This is a guest article from Tom Matcham
No country can consistently produce fast bowlers.
It’s clearly desirable and clearly possible: the West Indies proved this in the 1980s. With all the science and coaching effort being put into understanding cricket, why do we understand bowling so poorly?
We are not training our bowlers correctly. We have not learnt enough from older, wiser sports, and this is evident in our variable results.
In fact, bowling over 161kph should not be a particularly exceptional achievement.
I do not know how the international teams are practicing, but I doubt it’s with the same mindset as other sports, or we would see many 100mph bowlers. If we think more carefully about how we train, we will see more bowlers reaching their full potential, and getting less injured.
Learning from the Olympics
This is a very old fashioned idea, so it’s not very cool. However, there’s very good evidence that it works.
Russian, Cuban and Chinese weightlifters have known that volume is the key to their sport for half a century. They perform an insane amount of repetitions per month in the classic lifts (totally 4000 odd I believe). These reps aren’t done at full intensity though: the loads are around 60-70% of their maximum lift.
The purpose is to drill technique, and to reduce the risk of injury. This is important because contrary to popular belief, strength is not the limiting factor in elite weightlifter; it is technique. A 2.5kg increase on the bar can feel incredibly different whilst lifting; demonstrating the same technique whatever the weight is of great importance.
The same principle is even more important in bowling: strength is a tiny factor, technique is vital. A slight increase in run-in speed results in a vastly different ‘feel’ throughout the delivery.
What can we learn from weightlifting?
That we must practice and practice and practice at medium intensity, repeating the same technique over and over again.
Biomechanics of the action should be perfect, with minor exceptions. In no other sport do we see such widespread bad technique. To not master your action is just plain lazy.
Drop the drills
Drills are pointless. Working on an isolated faulty portion of an action is a hopeless task, and I have never seen it work. If you are not happy with your technique, the only way is to start from the bottom and work your way up. This is unlike weight training, where in some circumstances one can correct some faults with strengthening.
When bowling, if your front leg buckles, you will not correct it unless you retrain yourself from the bottom up. This is an inconvenient truth. As busy people, you must decide how much time you want to put into your cricket to correct a biomechanically unsound action. Just don’t waste your time on drills.
Furthermore, most bowlers get injured from wearing their bodies down through constant maximum exertion: my method eliminates this problem, as with good technique (using stretch reflex rather than muscular contraction) and moderate intensity, the load placed on the body is much lower.
Increase bowling volume
Some people will think I’ve gone mad when I say this, but I think elite fast bowlers should be bowling 30 overs a day, 6 days a week.
I suggest two sessions of 15 overs every day.
You may want to reread that. It's totally different from every other opinion.
One must build up to this level, but at lower intensity this is possible. If you feel very tired, ask yourself, ‘am I just adapting to working hard?’
For every single ball bowled in each training session, the focus should never ever be on maximum speed. If technique is faulty, months will be spent correcting, first from a standing position, then to a walking run up, then to a 3 step run up, and so on.
Once the bowler can fully run up with some control, then training should proceed as above.
Use weighted balls
Far and above any other training method, weighted javelins have been shown to have the greatest crossover to competition weight javelin throws. The same holds for cricket. The slight change in technique for a lighter or heavier ball for 3-4 sessions a week has no long-term negative effect on competition weight cricket balls.
At the end of each bowling session, a variety of sports specific training methods should be utilised. I recommend medicine ball and shotput throws. Because the speed of the shot or ball is slower, the risk of injury is minimal. I would stick to one throw for a whole month to allow for some adaption to the movement, before cycling to another throw the next month. Always aim for a PR in every session.
Squat, and Clean and Jerk
Both these exercises are recommended. They should be performed beltless.
If you think that squatting causes back injuries, please look into the science of pain. The squat is known to have a very strong carryover to many sports, and has a little carryover to the javelin. I doubt it does much for bowling but it builds a strong motor; no bad thing. So, go heavy with good technique.
The clean and jerk is the best way to improve your jumping, which also helps cricket. Perform about 8-15 total reps of the clean and jerk in sets of 1 or 2 reps. Go light if you are tired but still get in the reps at a lower intensity.
I also recommend a little bit of bodybuilding in the chest, shoulders and back, if only to build the look of an athlete. Stick to sets of 12-15 with a minutes rest inbetween sets. If you don’t care about how you look don’t bother. But I don’t recommend bands. I think they only work for a few minutes.
I cannot promise that this fun unless you a bit mad like myself and enjoy monotonous.
However if you stick at this, you will reap the rewards.
Train like this and, with time and natural potential, you will be able to bowl over 161kph.
Tom Matcham has a keen interest in Biomechanics and Sports Science. After performing detailed mathematical modelling of the fast bowling action, he now has a working theory on how to bowl fast with a huge bank of evidence to back him up.