After Tymal Mills, Harry Gurney is perhaps the only active English international cricketer who can be classified as a T20 specialist. The 32-year old Nottingham-based bowler has recently announced his retirement from red-ball cricket and some reports suggest that the coming season he is unlikely to feature for his county, Nottinghamshire, in the 50-over championship.
Well, if Gurney would have taken this decision of concentrating only in the shortest format even six months back, it would have raised quite a few eyebrows as he topped Nottinghamshire’s County Championship wicket-takers in the last season. However, following his phenomenal show in T20 leagues across continents in the past six months, one must feel this is the right way forward for this wily left-arm seamer.
With his slingy action, crafty variations and accuracy, which were on display during his Indian Premier League (IPL) debut in Jaipur on Sunday night, Gurney seems to have customised himself for this slam-bang format. In the latest edition of the Big Bash League, he played an instrumental role (9 scalps in 9 matches with an economy rate of 7.17) for Melbourne Renegades during their maiden victorious campaign. Even during his adventures in the T10 competition as well as in the just concluded Pakistan Super League, Gurney made a reputation for himself for being one of the most successful death bowlers in action.
And the KKR scouts spotted him at the right moment.
For a long time, the Kolkata-based franchise was looking for an experienced campaigner in the pace department whom they can rely on, especially in the final overs. In a line-up, in which the primary wicket-taking options are slow bowlers, often oppositions tend to go hard against the one-dimensional pace attack. Hence, in the auction, KKR went for Gurney straightway and picked him up with a solitary bid of INR 75 lakhs.
With the addition of a deceptive campaigner like him, the Knight’s fast bowling unit should get a significant boost. On these slow and dry pitches, where the ball tends to hold a bit, facing Gurney can be a nightmare for any batsman. He can slow down his pace drastically and bowls it at the right channel on most occasions. He also possesses a variety of slower deliveries, including a yorker, a length ball, and a swinging slow full toss. Furthermore, Gurney is currently mastering skills of bowling knuckle balls as well.
Because of his unconventional bowling action and arm speed, even for a set batsman, this can be quite hard to pick, especially when he is trying up the ante as Jos Buttler and Rahul Tripathi found it out during their knocks against KKR. At times, even a set Steven Smith had no clue of which way the ball would go after pitching.
Replacing Lockie Ferguson in the XI, Gurney bowled three out of the last 10 overs of the Rajasthan innings and gave away only 22 runs. His last two overs went for just 11. Gurney’s economical four overs played a vital role behind KKR restricting the Royals to a manageable 139.
Going forward, the Knight Riders should groom this Englishman as a long-term prospect. Even at their home ground Eden Gardens, on a fast and bouncy wicket, Gurney will hit the bat hard and his bagful of tricks can pay dividends. And with the pitches getting tired as we move forward in this IPL, if properly used, he can certainly be the ‘X-factor’ in this KKR bowling attack.
Most importantly, as a bowler, Gurney has a mature head. That’s why, while talking about his gameplans during a recent interview, he pointed out run saving being his first priory in his ‘hit out or get out’ format.
"I think I'm better as a defensive bowler, that's how I've carved my career, but at the same time my strike rate is pretty good,” Gurney told ESPNCricinfo. “My belief is that being defensive effectively allows me to get wickets. To be a wicket-taker, you don't necessarily have to run in with two slip fielders in place.”