Ian Botham, it was often said, was England’s ‘go to’ bowler. He made things happen. He took wickets. Famously he often did it without bowling as well as others.
Beefy just had that magical touch.
While it would be impossible to plan to bowl a rank long hop that gets hit straight to backward point, there are some elements we can take from great go to bowlers of the past.
Blame something else
If we can take only one coaching tip from Botham, it has to be his self belief. In his autobiography he considered this one of the best aspects of his game. When everything was going wrong he simply blamed something else: bad luck, a poor umpire or loose footmarks.
He could do this because he believed beyond doubt that he was the finest bowler in the world. Bowling badly was just not an option, so more often than not he bowled well.
You might not have the same deep confidence, but the chances are you have had success at the level you play at. This means you can also believe you are a good player. You can put negative thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on doing a job for your captain.
Use the conditions
Pitching the ball up at off stump with a straight seam is not always the best tactic. You will be suited to some conditions more than others. Even great bowlers struggle on a flat wicket with no swing in the air. However, it’s important to be able to use as much of the conditions as possible.
- Try to swing and seam the ball, you never know what will happen.
- Play with your line and length to see how much bounce you get.
- Use slower balls and cutters on flat pitches.
- If bowling later in an innings think about trying to reverse/converse swing the ball.
Glen McGrath was an expert at this, especially using the slope at Lords. One of the reasons he took so many wickets was his ability to identify conditions and adapt his bowling to them. Take a leaf from his book and work out what line of attack is going to give you the best return.
Think about the batsman
In the team I play for we have a very canny bowler. He is no more than gentle medium pace but is very quick at working out a batsman. This gets him a lot of wickets for not many runs.
For example, last week when playing on a slow track I noticed the new batsman was very keen to drive, getting on the front foot to most balls. When the ball was short of a length he stayed stuck on the crease defending. By the time I had trotted over to tell out bowler he had already sussed it out and was pulling his length slightly back to get the batsman bogged down.
This shows the value of watching the batsman from the moment they arrive at the crease. They will be keen to play their favourite shots when they get in and their footwork and grip will reveal a great deal about how they play.
Keep thinking and work on a hunch if you have to. It might even come off.
Make your own luck
The more you practice, they say, the luckier you get. So practice as much as you can. As a bowler it’s possible to practice alone with a bag of balls and enough space.
According to Gloucestershire and England bowler Jon Lewis the ratio of practice should be 80% stock balls and 20% variations (cutters, slower balls). As you already know your stock ball length and line could vary from game to game so practice a few different lengths. This will allow you to adjust quickly in the middle.
It’s very hard to practice this way too much as an adult. However, monitor how much you are bowling if you are under 18 using the ECB directives as a guideline.
Try something original
Being a go to bowler is not only about being canny and reliable. Just those elements will make you a fine bowler, but to really be a partnership breaker you need to be able to do something original too.
It could be a comment that puts the batsman off (without sledging), a new variation or even a half volley (sometimes it works!)
Sit down sometime when you have a few minutes and brainstorm some ideas. When you have some creative thoughts, file them away for a time when the opposition are putting on a big score and your fielders are suddenly all cack handed.
The other advantage of doing this knows you have a plan when you are desperate. The idea may only work one time in fifty but when it does you could well be the hero in the bar and will certainly be getting more overs from your very happy captain.
Image credit: Irishcricket