Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The art of bowling quick on flat pitches
Nowadays, cricket more often than not is played on unhelpful tracks. It makes bowling quick an arduous task, especially under extreme conditions like heat and humidity. The administrators also tend to prepare flat tracks so that play can be extended till the fifth day. The batsmen nowadays use some great bats which can make even a average player look like a world beater. So, it is a tough world for the bowlers, but one can't complain and the quick bowlers have to find ways of defeating the batsmen.
First of all, any quick bowler should always believe that he is there to take wickets. The bowler can't shy away from the challenge in front of him, but has to show a big heart by coming hard at the batsmen.
Anyway let us look at some of the ways a bowler can defeat the batsmen on flat pitches even though many factors are against him.
1)Patience- The most important factor for any bowler is patience. It is hard for the quicker bowlers to remain patient as it is an arduous task to come from a long run-up, bowl a good delivery, yet not get the reward for it, but patience is the key to success. For instance, one can look at what Shaun Pollock used to do on subcontinental pitches as he has been successful in Pakistan, Lanka and India by bowling line and length and not getting frustrated. Any bowler needs to have a big heart and bowl basic line and length to succeed on flat pitches.
2)Use the crease- Secondly, just going through the motions won't do the trick against international class batsmen. So, a bowler can look to use the crease by occasionally going a touch wide of the crease to create the angle. It would make sure that batsmen would be kept guessing. For instance, if a right-handed batsman is facing a bowler, who is coming close to the stumps and is mainly looking to shape it away from the righthander, he would keep leaving it, but if the bowler just goes wide of the crease he can just create a bit more angle and the batsman may suddenly be tempted to play at it as he would have settled into a routine of playing a particular type of delivery. Another tactic can be, a right arm quick bowler can look to go around the wicket to the left-hander and a left arm quick can go around the wicket against the right-hander to change the angle of the delivery. Akram was a expert at going around the wicket to the right-hander and he caused lots of problems to the righthanders by going around the wicket.
3)Use bouncer as a surprise element- Nowadays, most batsmen like to come well forward as they have the protective gear, pitches are flat and there aren't too many out and out quick bowlers going around. So, it is important even for a medium-pacer to bowl the occasional bouncer to show that he is up for the challenge and to warn the batsman that he shouldn't come forward. Bowling a bouncer is a difficult task as it requires lots of effort and shouldn't be too high as the batsman would easily get underneath the ball. One of the best exponents of the bouncer in the modern game is Steyn as whenever he bowls it, he usually doesn't waste it as he makes the player play and sometimes can be hard to pick because he has a quick arm action. I have seen a few old-timers compare him to the former England's quick bowler Snow though Snow was taller than Steyn. Quick bowlers though, have to keep in mind that they can't over use it as it becomes predictable and they can lose their rhythm.
4)Reverse swing- Reverse swing is something that is widely talked about in the last thirty or so years. Sarfraz Nawaz is credited with being the first one to bowl reverse swing and other Pakistan's bowlers like Imran, Younis, Akram, Akthar and co. have followed in his footsteps by succeeding in getting it to reverse. So, what is reverse swing? I have seen many theories about reverse swing. I'm not any expert but I would look to explain it briefly.
It is about maintaining a smooth shiny side and the opposite side is left to deteriorate because of normal wear and tear. A bowler with an outswinger's grip would move it back into the batsman and the inswinger grip would make it go away from the batsman. For reverse swing to happen, a few factors have to be considered.
A) Ground conditions- A wet and grassy pitch with a lush outfield won't help in getting reverse, but it needs to be abrasive for the ball to get roughed up on one side. Most Pakistan's pitches help reverse swing because of the abrasive nature of the pitches. In Australia, Adelaide is a good ground for reverse swing, Old Trafford too helps reverse swing as the square is usually bald and I found the ground at Kandy in Lanka too good for reverse swing.
B) Slingy action and pace- Bowling with a slingy action is a important factor as it helps the bowler to bowl a fuller length which is needed for reverse swing. It would be better if a bowler can bowl quick as the general held theory is, quicker a bowler bowls, more reverse swing he would get. For instance, both Akram and Younis would bowl quick and even Gough, or Jones could bowl at a nippy pace. Shorter bowlers tend to have more success with reverse swing as they usually would have slingier action. The one bowler who did get a bit of reverse swing though was tall, had a high arm action and wasn't quick was McGrath but even he in Pakistan in 1998 reportedly did tinker slightly with his action by bowling with a slightly lower arm and succeeded in getting five wickets at Karachi. In 2000, Gough did the same in Lanka. Yes, Gough does have a slingy action, but bowled with even more of a lower arm and was very successful. It shows that bowlers can make subtle changes in their action to be successful.
c)Seam position- The seam position is very important for reverse swing. Of course, quicker bowlers grip the seam vertically. The middle and index finger on either side of the seam and the ball resting in the third finger and thumb. The straighter the seam at the point of delivery, better the chance of reverse swing. Dale Steyn is a good example of a bowler, who has a very good seam position and one could see Morrison in the commentary box getting excited about Steyn's seam position during the India v South Africa test series.
So, reverse swing has become a huge weapon in a quick bowler's armoury especially, on tracks that are flat and abrasive one can get reverse swing when the ball gets worn out. It has to be also remembered that bowlers who have mastered the art of reversing it both ways like Younis, Jones, Akram, Gough, Akthar, Sarfraz, Imran and co. have been more successful as the batsmen have to think about the ball reversing both ways.
5)Slower deliveries- Slower delivery has become another good weapon to surprise batsmen on flat pitches. A batsman would have got settled against a particular bowler bowling at a certain pace, but a sudden change in pace can help the bowler to deceive the batsman. Most bowlers these days bowl off-cutters, one can also see bowlers trying back of the hand stuff and a few like Bond could bowl effective slower bouncers! Slower bouncers? Oh god a fast bowler thanks to flat pitches is trying to bowl a slower bouncer lol. Among the bowlers, in the past Steve Waugh had a very effective slower delivery. At present, Bravo bowls some well deceived slower deliveries. Yes, he just bowls medium pace, but I'm still amazed about those different grips he has for bowling slower deliveries and how effective he is with those slower deliveries.
6)Field placements- if a bowler is looking to get reverse swing, attack the stumps and slip in the odd slower delivery, it becomes important to set the fields accordingly. So, the captain may look at straight fields like mid on, mid off, cover, fine leg and of course, it would be always better to have at least one slip as however flat the pitch maybe, the fielding team should believe that any batsman can make a mistake and edge it to the slip fielder. I have seen captains also employing a short extra cover fielder on a slow pitch as the batsmen may spoon a catch to the short extra cover fielder of a slower delivery. Recently, the plan worked in a county game with Robert Key getting out caught at short extra cover.
Bowling on a flat deck with sun around is never an easy task, but some of the above points may help a quick bowler to out think the batsmen of the opposition team.