Accuracy – Line and length; Observations and ideas.
The main dictum when learning how to bowl Wrist Spin is “Spin the ball hard”. Almost all of the advice out there is along the lines of “You’re a spin bowler, so over and above everything else you have to spin the ball”. This article here assumes that you’ve reached that stage e.g. you’re able to spin the ball well and get it to turn off the pitch.
If you are able to spin the ball hard and get it to turn off the pitch the chances are you’ll get wickets even if it’s short, too full, slow, fast, drifting or not drifting, but there’ll be days when you go for loads of runs and will feel as though you’ve let the team down. You’ll probably have games where you’ll reflect on what’s happened and you’ll think we lost that game because of the runs made off my bowling. I reckon this is the reason many kids give up wrist spin bowling and without a really good captain and a supportive team around a player, spells like this are exceptionally hard to come through without internalising the situation and drawing a negative conclusion.
If you are wrist spinner in a higher grade team facing this scenario, you’ll be relegated to a lower level if you’re consistently expensive without taking wickets, but if you’re in a lower level team, the situation is will probably be that you’ll be given less overs. You’ll still be given the opportunity to bowl, but the onus of responsibility is on you to make the changes to justify longer spells. This is where your commitment and determination will be put to the test as well demonstrating that you’re thick-skinned… You can’t internalise such poor performances and dwell on them. Reflect on them – yes, but dwell on the situation and let it eat away at your confidence – no, otherwise you’ll be a gonna! Such poor performances have to be rationalised and put out of your mind.
So what do you do?
Peter Philpott would say practice, practice and then more practice. But he also makes the point that practice without a specific aim is worthless. So, we’ll assume in this section you can spin the ball, so what can you do in order to address the fact that you’re going for too many runs and you’re not taking wickets?
The issue may be accuracy. As I write I’m watching the test series between England and Bangladesh Oct 2016. The Bangladesh spinners have bowled well, but England’s spinners on Sky TV have been mauled by the pundits primarily for their inaccuracy. Adil Rashid our Wrist Spinner of whom I’m a massive fan, for some reason gets cut some slack saying that everyone expects him to be expensive, but the finger spinners, all of the pundits suggest because it’s so much easier, they should be bowling far more accurately, accumulating maiden’s if not wickets. I must admit I often wonder about how much practice professional bowlers do and how they practice as sometimes their bowling is dog crap bad, particularly Adil as he bowls a lot of short balls. If New Zealand and Warwickshire’s Jeetan Patel is to be believed they don’t do enough practice… English Spinner don’t practice enough http://www.espncricinfo.com/county-cricket-2015/content/story/917767.html
Patel says "They need to be more specific with their training - it's very easy to say that it's green and therefore it won't spin but you've got to find a way to succeed in the game.
To say that we play too much in April and May? Well too bad, just get on with it. It's just what it is. If you want to succeed, want to be good and get to the next level, then you've got to find ways to do that, whether it's getting bounce, drift, spin - whatever it is you've got to find a way to do that."
Like Philpott, he also makes the point that your stock ball has to be the one that you have full control of, this is the one that you have to practice with, this is the one that you threaten with that gets you the majority of your wickets.
So, we’ve seen that as we develop as Wrist Spinners, we’ll be given the chance to move up to better standards of cricket, if you’re a youth player, you’ll be expected to start playing adult cricket from about the age of 14. You’ll be placed in the lesser teams to introduce you to the game at a realistic level and this will be challenging unless you are a Peter Philpott who took 2 for 36 and 3 for 77 at Manly, Sydney when he was 12 years old in an a couple of adult games, but you never know… I’ve seen several youngsters do the same kind of thing ages 13 and 14.
You might find at this stage or perhaps a little later on, that where you had a great deal of success against kids of your own age, this step up in levels proves to be a lot tougher than you expected. If you’re up for it though, this is where you need to develop as a player. If you’re lucky you might have a coach that can help and they may give you some suggestions. If not here’s some ideas that I’ve picked up on over the years and use myself. The only thing you need that’s not always readily available is a whole bucket of balls 24-30. Put them on your Christmas or birthday list… just buy cheap ones for practicing with.
To start with let’s get going with a positive aspect so as to not get on a real downer. If you read anything by Clarrie Grimmett or Ashley Malletts book on Grimmett you’ll come across the stories of Grimmett practicing every day of his life almost in his back yard right through till his 80’s. The story goes that he wouldn’t allow himself to go back indoors until he’d managed to land the ball on an area the size of a handkerchief 4 or 5 times consecutively. While that’s an aspiration worthy of aiming for we are talking about a man that was known to be one of the most accurate of all Wrist Spinners.
Instead we’ll look at a starting point as suggested by Terry Jenner. In this video here at 2’10” Jenner makes several useful points primarily suggesting that the area that you bowl into is relatively large
Most of the videos you’ll see on-line and the majority of the guidance are aimed at kids and people starting out, so in the case of this video, this is definitely useful as the point that is being made relates to a good general rule providing you’re spinning the ball hard. He goes on to talk about the flight of the ball and the fact that it needs to be above the eyes. There are little details in Jenner’s instructions that are easily missed. He says “it’s dependent on the way the ball arrives towards the batsman”. Here he’s alluding to, but not being specific about things such as dip and drift which are essential, especially if you’re going to be bowling into such a large target area. So while such videos are definitely good starting points there are loads of details that are not gone into.
This big target area approach will potentially work in many scenarios especially if you are getting the ball to drift and dip. Additionally, its effectiveness will be dictated by the state of the game, the ability of the batsman and your own tactics. But, we’ve only got to look at the current test match between Bangladesh and England (2017) to see that accuracy gives you increased potential to… (a). Take wickets and (b). Restrict the run rates.
As I said earlier Adil Rashid and the other English spinners had come in for some flak from the SKY sports commentary team primarily for their ineptitude when it comes to bowling a good line and length consistently. Rashid’s pitch map here below shows how his bowling looks a bit scatter gun in its execution.
Whereas Mehedi Hasan was seen to be a far more effective bowler taking five wickets on debut, click here to see his pitch map and other data. The conclusion of the Sky commentary team was that Hasan’s bowling was far more accurate, or is it the case that Bangladesh’s batsmen are far better playing spin in local conditions, because looking at the two pitch maps I can’t see that Rashid’s bowling looks that dramatically different?
So what can we do? We have to have some understanding of what is a good length. An Indian bloke spoke to me about this years ago when I was practicing and had this advice. He said to get your bat and stand with your back foot just inside the popping crease-line and then stretch forwards with the bat as though you’re playing a fully extended slog sweep. Where the bat tip reaches he said “That’s where you bowl”.
The maps above from Sky TV show that the considered good length for a spinner is somewhere between 3 meters from the crease to 5.7 meters which is quite a big distance. When considering this as a guide to your bowling one key factor you need to think about and consider is your speed... Bowling on a length that is almost 6 metres away from the batsman may be fine if you're bowling at speeds in the 50mph + range, but any slower and the batsman is going to have time to play you off the back foot.
The image above is my interpretation of the Sky TV illustration converted into a viewed from above illustration. I've scaled it so that it's in both Metres and Yards. As you can see the light central area is considered to be 'Good', but you have to consider the speed you bowl at and given that I bowl much slower than a professional spinner, this has to be taken into consideration. The area I've been working with my accuracy on as described is indicated by the white rectangle which is in the area my Indian friend suggested which is more in the region of about 3 to 4 meters in front of the batsman's position on the popping crease e.g. slightly fuller.
The image above is proportionally more accurate and indicates the kind of approach that I'm working on at the moment. I use a piece of hardboard that I position on the wicket (Indicated by the white rectangle) it's relatively small 90cm x 28cm (35"x11") and aim to hit the target as frequently as possible with my stock ball, this morning practicing I had one sequence of hitting the target 6 times consecutively - not quite Clarrie Grimmett, but slowly getting there.
I'm not overly concerned with how much the ball turns in these practice sessions as I can see the ball is spinning with 90 degree rotation as it leaves the hand and the surface I'm bowling on is rough and nothing like a proper wicket so it massively exaggerates the amount of turn, the focus is (a) is the ball spinning hard and (b). How consistent is it?
I've practiced today in between writing this article up and it didn't go as well as last week when I was bowling more frequently. This is the results of three spate buckets of balls - 3 short spells if you like. The black line represents deviation off of the line as a very rough approximation.
The pitch map below is an approximation of Adil Rashid's bowling to the Right handed Bangladesh batsmen in the 1st innings of the current test match. As you can see the bowling is far less accurate in comparison to mine, but he's probably bowling at 50-55mph and I'm probably bowling at around 37-40mph which I'm guessing makes it easier?
You too could do something like this if you were to work on your accuracy. Do you don't need to have Photoshop unless you're going to be putting the images on a blog or a website. All I do is set up as below.
This is where I practice - it's a rough bit of ground we call The Paddock
- as I said previously so I don't take too much notice of the amount of turn I get off the surface. I line up a piece of board which is 35" long and about 11" wide and set it up so that if I hit the board, the ball will be threatening leg stump. My son stands just out of shot with a clip board with a pitch map drawn on a bit of paper (Thanks Joe for doing this for me) with the target drawn on the paper and as I bowl he marks on the paper where the balls land.
Behind the stumps it's probably a good idea to have a fence or something to bowl up against, if you've got easy access nets you're lucky. I have a fence behind the stumps and I place markers on the fence that are numbered to record how much the ball spins for fun (See image below). As I bowl, I call out to my son and tell him under which marker the ball finished up 1 through 8 any wider than 8 and I call it 9. He marks the number on the sheet. (See below) and then I spend hours turning it into a pitch map using Photoshop. But for your own purposes you could keep it dead simple and just draw up the results on a piece of paper (See below) and keep the bits of paper and compare them each time you do the exercise and plot whether you're improving or not. Jeetan Patel would be most impressed I reckon!
This illustration is how the plotting of the ball landing points is done initially before being transferred to the Photoshop illustration.
This is another thing I've done in the past and found useful. This is just a piece matting that's a lot bigger than the examples above. I spray painted lines on the matt either side of the bigger area and me and my younger son Joe in the image who bowls occasional Finger Spin used to bowl alternate balls. The mat would be lined up central to the stumps (not as it is here) and he would bowl outside of the off stump aiming to hit the mat on the 'C' strip turning his Off-Breaks into the stumps and I'd bowl leg-breaks trying to hit the 'A' strip doing the same. We have a point system - 1 point for hitting the centre of the mat, 3 points for hitting your strip and 5 points for landing on your strip and hitting the stumps too. This was good because it adds a competitive edge to your practice.
Again this is another really basic and cheap way to create a really focussed drill that improves a specific aspect of your bowling. With kids or if you're doing this yourself and you're only just starting out, don't make this ridiculously hard so that it becomes depressing, give yourself half a chance to succeed.
Of the two drills though I reckon the first one done without the stumps, just focusing on landing the ball on the designated target is the most beneficial.
landing the ball on the designated target is the most beneficial.
Peter Philpott has some advice in his book ‘The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling’ on the subject of practicing. He writes
The longer and more often you can bowl your wrist-spinners, the more likely you are to be successful and certainly the more likely you are to be accurate. With one important proviso! You must expect to practice ‘correctly’.
You see, ‘Practice does not make perfect’. It is ‘perfect practice that helps to make perfect’. The emphasis must be that you practice correctly. And that needs some explanation.
Perfect practice does not mean that you have a perfect wicket to practice on. The conditions are not the most important factor at all. More important is that your approach to practice is serious, positive and purposeful.
Bowling in the back-yard, the street or school playground is valuable practice, whether there is a batsman or not. But in all these circumstances, regardless of the quality of the conditions you must do it seriously and properly.
He then emphasises the need to bowl your stock ball and run-in with your standard approach to the crease and then says…
Above all, concentrate totally, as you would in the most serious match. I put it to you that unless you are concentrating totally during a practice session, you are wasting your time.
Philpott then goes on to say you shouldn’t muck about or talk to people, you should be in the zone – total focus when you’re practicing…
None of us can get enough practice as wrist-spinners, let alone too much. So none of us can afford to waste practice situations by fooling with them. Do them properly, treat every ball you bowl like a test match. Then every ball you bowl is likely to be improving you as a bowler.
This next bit resonates with me and is something I often do as I find net bowling to be pretty useless, an opinion that I share with Clarrie Grimmett…
As a wrist-spinner you should try to bowl as long as possible at practice. One hour of bowling is only a warm-up. Try and bowl right through the session. If you’re forced to make way for another bowler, you can still bowl meaningfully to another player out of the nets – preferably the wicket-keeper, or simply into a wall or side net. Your aim is to be chalking up ‘Bowling hours’.
Philpott then makes the point that as wrist-spinners and with the need to bowl more than anyone else in matches and in practice, you need to resourceful in your search to come up with solutions to enable you to bowl all the time and he insists on sessions of 1 to 3 hours! He finishes the section reiterating the need to practice intelligently and with purpose, suggesting that you break up the practice into 15 minute sections e.g. 15 minutes on spinning the ball hard - turning it round corners, 15 accuracy, 15 with your leg break and so on.
Peter Philpott, The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling, Crowood Press, Ramsbury, England Pages 53,54.
With Philpotts advice ringing in your ears, you now have to go out and practice with purpose, set yourself SMART targets. Don't just go to bowl go with an intention...
S - Specific - Target practice/accuracy.
M - Measurable - How many times to you hit your target.
A - Attainable - Initially give yourself a large target to hit, don't make it impossible and demoralising.
R - Realistic - Don't expect to hit your target 90% of the time at the start.
T - Timely - Set yourself a timescale to achieve a particular target e.g. within 3 sessions I want to hit my target x amount of times.
This goal setting is a professional technique used in coaching see here - http://www.yourcoach.be/en/coaching-tools/smart-goal-setting.php
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