The best death bowlers have a clear mind. Regardless of the pressure of the situation, once they stand at the top of their run up they are focused on one thing: executing the ball they intend to deliver.
A lot of bowlers miss their lengths because they have cluttered minds. You watch teams take an age to set their fields for the final few balls because they know the new restrictions leave them vulnerable in many areas. Often bowlers miss their lengths because they are fretting over whether they have set the field correctly.
If you put a boot down on the pitch during a bowling drill the top bowlers will hit it five times out of six. Why not under pressure? Because of the crowd, momentum and they start worrying about the things they can’t control such as the calibre of the batsman at the other end. As captain all you can do is tell them to focus on delivering their skill and not be thrown off because a player produces a miracle shot.
There is no right or wrong approach to bowling death overs, but the most costly fault is being predictable. We hear commentators say there are not enough straight yorkers bowled these days but modern players can ramp you for four even if you hit your spot. Drop short by a few inches and the ball is flying back over your head. So don’t be predictable.
I look at England and sometimes they miss their yorkers by five or six inches. That is a country mile at this level. I see bowlers tinkering with their fields. They are too engrossed in the minutiae to get their skill right.
Lasith Malinga is the best death bowler in the world. He keeps it simple. At the top of his mark, he kisses the ball, runs in and bowls. That is it. He has three options: the slinging yorker, the wide yorker or straight yorker. He gets a bit of dip and spin on his yorker so if he misses his length there is still no bounce for the batter to get under and whack it over his head whereas when someone with a higher arm action misses length it bounces and disappears into the sky.
When that happens the hardest thing for a bowler to do is clear his mind and concentrate on the next ball. But it is a sad truth for them that at this tournament their best balls will fly out of the ground because the odds are not stacked in their favour. It is how they react that will be key.
Extra cover and midwicket will be so important. The deeper you go at extra cover, to give yourself more reaction time, the bigger the gap created between extra cover and mid off. Players nowadays hit the ball so hard that it is natural as an extra cover fielder to take a few paces back but that creates the angle for ones and twos which on the bigger Australia playing surfaces could cost a lot of runs. So as captain you need to squeeze those guys in between extra cover and mid off and midwicket and mid on because otherwise the batsman is able to play conventional strokes through those gaps to the boundary. That way you force players to hit to the left of extra cover where you generally have a boundary rider giving you a bit of protection. You will not be hit for four there and vice-versa on the leg side where a boundary rider to the right of midwicket saves runs.
On big Australia grounds the boundary riders have to know when to come in 20 yards to cut the ball off at the 45 degree angle. England hugged the boundary rope too much in Sri Lanka and have shown a readiness to come in during this trip to Australia which is good. It stops the extra run and creates good positive body language.
We will see massive scores. This will be the World Cup of 350-370 totals. The era of scoring 250-275 and winning on a regular basis will die (if it hasn’t already) at this tournament. Having a fifth fielder in the ring makes players just go for it. The two new white balls were brought in to redress the balance and give the bowlers some firepower. But they are not swinging and it has actually given batsmen a harder ball to hit so in the final ten overs of an innings they are facing a ball that is only 20 overs old which is why it is flying to the boundary.
In the past spinners would come on and the ball was soft and difficult to hit. But now it is rock hard. Put a bat on it and it pings down the ground. This is the era to be a batsman. Everything is loaded in your favour: fielders up, harder balls, better bats and the boundaries miles in from the fence compared to 20 years ago. I think we will hear some chuntering old bowlers over the next few weeks.
If spinners are brave and use their skill, flight and revolutions they will have success. Those that use the fifth fielder (in the ring) as a catcher will be the winners. Stick him in at slip or leg slip and they will create chances. If a spinner takes a wicket there is a chance they will bowl a few dots and build pressure against new batters. The best captains will use spinners in a very aggressive and attacking way.
Old fashioned full, straight, hitting off stump and bowling just inside the marker line will suit the bigger grounds. The wide yorker nullifies the ramp shot. But the way batsmen now strike the ball you feel the slower ball bouncers and bowling into the pitch are deliveries you will only use when desperate for wicket.
When ahead of the game and controlling the run rate you just go as full and straight as you can so you know they will then be hitting to your field. A few teams might use spin at the start and end of an innings forcing batsmen to work harder to hit the ball into the big gaps. Tempting batsmen to attack the men in the ring by hitting over mid-on might be a gamble worth trying. If there is a hint of purchase in the pitch for the spinners batsmen will be living dangerously if they take it on.
This is not a tournament for rigid, stats driven tactics dreamed up on a laptop. Be flexible. Yes there will be bowlers you want to see off knowing they are dangerous on certain grounds and pitches. But it may work out differently on the day.
I don’t want to see England going into the first game against Australia saying they have to go hard at Mitchell Johnson because he is quick and sometimes wild. If he is on form and the pitch to his liking then be clever. See him off and identify a different target. Perhaps Josh Hazlewood is the day’s weakest link so hit him. It is good to talk about gameplans and totals before a match but it is about assessing what is happening on any given day and that is when good communication around the group is key.