I spent a couple of hours on Saturday feeding a bowling machine for U13 trialists.† Some had clearly batted a lot against a bowling machine (some were simply more accomplished batters), but it was notable how some simply weren’t lining up the ball properly.

It has been reported how the delivery method (bowling machine vs. throw down vs. live bowler) can influence how the batter plays, so performance against a bowling machine might not be indicative of how a batter will perform under match conditions.

Which set me thinking about how a bowling machine could be made more “representative” of a live bowler.

An aside — why was I batting against a bowling machine?

I have never liked batting in the nets. Don’t tell the players I coach, but I much prefer just rocking up to play on a Tuesday afternoon to facing the bowling machine.

But this summer, I decided to break with my regular habit and booked a bowling machine for an hour before a big match.

I had a remarkable mid-season run of scores — as many runs in 4 innings (just once out) as in the previous three seasons combined — that saw me selected in the 2nd XI to bat at no.4. So an enforced break from mid-July (cancellation due to extreme heat; two weeks at the Commonwealth Games) was far from ideal preparation for a National Champs quarter final match.

I have spent many hours feeding balls into a bowling machine, but batted against one only once or twice before (and not recently). So the novelty of setting up the feeder and facing up for the first time in many years was quite possibly going to reduce any positive impact on my batting in the “big match”.*

I probably middled almost as many as I mishit, although my timing was awry. And I’d hate to look back at some of my footwork.

The session was filmed…but the footage was lost (fortunately, probably, to spare the author’s blushes).

More representative?

As a coach, I will sometimes use the feed to check that a batter really is “waiting, watching & reacting” to the delivery, rather than predicting where the ball would be and committing to the stroke early. I might let the ball roll around the “shoot” before it drops, or even “dummy” a feed and watch if the batter has moved early.

But that helps me, as a coach. It does nothing to make the batter’s experience more like facing a bowler.

I was by myself, so I used the auto-feeder. I was able to watch the count-down lights, then switch to the feeder mechanism as it dropped a ball into the machine. So I had some timing cues which aren’t always present when a coach or team mate feeds the ball in.

And I think this might be a small step to (more) representative use of the bowling machine.

Although the timing is not quite the same as with a live bowler, the batter does get to practice the “narrowing focus” recommended by Greg Chappell — from the broad (the bowler in his run-up; the machine) to the close (the bowler’s arm then hand; count-down lights to feeder wheel) to the ball in flight.

None of the “tells” in the bowler’s run-up or action are replicated, but these are particular to the individual, and consequently difficult to replicate in practice (unless you get to net with your opponents…).

The timing is (possibly) close enough.

I shall certainly try out using an auto-feeder next time I deliver a session from the platform of a bowling machine. Maybe set to deliver only a single delivery, but with the batter tasked with closely watching the mechanism.

† None of the trialists would have “failed” based on their performance against the bowling machine on Saturday. They have 4 weeks to impress the selectors, and their 5 overs against the machines were just a small part of the selection process. Batting against machines set to 56mph might just have shown some of the trialists just how much work they need to do, however.

* Due to late cry-offs, I played in the quarter final not as a no. 4 bat, but as a front line bowler, and dropped down the order to face just 3 deliveries (4*) at the end of our innings. 3/51 off 8 overs, on a pitch were 6.5/over was below par. We lost, by 5 wickets, in the final over. There’s always 2023…

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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