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?