4 Ways to Bowl When it’s Not Swinging | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

4 Ways to Bowl When it’s Not Swinging

“The ball isn’t swinging. What do I do now?”

It’s the dread statement of fast bowlers at all levels. Your main weapon - lateral movement - goes out of the ball.

Even at International level, especially in the sub-continent, post-match interviews are littered with statements about the ball not swinging and excuses about how impossible it is to get wickets.

But it’s far from impossible.

In simply a case of having strategy and plans to use when the ball goes “flat”. After all, it happens at some stage in most 40+ over games.

Here are 4 plans I have seen work for bowlers at all levels.

1.  Designated shiner

Marcus Trescothick was the designated Shiner of the ball during the 2005 Ashes (with his infamous mints) and he worked on the ball hard, threw it direct to mid off who gave it to the bowler.

Less hands on the ball is better as you reduce the likelihood of fielders inadvertently getting sweat/moisture on the wrong side of the ball or - even worse - balance the ball by working on the wrong side!

The ball is your best ally as a bowling unit so look after it. The swing will come back if the ball is protected and worked on effectively.

2.  Keep hitting the right length

Kevin Pietersen mentioned to me this summer that he loved it when the ball stopped swinging in Test Matches as he knew that this England bowling attack had the discipline to build pressure by denying the batsman any loose balls.

All the bowlers would hammer length for long periods of time, constant probing. KP felt that England was as likely to pick up wickets in this period as at times where the ball was darting around.

What is this probing length?

Its 6-8 metres from the batters middle stump at Test/First Class level and 5-7 metres from middle stump in the club game.

Statistically this is the most economical length and induces the highest percentage of false shots off of fast bowlers.

Developing control of length through measurable practice (Using PitchVision or targets/cones) will give Fast bowlers confidence to hold onto length and create pressure whilst the ball is flat.

This also creates time for your designated “Shiner” to shine life back into that ball.

3. Bowl around the wicket

Malcolm Marshall was an incredible bowler with pace and swing and didn’t usually struggle to get the ball to do what he wanted it too.

Yet on the odd occasion where the ball went flat (assuming that the ball/pitch had enough pace to carry to slip/keeper) Malcolm would go around the wicket and slant the ball across the right handed batter, with excellent results.

When he was coaching he would encourage Hampshire’s bowlers to do exactly the same and this again gave the bowlers confidence that they could pick up a wicket when the ball wasn’t hooping round corners by bringing the keeper and slips into play.

4. Subtle changes in pace

This is something I worked out and coached in Sri Lanka during an ODI series in 2007 when the ball didn’t move off the straight for the whole series.

England lost the 1st ODI by 110 runs (Sri Lanka amassed 269/7) so I analysed their bowlers approach and the England bowlers learnt a coping strategy for occasions when the ball didn’t swing.

Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom concentrated on mixing the pace up very subtly through an over with the ball still being delivered in a seam up fashion.

Ryan Sidebottom (a guy who was a swing bowler in English conditions), would change his pace through a range of 133-140kph throughout the over and often send in his top pace ball, arrow straight at the stumps, for the last ball of the over.

This meant that the batters were constantly making contact with the ball at different points. This unsettles the batsman’s control and their ability to attack with confidence. It also increases the opportunity for a chance to be created. 

As a result Sri Lankans were dismissed for 169, 164 and 211 in the next 3 games and England won the Series 3-2 (in Sri Lanka) without the ball swinging one little bit throughout the series.

5. What about you?

Now I want to know what you do to help your bowling unit.

As a coach at club level you know more than anyone how often the ball just doesn’t swing. Maybe it’s the bowler’s skill, maybe it’s the ball or maybe it’s something else.

But whatever it is, what do you do to get wickets at this time?

Leave a comment and let’s talk about it before the batsmen realise they are getting a raw deal... 

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You've only been here a few months Mark, and you've already produced some of the most original and insightful columns on the website.

What's your strategy AB?

Hmmm. Well we don't really rely on swing too much in our club (maybe that's something we need to work on) We have a pace bowler who mixes up his length well, an accurate medium pacer who gets a little swing, and another medium pacer with some good variations, a little inswinger, a legcutter, a slower ball. Last year we had a quick guy who could also swing it, but he was quick enough that even his straight ball was too good for a lot of the opposition.

We tend to get the spinners on after 16 overs anyway, so if the openers aren't getting swing/wickets, we tend to just set a tight field and strangle the opposition.

Very insightful Mark, nice to get advice from someone with sound credentials that's not trying to peddle some random product.

I don't really swing the ball often but when I really struggle to move it off the seam as well, I tend to use the 'subtle changes of pace' you mention in your article. That usually means bowling a fullish line of off stump at 80% pace with the odd 100% ball. A baseball quote reads - "Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing." I think the same is true of cricket. So when the conditions are against you, repetition, strangely enough,as opposed to constant variation has worked in my favour.


That quote is genius!...I hope you don't mind if I use it in the future to relay information to bowlers when faced with a situation where the batter is on top and the ball may not be moving laterally.

"Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing."

The mistake a lot of bowlers make is going straight to slower balls when often the wicket doesn't grip the slower ball or it sits up so easily that it becomes a strong scoring option for a batter.... that's the time where the subtle changes in pace (through the range as in Ryan's case above) becomes important. To add the "Hitting is timing. Bowling is upsetting timing" quote in there works for me in this context.

There is certainly a place for the slower ball (I love slower balls in fact) yet the bowler needs to weigh up the circumstances and conditions before deciding that it is the most viable option.

Thanks Ardash for your email.


Very insightful Adarsh, I'd love to chat to you more about your thoughts on the game, would you drop me an email so we can chat? www.pitchvision.com/contact

AB - I suppose in one day formats it's a slightly different proposition in that batsmen have to play more shots so there is less of the patience game.

Hi David,

Appreciate the feedback. I've always liked talking cricket and have dropped you an email. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the game!

Mark - Thanks for responding and I'm glad you like the quote! Sometimes the most complex information makes sense when conveyed in a concise and simple way...something all of you on Pitchvision do with remarkable consistency. I have my reservations about the slower ball in that I don't believe club bowlers practise it enough before using it in a game. That being said, if practised, I have to agree with your thoughts on it being a useful weapon (though with your experience, there’s little that you say that I would disagree with!).


Yeah, we play a straight 40 overs a side with no draw, so the plan is generally to have an opening burst with the quicks to get through the openers, then bring the spinners on to keep picking up wickets and get through the middle overs quickly, then bring back the quicks for a spot of death bowling to finish them off.

Obviously getting their top order batsmen out is crucial, but if we can just put them on the back foot, then the fielding is good and the bowling is accurate from then on, the chances will come. The easiest way to keep the opposition to a low score is to put them in "rebuilding mode" as quickly as possible.

I don't think we do enough work on bowling cutters at pace. The one guy that could do it at will was Michael Kasprowicz. He would come back in his 2nd and 3rd spell and bowl very good off cutters at his normal pace. This was very effective in Sri Linka and India on their flat decks. Infact he was a subcontinental specialist, in some ways to his detriment.

I agree Aleksandar - generally I dont think club bowlers put enough emphasise on getting the seam upright and maximising the opportunity for cut and swing.. the main concentration is line and length (which is natural enough) .. but how much more effective would bowlers be if the also concentrated on getting the seam upright every stock ball?

Well on a flat wicket you can get the seam as upright as you can, but the bowling will be gun barell straight. This is where I think putting rotation on the ball comes onto play. But the key thing is to do it at your normal pace which is difficult in itself as there is a tendency to bowl cutters at a slower pace.

For me, a slower ball if done correctly is a fantastic weapon. I love bowling a slower ball after a sequence of consistently paced stock balls. But, as mentioned above, I have practiced mine to death. The key as I always tried to develop to was in ensuring that there is no visible change in action or in the ball in the air. The action part is simple enough to grasp but when talking about the ball, what I mean is:

Imagine you (as I do) bowl your stock ball as an in swinger to the right hander. For me, that means having the seam pointing towards leg slipish as opposed to swinging it on natural action as some bowlers do. So, for my slower ball, what I try and do is basically make my fingers follow the seam of the ball in delivery. If effect, it comes out 10kph slower spinning like an off break. However, what it does do, is make the seam standup in the air the same way the stock ball does. This is vital for denying a batsman that extra visual signal for even point 1 of a second which is what makes it IMO more effective than a slower ball bowled as an off cutter- scambled seam rotating through the air.

It is however, very difficult to do first up without changing your action up to avoid full tossing. It took alot of practice but I stuck with it because I saw that I was inducing mistakes more when I got that right.

Hi, I’ve only just discovered your site. What a great resource. I would like add my experiences to this topic.
1. Here in Melbourne, Australia a lot of Associations don’t allow anyone except the bowler to polish the ball (the theory is that it saves time). This means that unless the bowler knows how to polish the ball properly it will quickly deteriorate and there will be no swing. From my observations over a lengthy period the vast majority of bowlers don’t know how to properly polish the ball. When an innings starts for the first half a dozen or so overs, it is important to work spit into every nick, scratch or tear on both sides of the ball. At some stage around this time (and it may be in the very first over) wear on one side of the ball will make it apparent which side should be worked on for the rest of the game. Every tear in the leather on the side you have decided to shine needs a generous amount of spit rubbed into it and then polished every time you prepare to bowl a ball. If left untreated the tear will continue to grow. What has to happen is that the leather must be wet to bind the leather fibres together and prevent it from tearing further. Working on the ball continuously will give the ball a longer life and will give you every chance to swing the ball.
2. Once you have mastered this what you will probably become aware of is that by the end of the over the ball will be looking good. The next over when you get the ball again it won’t look anywhere near as good. This is when you need to go to your bowling partner (and other bowlers in your team) and politely and carefully educate them in the skill of polishing the ball, because it just won’t work if it’s only you doing it.
3. Use the crease, bowl from different widths on the crease, this changes the angle that the batsman experiences. Bowl from slightly different distances behind the crease. This make the ball seem to be either slightly slower or faster. It also changes the directory of the ball’s travel, hopefully inducing an error.
4. Line and length, this is the situation where you put all the practice you have done to good use. You need to be mentally strong and not surrender because it’s hard work. Make it as difficult as possible for the batsman to score and make them face you as much as possible to frustrate them and perhaps draw them into a rash shot.
5. Learn as much as possible about batting technique. As a bowler you may never be able to put all that theory to good use, but you will improve your batting and bowling. If you understand batting technique then you can recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the person you are bowling to and bowl accordingly. Look for patterns in the way the batsman plays you. If he continually leaves the ball outside off stump, it’s time to employ your off cutter. If he likes to drive, feed him some (make sure your field is right) and then use your slow ball.
6. Vary your pace. Most times it doesn’t need to be great, if you bowl at the same speed all the time it makes it easier for the batsman to become used to it. Varying your pace upsets their timing. If you have a “slow ball” develop a couple of versions of it. I had 4 versions. One was a blatantly obvious one (I used to raise my middle finger went I held the ball) so it was apparent to the batsman that is what would happen when I bowled it. I would always bowl this version first until it seemed to me that the batsman recognised it and played it accordingly, then I’d bowl another version with the grip slightly modified. It was always pretty effective in either the batsman playing too early and playing over the top or lofting the ball into the field.
7. Most importantly make sure that you put all the really hard work into your training sessions to prepare you before the game.

Hi!! Guys..... I m a fast bowler at club level and I can't swing the ball at desth overs.It just doesn't swing. I think if I follow the related advise by Mark Gareway, I can be a skilled bowler...