“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...