Cricket World Cup: England's Chris Woakes on the art of death bowling


Chris Woakes has bowled the 50th over of an ODI on 19 occasions. He has bowled 106 deliveries and conceded 150 runs overall. He has conceded 103 runs from 70 balls in the final over of a first innings and 47 runs from 36 balls in the final over of a second innings.

It is limited-overs cricket at its most dramatic: the outcome of an entire match boiled down to the final six deliveries.

Death bowling is seen as the ultimate test of a bowler’s nerve and a crucial skill any successful team needs in their armoury.

In Wednesday’s game between New Zealand and South Africa, it was the former who held their nerve as Kane Williamson hit the first ball of the over for six with just eight needed for victory.

But what are the key attributes required for a good death bowler?

Speaking to the TMS daily podcast, England’s Chris Woakes explains what is going through his head as he prepares to bowl the final over, and what it is like to then be on the winning – and losing – side.

Do you always want to bowl the final over?

“It can be a nice over to bowl if you’re bowling at tailenders because you can pick up a couple of cheap wickets.

“But if someone is seeing the ball very well and they are a world-class player, you literally have no margin for error.”

Are you looking to catch Eoin Morgan’s eye in the final few overs?

“You’re keeping an eye on the captain, but also on the game: what the batsmen are doing, who is coming in next. These are all the things that go on in your mind going into the last 10 overs.

“I often have four overs to bowl, so I have a big job to play. I grab the captain around the 40th over mark and get his thoughts.

“To be honest, it’s one of Eoin’s strengths as a captain in those moments – he will come up and double check what you’d like to deliver, and what he thinks might work. He is also very good at a bit of give and take.

“He knows what he wants, but he’s happy to give you the opportunity to deliver what you want.”

What is going through your mind?

“I try to keep calm and assess the situation.

“Who is batting at the other end? Where do they like to score runs? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What skill would you like to bowl? Is the surface more helpful to slower deliveries? Are yorkers best? Are there bigger boundaries on one side?

“Though there is a lot going through your head, you still have to remain calm and think of your strengths – what you are good at executing, and try to deliver it.”

‘You try to have banter with the crowd but must switch on when you have a job to do’

What’s it like knowing you’re right at the heart of the action?

“Sometimes it all goes in a blur; sometimes you’d like to enjoy it a bit more. There are other times you wish a hole would swallow you up.

“But that is the pressure of being a death bowler. You have to take the rough with the smooth.

“I remember a time in Sydney when I was defending 12 in the final over and had copped abuse from the fine-leg boundary from the Australia supporters all game.

“They were saying ‘you’re going to lose it for England’ and this sort of carry on. You try to have a bit of banter with the crowd, but at that point you have a job to do and focus on what is ahead of you.

“Fortunately, I managed to defend the score on this occasion – so it wasn’t too bad.”

Is there a minimum total you’re comfortable defending?

“As long as it’s above 36 you’re happy!

“But, seriously, each game is different. Defending six to a tailender on a certain surface may be in your favour but, generally speaking, double figures gives you a chance.

“It’s probably likely that one of your balls will go to the fence, so you have to allow yourself a boundary – even if it’s from a bit of bad luck.”

Have you ever changed your mind about the ball you’re about to deliver when running in?

“Yes, but they are generally the times when you get it wrong.

“If I was going to teach anyone one thing about bowling at the death, it would be to decide what to bowl at the end of your mark and don’t change your mind at all.”

How do you keep yourself calm when bowling the final ball if they need four to win?

“Having been in this situation quite a few times it’s honing in on that exact skill you’re trying to produce – a wide yorker, for example, especially if they need a four or six.

“I use visualisation quite a bit at the end of my run-up and almost ‘see’ the yorker and the batsman dig it out.”

Is there a time when it went wrong in the final over?

“I remember a game in Hamilton when New Zealand needed 10 off the last over, with me bowling to Mitchell Santner.

“The first ball I executed my yorker perfectly well, but he dug it out and it went past short fine leg for four. The next ball I tried to bowl the same, but it went into the slot, he hit it for six and it was game over.

“Sometimes that’s going to happen: you go from hero to zero in a couple of balls. But having experienced those moments they can only benefit you moving forward.

“Even now, I don’t think I did do a huge amount wrong. You live and you learn. I wouldn’t have tried to change the type of delivery – I would just execute it better.”

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