When the pressure is on, who do you call upon to carry your team over the line? Who will stay cool and knock off the winning runs in the final overs? Who do you count on to deliver a tight final over and defend your total? Meet The Finisher.
With ever-increasing amounts of limited overs cricket being played and the advent of Twenty20, close finishes and thrilling endings to cricket matches are quite common these days. Further innovations like Powerplays have contributed towards matches stretching out till the final over. No target is too big to chase down, and any team can be bowled out.
In this age of matches going “down to the wire”, cricketers have to endure high-pressure situations on a regular basis. They are tested both mentally and physically until the final ball is bowled or the final runs are scored.
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Nerves of steel and a never-say-die attitude, this is where the finisher comes into play. Backing themselves to come good no matter how bad the circumstances, players who do well in the ‘death óvers’ are fast becoming key members of any side. Where other players might consider the game to be lost, these players keep fighting till the end, and pull off seemingly impossible results.
Batting and bowling during these so-called “death overs” has become something of an art only few can master. A solid foundation in basic techniques, along with innovation, self-belief and composure is necessary to be an effective performer at this time, with either bat or ball. Whether finding the boundaries when chasing or finding the blockhole when bowling, the term “specialist death batsman/bowler” is being used with increasing regularity.
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The original finisher
The original finisher was undoubtedly Australia’s Michael Bevan. Coming in low down the order, he kept the strike ticking over while he got set and then started to find the boundaries when needed. Almost 7000 ODI runs at an average of well over 50 is testament to his ability to perform in crunch situations, and he helped swing many close matches in Australia’s favour. He was also an integral part of Australia’s World Cup winning sides of 1999 and 2003, playing an important role in both those triumphs.
As the modern game has developed, more batsmen have come up who fall into the category of finishers. Players like Lance Klusener and Abdul Razzaq, to the recently retired Michael Hussey, and JP Duminy and Indian captain MS Dhoni, from the current crop of players, come to mind. With a cool head on their shoulders and a will to win, they have single-handedly carried their respective teams to victory on multiple occasions.
The bowling equivalent
When it comes to bowlers, the same basic criteria apply. Controlled variations of line, length and speed coupled with innovation, and most importantly the ability to find the yorker regularly are essential parts of “death bowling”.
The most successful exponent of the art in recent times is Lasith Malinga. With his unorthodox slingshot action and terrific pace, no batsman relishes the prospect of facing him in the latter stages of an innings, when there is a match to be won. The foundations were laid by Glenn McGrath, Shaun Pollock, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Their good work is carried on by ‘specialist death bowlers’ like Malinga, Tim Southee, James Faulkener and Zaheer Khan.
They may not be the most technically gifted, or the most elegant of players. But they are undoubtedly effective, and proven match winners. They routinely turn out to be the difference between victory and defeat. And when the heat is on, they are the ones the captain turns to, to produce another nerveless performance under pressure and guide their team to victory.