Harry Gurney on the art of bowling at the death
England fans have painful memories of Ben Stokes’ inability to nail that yorker and protect 19 runs in the final over of the World T20 in 2016.
Carlos Brathwaite’s four consecutive sixes for the West Indies in Kolkata will forever haunt both Stokes and his team-mates and those watching aghast on the sofa at home.
It sounds a lot, 19 runs, but bowling at the death is not easy.
Back on our shores, Nottinghamshire head coach Peter Moores told me that of the three competition successes his side enjoyed in 2017, the T20 Blast victory was the most pleasurable.
And for that a great deal of credit must go to left-arm seamer Harry Gurney, whose tight bowling late on secured both the semi-final and the final.
Elephant Sport met with the bowler to discuss the art of bowling at the death.
Having a blast at finals day
In the semi-final of the T20 Blast against Hampshire, the dangerous trio of Liam Dawson, Gareth Berg and Kyle Abbott all fell victim to one Gurney over, the 18th of the innings, leaving Hampshire with one wicket remaining and too many to get.
And in the final, the 31-year-old opened his box of cutters and back-of-the-hand slower balls to which the Birmingham Bears had no reply.
The removal of New Zealander Colin de Grandhomme in the 15th over and Sam Hain in the 19th – the former with a T20 strike rate well above 160 while the latter was well set on 72 – edged Notts ever closer to their second white ball trophy of the summer.
In that final, Gurney was the right man for the job.
“In T20 cricket, I’m the captain’s go-to man. If he feels like there is a situation arising where he needs a wicket or a tight over I’m the man he’ll come to.
“De Grandhomme was starting to motor [in a partnership with Hain] and we thought if he gets going here they could still win this.”
But the seamer outfoxed the danger man, with the Kiwi misreading a slower ball and chopping onto his own stumps.
Gurney returned to bowl the penultimate over of the match. The Bears needed 34 from 12 balls, a difficult task but Hain was playing beautifully while Aaron Thomason was more than capable of clearing the rope.
Gurney said: “I have always bowled the last two overs from one end [in T20 cricket]. I enjoy bowling at that time, I like to be in control of my own destiny.”
And enjoy it he did, conceding only five runs and removing both occupiers of the crease, leaving the Bears requiring 29 from the final over with two new batsmen.
Birmingham simply could not decipher Gurney’s action, his variety of lengths and speed making him near impossible to dispatch to the boundary.
Jake Ball followed the script in the final over and the Outlaws won by 22 runs. Gurney finished the day with figures of 7-34, the best ever in the history of this tournament finale.
But how does a bowler develop these skills? Any professional can land the ball where they require but scoreboard pressure can alter the trajectory of a delivery far more drastically than seam position.
“But I also might find a ball out of nowhere that takes a wicket”
“The main reason is hard work. At the end of practice, when everyone else is done, I take myself off to a pitch on the side, put a cone down and I won’t be happy until I’ve nailed that yorker a few times.
“I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic with regard to those variations and that is now combined with a few years executing those skills in the middle.
“People know I might leak the odd boundary but I also might find a ball out of nowhere that takes a wicket”
But it is the slower ball that makes the left-armer such a threat.
“I’ve got two slower balls, the one that comes out the back of my hand and the one where I roll my fingers down the side. Then I pair those with either a length ball, a bouncer or a yorker.
“But I didn’t bowl a bouncer on finals day, it just didn’t feel right.”
Have England missed a trick?
On finals day Gurney was spot on. His economy for the day was a staggering 4.86 runs per over.
Those figures are enough to win any T20 game and this was no accident with the precision and skill of his bowling being the clear product of hours of hard work.
“It’s a funny phrase isn’t it, ‘hard work’. There’s only so hard being a professional sportsman could be.”
But it paid off and many took notice, including Rob Smyth writing in The Guardian, who said: “England must be a bloody good T20 side if they don’t need him”
They certainly could have done with Gurney on that night in Kolkata.