Back in the days when I played regularly on a Saturday afternoon, there was a standing joke among my team mates – that I was more interested in bowling the perfect outswinger than in taking a wicket.
And when I coach seam bowlers, once I am happy that their action is reasonably sound and repeatable, I will move on quickly to what might be considered by some to be post-graduate deliveries – variations in swing and pace – rather than drilling line and length.
I strongly believe that the role of the coach is to encourage excellence and the ambition to aspire to the extraordinary.
Always – what does “better” look like, and how can I be better?
Outswing and inswing variations
Delivered by altering the grip, not the bowling action.
Try varying the positioning of the thumb:
- edge of the thumb on the seam, opposite the first and middle fingers, tends to produce outswing, with the appropriate arrangement of seam and shine
- flat of the thumb on the seam, and the consequent change in the alignment of fingers and of the wrist behind the ball, favour inswing.
Even if the two deliveries don’t actually swing in opposite directions, it is unlikely that they will swing as far as each other – a controlled variation with minimal change in the bowling action.
“Undetectable” slower balls
If I can see the back of your hand when you release the ball, I know the ball is coming down slower (even if I am nowhere near good enough as a batter to actually take advantage of the early warning).
So we need something more subtle.
My best “invisible” slower delivery has the ball slipping out between the middle and third fingers, rather than propelled by first and middle fingers towards the target.
The palm of the hand is still facing the batter, although turned to fine leg, perhaps; the ball is still gripped with two fingers at the top, thumb beneath.
This is not a leg cutter – the wrist turns ever so slightly before the ball is released, and no sideways spin is imparted (there might still be a small amount of backspin, but less than would be the case with two fingers ripping down the back of the ball).
Difficult to bowl? Not really, as the basic bowling action does not change.
Difficult to control? Probably no more so than any other delivery, with practice.
Difficult for the batter? That’s the idea!
The joke about my “quest for the perfect outswinger” was, in fact, at least partly true, although I never told my team mates what my motivation was behind the quest.
After years of seeing slip catches go down, I had so little faith in their ability to consistently hold on to anything off my bowling that my only consolation for the spilled chances and misfields was to concentrate on doing my “job” to the best of my ability, and not worrying about the uncontrollables in the field.
And if that meant striving for the outswinger so perfect that even Viv Richards might struggle to middle it, then so be it.
Wickets may be the ultimate aim but as you demonstrate in the final paragraph, not always totally within the power of the bowler. Therefore I encourage bowlers to start to appraise their own bowling in qualitative rather than quantitative terms, hard at first for a couple of reasons – tradition (teammates will still think purely in wicket terms) and emotion (easy for players to exaggerate how they really bowled, both good and bad), but find they get better at it over time.
As for bowlers working on variations over ‘line and length’, good on you, perhaps not what Geoffrey would endorse but to me it has two benefits – it keeps the bowlers interested (learning new skills) and also encourages them to think (when to use these newly acquired skills or equally when not to use them)