at the end of the innings is like a chess match. The batsman will often be moving around the crease, trying to get themselves in the best possible position to hit boundaries. As bowlers, we should be trying to mix up the deliveries we bowl so that the batsman can’t get into a rhythm of hitting!
If a bowler decides to bowl 6 yorkers in an over, or 6 bouncers, or 6 slower balls, the batsman will be able to adjust to this and pre-meditate what sort of shot they’re going to play. If the batsman has a good idea what delivery is coming next, then it doesn’t matter how well we bowl it! There’s an increased chance you’re going to get hit for a boundary! This is why you should try to disrupt the batsman by mixing up your deliveries.
At the end of an innings, I usually try to not bowl more than 3 of the same deliveries in a row. I try to stick to that rule unless it is obvious that the batsman is really struggling to play a certain type of delivery. In that case I would probably look to test the batsman’s technique by continuing to bowl it.
One of the key concepts of death bowling is to have several reliable deliveries available to you, and to be able to switch between each of them. Make sure you’re comfortable bowling the yorker, the bouncer, a slower ball and a length ball. It’s an even bigger bonus if you can get the ball to swing or reverse swing! Bowl these deliveries at random and you should be able to keep the upper hand in your battle against the opposing batsmen.
Try To Judge The Strengths & Weaknesses Of A Batsman
All batsmen have their strengths and weaknesses. If bowlers can pick these up early then we have a much better chance of being successful in our death bowling.
It is very rare that you’ll be bowling to a batsman that can hit boundaries in a 360-degree arc, all around the wicket. Only the most elite, professional batsmen are capable of this. Instead, most batsmen will be targeting one or two zones in which they prefer to try to hit 4’s and 6’s.
If you’ve bowled at a certain batsman before, you may already know where they like to hit the ball. If not, you may be able to pick up a batsman’s tendencies early in their innings. Let’s say you notice that a batsman tries to stay leg-side of the ball so that they can hit over the off-side. In this scenario, you may choose to bowl a line that is tighter to their body, to stop them freeing their arms and take away their off-side option. If you notice a batsman is regularly clearing their front leg and looking to launch you over the leg-side, it may be wise to bowl a bit wider of the off stump to stop this. Picking up these little cues can help you tell where the batsman is trying to hit the ball, and you can adjust your lines and lengths accordingly.
You may notice other batsmen that really struggle when facing the yorker or the bouncer. If you see this, it may be worth targeting that weakness a bit more often until they can prove to you that they can deal with those deliveries!
Set Up Death Bowling Practice Scenarios
Death bowling is all about being able to execute when it matters the most, in a real pressurised game situation. Simulating these kinds of situations in practice will help you to be prepared when you face the real thing! The more situations you can replicate in your net sessions, the more confidence you will have in yourself to be able to bowl well at the end of the innings.
There are a number of creative things I would do to practice aspects of my death bowling in the nets. Here are a few ideas you can use:
- Practice Specific Deliveries – I would treat every 6 deliveries that I bowled in the nets as one over. So, when I was wanting to practice my variations I would try to bowl 6 yorkers in a row. Then 6 slower balls. Then 6 short balls. Then 6 length deliveries. You can do this whether you are bowling to a batsman or just bowling at a set of stumps. After this, bowl a couple of overs where you change the delivery you are trying to bowl every ball. As I mentioned earlier, mixing up your deliveries will be vital when bowling at the death during a game.
- Set Up Scoring Requirements For The Batsmen – Work with the batsmen you are bowling to in practice. Tell them to imagine they need to score 30 runs off the next 18 balls, or some sort of similar total. Your task after that will be to go into death bowling mode, and use your variations to stop them connecting cleanly with the ball. If they hit the ball out of the middle of the bat, you can agree on how many runs you think that kind of shot would have resulted in. You can even set up imaginary field placings etc. The more realistic you make these kinds of sessions, the better they will prepare you!
- Practice Bowling Your Full Complement Of Overs – If you play 20 over cricket, practice bowling your full 4 over spell. If you play 50 over cricket, practice bowling your full 10 over spell. While you are doing this, focus on not bowling any wide or off target deliveries. At the start of your spell, you should focus on bowling more length deliveries, with maybe 1 or 2 variations per over. In your last couple of overs, focus on mixing up the deliveries that you bowl, trying to bowl all of your variations accurately. This kind of practice helps to improve your bowling stamina, as well as your accuracy, and it can be done with or without a batsman present!
Put the hours in practicing these kinds of things in the nets, and you’ll see your confidence and abilities improve a lot!
Work With Your Captain & Bowl To Your Field
In order to bowl well at the death of the innings you must work with your captain and make sure you have the right sort of field set for the deliveries you’re trying to bowl.
If you bowl an accurate yorker at the stumps, batsmen will find it hard to hit this delivery square of the wicket. Therefore, for this ball you should make sure you have fielders covering areas down the ground and behind the wicket, in case they try to clip you down to third man or fine leg.
If you’re choosing to bowl a few bouncers, then you’ll need a few fielders on the leg-side boundary so that batsmen can’t play the hook shot in the air without risking being out caught! The aim at this stage of the game is to make the batsmen take risks in order to get boundaries. The more risks they take, the higher chance they’re going to get out at some point!
More often than not, you’ll always need a fielder on the mid-wicket boundary, as this is the most common area that batsmen will try to hit at the end of the innings!
Encourage your captain to work with you and set the fields that you think are going to help you keep the run rate down.
To summarise, these are the kinds of things you should be discussing with your captain:
- What sort of deliveries you plan to bowl, and how the field needs to be set to defend the areas that the batsmen are likely to try to hit.
- What are the strengths of the batsmen? What sort of areas have they been looking to hit the ball in?
- Discuss how the field should be altered if you’re bowling to a right handed/left handed batsman
- Make sure you have your best fielders in the key positions such as on the boundary.
Have Aggressive Intent!
As I’ve already said, bowling at the end of the innings is a battle between you and the batsmen. It is a battle that you have to want to win if you’re going to be successful.
Yes, there is a high chance that you may get hit for more runs if you bowl during this period of the game, but don’t let that sway you or knock your confidence. It happens to everyone! Many professionals like bowling at this point in the game because even if they do get hit for a few more runs, they will often get more wickets due to the batsmen taking more risks! More wickets always make bowlers feel better! Taking wickets is also incredibly important at this stage of the innings. This brings new batsmen to the crease who will then find it difficult to start hitting boundaries straight away! This benefits your team and your own bowling figures!
You have to have a strong mentality to bowl at the death. Have intent, and back yourself to beat the batsman! Take pride in each delivery and put all your effort in to it. Every run you prevent the other team from scoring could be that one run that allows you to win the game. Remember, as the bowler in this situation you are in control and they will have to react to the deliveries that you choose to bowl.
Be Ready To Change Your Delivery At The Last Second
As we’re running in to bowl, some batsman will move around the crease to try and distract us or get themselves into a better position to play a shot. As bowlers we have to be prepared for this! As long as the batsman doesn’t move at the very last second, we have a small window of time in which we can adjust our line/length to combat the movements they have made.
Some batsmen choose to back away towards the leg side, and if we see this happen while we are still in the run up phase of our action then we may choose to adjust our line and move it further towards the leg side. Batsmen who make this movement are often trying to create more room for themselves to hit through the off-side. By following them and bowling at their body we deny them the room they are looking for.
If you see the batsman advancing down the pitch towards you, you might choose to bowl the ball shorter or adjust your length to compensate for the movement they have made.
Always be prepared to change your plans at the last second if you need to! It could be the difference between bowling a dot ball and being hit for a boundary!
I hope this has given you some inspiration to continue practicing the art that is death bowling! In my opinion theres not many better things to watch in cricket than a great death bowler executing their skills under pressure, and if you can pull it off, it can be very rewarding for you and the team!