It’s a mantra as old as overarm bowling: Put the ball on a good length for long enough and you will get your rewards. But in a world of slower balls, bouncers and inswinging yorkers, it’s an ideal we have forgotten.
Take Stuart Broad as an example. The England bowler spent a long time trying to work out what kind of role he had. Was he the enforcer; there to bowl bouncers and scare batsmen? Was he a line and length man; using swing and seam movement? How did this role change between formats, if at all?
It’s a confusing story, and one shared by many bowlers.
But it’s also a story which is blown out of proportion, because the mantra is still true: if you hit a good length consistently in any format you will get wickets.
It’s the current plan of the England side, but it also works at lower levels. I saw it myself in a 50 over game I played recently.
Proof length works
Our opening bowler - tall with good pace for non-professional level - had been having an average season. His pace was not up to usual standards and he was bowling too many boundary balls. The previous week he had gone for 11 in 2 overs, giving the opposition a great start.
At the next practice we had talked about how hitting length was more important than line. Good fast bowling in limited overs is not about the unplayable balls, but about staying in the game.
We practiced by monitoring his length on our PitchVision Solo.
Simply by making length his focus, we saw an increase in his success rate. We didn’t look at the line at all, deciding a good length ball outside off stump is as good as one hitting off stump because it’s hard to score.
On the Saturday he was brimming with confidence. We had set a big target to bowl at and he tore in. His opening 6 over spell yielded jumping batsmen, the keeper taking the ball chest high, 3 wickets (all caught behind) and just 7 runs.
4 of those were a thick outside edge.
And all because he was aiming at a length about 6.5m from the batsman’s stumps.
For me, this proves that when it comes to bowling you need to keep it simple.
How to improve fast bowling length
Practice by bowling without a batsman and tracking your accuracy (either with PitchVision or hand notation). Bowl like this a couple of times a week. Even if a batter is there (say at team nets) pretend that she isn’t. Keep aiming at a good length.
Keep a record of how many balls you bowl in the right place. Aim to improve this percentage with regular practice. Ignore your line as long as you are not bowling wides.
Then, when you are playing, just hit length. It doesn’t matter if you bowl at 145kph or 65kph. You will get results, and you will get them quickly.
What more proof can you need?