How accurate is accurate?
We all know the stories. The opposition bowler who bowls perfect line and length all day and doesn't give you a thing. The long retired former player who is spoken about in hushed tones because he only bowled one half volley in 17 summers.
We know these are myths, but we like to believe them, especially our team has collapsed, or we bowl badly. We jealousy assume there is nothing we could do. We don't have the bowlers/the batsmen didn't have a chance.
We know these are myths instinctively, but modern methods are making it tougher to use the accuracy excuse any more. You can see on TV exactly how accurate international bowlers are. And even world-class performers bowl a lot of poor balls. Now with PitchVision you can see the same for club and school bowlers.
Here's an example.
The truth about metronomic bowling
At my club we have a 1st XI bowler in the classic "metronome" mould. He has a reputation for stump-to-stump accuracy right through a 15 over spell (the limit in our league). He's so good he's used by the senior batsmen as a real life bowling machine in nets and is often the last to leave as he takes requests for "just a couple more".
So, I stuck him on PitchVision to find out his accuracy.
He bowled at an average speed of 65.2mph (105kph), which is about right, and sent down 68 balls in the session. He was bowling to real batsmen and wasn't aware I was tracking his accuracy so was not trying to put the ball on the spot any more than usual.
I guessed he would bowl 80-90% of balls in the channel on or just outside off stump on a good length. He has that kind of reputation.
I think you can already guess the outcome.
- 48.5% (33 balls) landed in the target zone.
- Only 14 (20.6%) balls were on the line of the stumps.
Of course not all the balls outside the zone are automatically smashed for four, but it goes to show how perception can be altered by other factors than where the ball lands. You can see the results here (the target zone is the grey area inside the "good" orange area.
Why we are tricked by accuracy
So, if accurate bowlers are less accurate than we think, why are scores not higher?
The moment the bowler lets the ball go, her involvement in the game is over. It becomes all about the response to the ball from the batsman. It might be an unplayable serpent, a gentle half volley or - most likely - something between, but whatever happens next is all down to the batsman. And the mind of the batsman is more important than the actual ball.
Think of all the factors that are going on in the head of a batsman as the ball comes down:
- The reputation of the bowler
- How much the ball is swinging
- Overhead conditions
- The pitch (seaming, turning, flat...)
- The game situation
- How others are playing the same bowler
- Who's bowling at the other end
- How "in" you feel
- How many runs you got last week
- How well you slept
- The way you were coached as a 10 year old
- The absence of a lucky rabbit's foot
These are not all conscious thoughts, but they all go together - alongside a million other things - to slightly adjust the way you play that ball. When you are flying along without a care in the world on a flat deck you might be able to gun a good length ball for a boundary. On another day you play and miss exactly the same ball.
So, our metronomic bowler can rock up and bowl exactly the same spell and get totally different results. That fools us. We look at his figures of 2-39 off 15 and say he bowled well. Rewind the same game and he bowls exactly the same spell that ends up 2-72 and we all admit his lines were a bit off.
Take home points
What's the lesson here?
For batsmen, it's important to learn that you have more control than you think. Even excellent bowlers will give you balls to hit (not always rank long hops but there are plenty of chances). Know your game and you can build innings that win matches.
For bowlers, striving for better accuracy is vital, but it's more important to get into the head of batsmen. If they think you are a great bowler, it makes you more likely to be a great bowler.