How slow can you bowl spin?
The answer is slow. I’m sure you’ve all been in games where you’ve seen decent players dismissed by what looks like ridiculously slow bowling. It’s one of the things that drew me into the game when I saw Shane Warne bowling back in the 1990’s.
I came to cricket late in life, so missed out on my physical peak, so for me it’s a reality that I’ll just get slower. Being the age I am, I have to look after myself otherwise I’m going to sustain injuries. In the past I’ve suffered chronic injuries to my rotator cuff when learning how to bowl the ‘Wrong Un’ and over the last 10 years of developing and learning wrist-spin I’ve gone through phases where I’ve explored trying to bowl significantly faster than my natural speed.
I noticed a few years ago that I had a conundrum - if I bowled faster the ball was flatter and therefore didn’t really get above the batsman’s eyes and was therefore easier to play. Also with the speed came a reduction in turn. If I bowled slower and loopier, the batsman just played me off of the back foot. Basically I was screwed, but I realised there was something missing. Reading further (Possibly Amol Rajan’s book “Twirlymen”) I came across a quote from an international batsman who spoke about both Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it related to the manner in which the ball left their hands and ended up with the batsman’s wicket. He said initially the ball looked innocuous – slow and as though the trajectory would mean that it would land full and be readily driven on the half volley, but then as it neared, he said in both cases (Warne and Ahmed) the ball seemed to momentarily hang in the air, before suddenly viciously dipping and at the same time swerving to the leg-side (Drift). The dip then meant the ball was no-longer on the predicted trajectory and was now on a length that made it problematic, it then spat up and turned viciously making it totally un-playable.
Warne and Ahmed both do this at around 55mph. I knew at the time that if I was to have bowled at a trajectory at that speed – getting the ball above the eye-line it would have ended up in their neck/chest area. So what was I not doing? The answer is I wasn’t spinning it. I was spinning it, but nowhere near-enough, I was rolling the ball out of the fingers rather than flicking the wrist and giving the ball a good rip.
So I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t consistently giving the ball a good rip, despite the fact that I constantly do this when at home and with an apple or an orange in my hand like someone with OCD.
This season I feel like a lot of things have come together for me, although I haven’t had a particularly good one, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that at 56 I’m not going to be able to run-in like Stuart MacGill or Mushtaq Ahemd in his peak. So I’ve had to revert to a Jenner –esque approach to the crease as seen in his BBC videos and the ECB’s ‘Wings to Fly’ video. But I was still concerned about the speed, but then I remembered a bloke from one of the recent cricket world cups… Majid Huq. He’s Scotland’s highest wicket taker in ODI’s with some big scalps to his name and yet he is known as the slowest bowler in international cricket, bowling occasionally under 40mph https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTYPSw9KUG4
This for me was a lifeline and provided the inspiration to dig deeper into the question what is it I need to do to get the ball to have the attributes that were described by the batsman above?
I put in a lot of time last year looking to speed-up my approach to the crease and it was going well, but there was an issue with getting the right shape and action at the pivot (FFC). It was observed by a mate of mine who is a coach that it came together when I slowed down at front foot contact, which then made it almost pointless running in I thought. Furthermore I noticed with my son when I bowled at him, he was smashing me for 4 with the fast approach and rarely losing his wicket, but was getting out all of the time if I bowled slower.
The final part of the jigsaw came together via a discussion about drift on a forum. One of the blokes made the comment (having seen one of my videos on Youtube) that all the time I bowled with a near vertical arm, I was unlikely to get the ball to drift.
Since the realisation that I wasn’t ripping the ball that much I’ve worked on that and I’m probably spinning the ball harder and faster than I ever have. That seems to have been improved by the slowing down of my approach to the crease. But the biggest development came with the lowering of the arm. With the lowering of the arm I’m now getting the ball to drift, dip and turn massively. Along with this has come in recent weeks an almost exponential improvement in accuracy. Unfortunately at the end of the season rather than at the start!
But if you think you bowl too slow – don’t give up, just scrap trying to be MacGill, Tambe, Shah or Afridi work on getting the ball to spin hard and try lowering your arm perhaps?
Game played at ‘The Rec’ Langdon Hills.
The last league game for me this season, with the potential for a couple of friendlies in September. Earlier in the week it looked as though this game my be called off as there were no players available, but the club contacted people that no longer play that much and they turned up thankfully, so there were very few in the way of regular players. We had hardly any batting and the bowling was massively weakened with the exclusion of my son Joe.
We lost the toss and Orsett who we knocked over a couple of weeks ago for about 40 runs decided they’d bowl first. Their team looked different to the previous game and they got off to a very good start getting one of our openers in the first over for 0, but then there was a sequence of key wickets at regular intervals. One of the ‘Stand-in’ blokes made a good fist of his innings scoring 42 before being dismissed. ‘Extras’ was the next best scorer who helped us to limp to 109 all out. I went for 0 having faced about 4 balls, I wont even go into how crap it was. So they only had to score 110 off of 55 overs as they’d finished us off within about 30 overs or so.
We had one seam-up bowler – Ryan Davies who opened and I bowled as the opener from the other end.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with accuracy recently and I’ll try and post some stuff tomorrow showing what I’ve been working on. But today it paid off. The two blokes that opened the batting for them scored all their runs and one of them scored a 50 +. Our captain Lee Dutton gave everyone a handful of overs each to see how they got on. I had four and went for 18. Unfortunately I bowled two full tosses which went for 6 and 4, but other than those two anomalies my bowling was pretty good. The ball was turning and I got the edge of the bat two or three times and each time it managed to get past the slips/wicket keeper. But the good news here is that the persistent practice I’ve been doing seemed to have paid off today. I was relaxed, I had a nice relaxed grip, I bowled primarily round arm and the ball was coming out of the hand with plenty of revs. My line and length was spot on with the exception of about 4 balls, the two that went to the boundary and a couple of off-side wides when I tried to bowl faster. I had to bowl into the wind which was tricky and it was a pretty stiff breeze, but one or two of the balls drifted in the 2nd over which was good to see and it looked as though the ball was doing that thing where it suddenly dropped. So all in all a good day at the office as such, my mate Neil who bowls left arm orthodox bowled well too, but like the rest of us came away with no wickets having found the edge a few times and had a few skiers that fell into spaces.
The gutting thing is – after such a poor start season, with injuries and a bout of the yips, it looks like it might be coming together now right at the end of the season. The conclusion that I need to draw from this that at the start of the year I need to be fitter and stronger as it’s obvious that as the season goes on I get fitter and stronger. Also the amount of practice that I do increases exponentially as the summer goes on and to replicate the same levels of practice over the winter is problematic.
I've been at this now from almost ten years and over that period the ability to drift the ball has alluded me, sometime appearing when practicing and never being able to figure what it was that caused it. I've asked numerous people about it, looking for the definitive answer and it's always been vague or at the other extreme - explained in complex terms using physics. Then last summer after a massive discussion on a forum trying to make sense of the physics one of the blokes said something along the lines of... "You'll always struggle to get the ball to drift even if you are spinning it hard because you bowl with a very vertical arm".
I thought there might be something in the comment and decided at the start of this season when I injured my knee and had to bowl off of a 1 or 2 step approach to the crease, I'd look at trying to bowl more round-arm.
With a little bit of work, I found that I was able to get the arm down a little lower and still maintain what little accuracy I have at the moment. Then low and behold, in only the second session - there it was... very obvious and sometimes 'Big' drift. Not just every now and then, but almost every ball!
I've worked with the round arm approach since then gradually developing it and improving it and have discovered the round arm approach has other attributes. The ball does that amazing thing where it looks as though it's been bowled too full, then suddenly drops like a lead balloon and drifts on its way down and then turns off the wicket viciously. All attributes that I've been looking for, for years!
As the weeks went on, I became aware that the wind direction is a key factor. Without the wind the chances of the ball drifting are limited and possibly even negligible. But with the wind coming from the off-side blowing towards the leg-side, it's virtually guaranteed every ball with the round arm action which for me is an amazing revelation. So if you're not getting the ball to drift I would certainly look to lower your arm and give the ball a rip. You can see the ball move through the sky with side-spin as it goes down the wicket, try and get that side spin going because it helps.