What Are Death Overs in Cricket?

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Death overs in cricket. Pali Rao / Getty Images

The death overs are the last five to 10 overs of a team's innings in a limited overs (i.e. List A or Twenty20) cricket match.

Death Overs in Cricket

During the death overs of a cricket innings, the batting team tries to score as many runs as possible to maximize its innings total. This often involves unorthodox methods, such as slogging and paddle shots, as a means of hitting sixes or scoring runs in unprotected parts of the field. Scoring a lot of runs quickly takes precedence over good batting technique during the death overs.

The bowling and fielding team tries to restrict the batting team to as few runs as possible during the death overs by setting a defensive field. This involves placing as many fielders near the boundary as fielding restrictions allow and trying to protect the most likely scoring areas, such as deep mid-wicket or 'cow corner', which is where a lot of slogs end up.

Bowling at the death, as it is often called, requires a great deal of mental strength. It's usually the section of a team's innings when the most runs are scored, so bowlers need to continue believing in their ability even if they are conceding a lot of runs. The payoff for the bowler is that more batters tend to get out in the death overs, so bowlers have a better chance of picking up wickets.

To limit the number of runs scored, bowlers might target a batter's individual weaknesses, such as bowling short to someone uncomfortable with the ball rearing up to chest or head height. Otherwise, the yorker (which pitches at the batter's feet) is generally the most difficult ball to score from, though it is also difficult to bowl consistently. The main concern for any death bowler is to avoid bowling balls that can easily be hit for six, such as half-volleys. They will also be mindful of not conceding extras such as wides and no balls.

Examples of Death Overs

A great modern example of death overs hitting came from Australian Cameron White for his national team against India in 2010. With Australia on 175/3 after 40 overs and struggling to set a challenging total on a small ground, White went berserk in the last ten overs of the innings. He smashed 89 off just 48 balls as he and Michael Clarke saw the team through to 289/3 after 50 overs - an incredible 114 runs at the death.

Bowling at the death may be a thankless task for most, but Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga seems to thrive under the pressure and consistently deliver yorkers. His most famous death bowling exploits came against South Africa at the 2007 World Cup, where he took four wickets in four balls to almost pull off a stunning win for Sri Lanka. Fortunately for the Proteas, Robin Peterson and Charl Langeveldt held their nerve to get their team over the line, and Malinga's efforts became a footnote.