Irfan Pathan is overjoyed after nailing Adam Gilchrist with a perfect yorker

Irfan Pathan: that's the way the rookie rumbles

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The balls of the century, No. 13: Irfan Pathan to Adam Gilchrist

The whiplash departure. The death wobble. The fatal yorker

Sharda Ugra  |  

Australia v India, Sydney, 2004

Rajkot and Raja Ali. Sydney and Adam Gilchrist. Disparate worlds, on the face of it, but linked by Irfan Pathan, 19, Test debutant less than a month before. The rookie's optimism locates a common ground between the two and it lies in his mind. From there to his hand, and out of the hand, that ball. A certain kind of ball.

On Pathan's Duleep Trophy debut in March 2002, the last man standing for Central Zone was the left-hand Railways pro Raja Ali, who promised mayhem. Pathan asked his captain for a go, wanting to capitalise on the reversing ball, confident in his accuracy over the wicket aiming at the base of the stumps. It needed a lot to come right - a good action, the right release, the perfect follow-through, in ideal conditions - but when it did, it gave Ali only two options: protect your stumps, be lbw; protect your legs, the bails fly. Raja Ali b Pathan 14.

Two years later, India are fighting in Australia like they haven't in decades, the series is tied 1-1, this is the decider. India have scored 707 in their first innings and they must try to break Australia down into 20 wickets. Pathan sent Steve Waugh back in his last Test. It's now 311 for 5 and guess who's here - Gilly.

Pathan bowls around the wicket to Gilchrist on the advice of mid-off, whose job it is to "maintain" the reversing ball. After being slapped for a boundary early, Pathan is setting him up, slanting the ball across with the angle. The reversing ball does nibble back in, but not frequently enough to cause doubt. Plus, Gilchrist is not biting. He hasn't scored off nine balls against Pathan, but is under control. Unlike his usual demeanour at the crease, this time Gilchrist is willing to wait. It's less than an hour to stumps and he knows what his departure would mean.

The new ball is due, and midway through the 79th over, Pathan, who has been thinking of Rajkot, tells mid-off that over the wicket now is a better idea - to bowl the ball that can attack rather than merely tempt. "Really full, try the yorker, hit him on the pads or legs, try and get him out. I'm going to go totally full. I think I can do it, paaji." Sachin Tendulkar, he of the batsman-mind-reading chatter all day, says "Daal, Irfan, bindaas daal."

Go for it Irfan, be bindaas, Mumbai patois for a combination of carefree and fearless. It is what Pathan was that evening. He sends Tendulkar back a few steps, orders mid-on slightly wide and hares in. His left fist rising behind his ear in delivery stride, front arm setting up the eyeline before the action wheels over into release. The moment the ball left his hand, he says, he knew it.

"You may think it is a fraction of a second, but as soon as you release the ball, you know there is something magical. That it is exactly the way you had wanted it to be." The blitzer. The reverse-swinging yorker.

It's like an illusionist's trick, except it's no illusion: it's real. After its whiplash departure from Pathan's hand, for a good distance in its flight path, the ball is moving on a line away from the stumps. Gilchrist's radar has locked in, his shoulders and feet take a purposeful move forward, the bat is in its downward arc, with the intention of finding its way to its target and punishing it.

Then comes the reverse-swinging ball's death wobble, (you can see it in slo-mo) which marks its change of direction. There is no shot to be forced off the square. There is only treacherous intent, which gathers pace as the ball heads towards Gilchrist's feet and the base of the stumps, faster and faster. Gilly, so quick of hand and eye, is left scrambling, out of balance, splayed, turned square, trying to get his bat down in time to have it reach and push the ball out of harm's way.

Late. Everything is late. And then comes the noisy tumult of breaking stumps, the shrieks of Pathan and his team-mates amid the long shadows of the setting sun.

The balls of the century

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo