You are in the middle of a T20 game, bowling at a batsman who’s going all guns blazing, having smashed quite a few boundaries over the last four or five overs. The run chase is very much underway and if you don’t get him out soon, the game could drift away. As a fast bowler, what’s your best chance of getting a wicket, on a pitch that offers almost no assistance to bowlers? You could bowl a yorker, you feel. But wait, the yorker getting wickets? Well, that’s history. Good batsmen around the world have learned the art of defending a yorker; and then there are a few of ABD’s or Kohli’s or MSD’s class who can clobber a yorker into the boundary, in their own styles.
You wonder, you could bowl two or three yorkers, try to contain the batsman and build pressure gradually. But then, it’s no easy task to bowl three yorkers in an over. You got to be in top form for that. If you miss, it either becomes a full toss or a juicy half volley which the batsman can dispatch pretty comfortably. And then it strikes you – the knuckle ball! A knuckle ball, if executed well, can have the best of batsmen in trouble. And it doesn’t require yorker-like accuracy as far as the length of the ball is concerned.
So what exactly is a knuckle ball? And how do you bowl it? When you bowl a normal delivery, you hold the ball between the thumb on one side, and the ring finger and baby finger on the other, both bent down to accentuate the grip. Your index finger and middle finger run over or across the seam, on top, to add balance to the grip. With this conventional grip, you play with seam positions and the sides of the ball – shiny and rough- to attain in-swing or out-swing, and then when the rough sides becomes rough enough – the reverse swing. To bowl the knuckle ball, an innovative way of bowling the slower one, you change the conventional grip – the thumb and the bent ring and little finger remain the same. You just lift your index and middle fingers from over the seam, fold them, and now support the seam with the nails of your index and middle fingers.
This way, the grip changes without the batsman having any idea whatsoever. There’s another way of bowling the slower one – the back of a hand slower one. But a top bracket batsman can easily gauge it once he sees the back of your hand and the time of delivery. With the knuckle ball, there’s a very small chance of the batsman getting to know the change in the grip – plus, like with back of the hand delivery, your arm-speed remains the same, which is why there’s no chance the batsman knows what’s coming. Even the classiest of batsmen can get deceived if the knuckle ball is executed to perfection. Yes, like everything in professional Cricket, the knuckle ball is difficult to master – it takes enormous practise – but once you master it, it can become one of the most potential weapons in your repertoire.
Andrew Tye of Gujarat Lions and Zaheer Khan of Delhi Daredevils have so far used the knuckle ball to great effect in the tournament. Andrew Tye, in fact, bowled the 18th and 20th overs the other day against Pune – conceded just 10 runs and got a hattrick as well.
When asked about his knuckle ball, he replied, “It has probably taken me five-six years to get to the stage where it [the knuckle ball] is today, I have practised it hard and have practised with the right intent. Now, it is my most powerful weapon in T20 cricket.”