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Pressure influences everything. A mentally tough bowler is as useful as one with a perfect action.

That's why this week we have a couple of articles showing you how to bowl under pressure. The first outlines tactics for death bowling, perhaps the least popular time to be thrown the ball. The second shows you how to stay focused even when under the pump.

We also examine how and when to think about your cricket and reveal an insider secret about coaching that all the best coaches know.

Have a great weekend,


David Hinchliffe

4 Ways to Become a High Class Death Bowler

Bowling the last few overs of an innings is like being a Hollywood star. When everything goes well you are adored. Put one foot wrong and your embarrassment could not be more exposed.

For the starlets it's wearing the wrong dress at a premier, for you it's getting clouted for 20 in the final over of the match. Same difference. So how do you avoid the cricketing equivalent of appearing on Perez Hilton?

Master the four balls of death

The secret to good death bowling comes in two parts:

  • Be able to bowl the four death deliveries better than anyone else
  • Know which of the four balls is the one to use

Both skills are tough. Learning to bowl a ball at will takes a lot of practice at creating a repeatable action. Knowing when to use it takes experience.

Let's take a look at each of the four balls and how best to use them.

1. Slower ball

The slower ball's job is to upset the rhythm of the batsman. It can be bowled in a number of ways (and to get the technique for them you should pick up copy of The Fast Bowler's Bible) but the trick is to do it without changing action.

This means the batsman is fooled into thinking the ball is arriving at normal speed and mis-times his shot.

Bowl it just short of a length to keep the pretence up, but avoid bowling it on a length he can play forward to as this gives him greater margin for error.

The danger with this ball is that the batsman spots it early and it just becomes a slow, shorter ball he can pull into the stands. Avoid this by making sure it's well disguised and use it sparingly, even at the death.

2. Length ball

We are taught that the best ball in cricket is the one that is hitting the top of off stump after pitching on a length that has the batsman undecided whether to play forward or back.

At the death this is risky, because the batsman is no longer playing 'properly' and is looking to hit the ball in unorthodox ways. The good length ball is easier to hit with premeditated shots over extra cover or midwicket.

However, it's still a good ball to have available in certain situations:

  • If there is still some movement in the air or off the pitch.
  • If the batsman is struggling to put bat on ball.
  • If the batsman is premeditating to hit everything to leg, bowling it wide outside off stump.

Don't be too quick to write off the good length ball at the death, it has a use if you are clever.

3. Bouncer

If you bowl a good pace on decent wickets, you can use the shorter ball to restrict the batsman's scoring area and with a well set field you will keep the runs down. There are two ways to use the short ball:

  1. Stock ball. Batters who don't play the ball at the ribs well will struggle to score against the ball bowled accurately at chest height. If the pitch is hard and bouncy enough you can set your length so the ball reaches chest height with the yorker or slower ball as variation.
  2. Shock ball. For those batsmen who are better at hooking and pulling (or are sitting on the back foot), the bouncer becomes a variation: Something to stop the batsman premeditating a front foot shot. It's especially good against the player who prefers to go off side in the death as the bouncer forces them to think twice about playing inside-out (i.e. stepping to the leg side to hit the ball through the covers).

With both these tactics, it's important to set a good field. Variations are many, but a deep midwicket, deep square leg and fine leg cut off the boundaries and take catches. Third man is up assuming there are field restrictions:

4. Yorker

The yorker, as we know, is a fast ball pitching at the toes of the batsman, usually around the popping crease, ideally with swing. This is the classic ball for death bowling: Full and straight.

The mantra is: If you miss, I hit.

It's hard to bowl as the margin for error is small. Bowl it too full and it becomes a low full toss and a free hit. Bowl it too short and it becomes a half volley and you will be fetching it from the crowd.

If you can get it right it becomes an excellent stock ball to use at the death. Unless the batsman is very good it can only be hit straight down the ground, so you can set your mid on, mid off, fine leg and third man back and straight to cut off the boundaries.

If you are using it as a stock ball you will need to practice it in the nets a lot both with and without batsmen. It's worth the effort if you know you are likely to be bowling at the end and might suffer 5 overs of the long handle.

It can also be used as a variation if you are using length or short bowling as the stock delivery.

Either way, the mark of a really good death bowler is one who can use the yorker to restrict scoring and take wickets because it is so difficult to master.

With all death bowling the key is not to be average at all four types of bowling, but to become really good at one or two. If you can master all four deliveries you will be unstoppable.

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Warning: Thinking can seriously hurt your cricket

Who wouldn't want to be streetwise with thoughts and plans at their fingertips?

How about this guy:

Raj is an opening batsman. He is a slow starter, but is able to score freely once he gets his feet moving. His coach has been helping him with some technical points.

Meanwhile his team-mates have been teasing him for his slow starts.

He goes out to the middle in his latest game hoping to score more freely now he has made some adjustments. The opening bowlers are accurate and use swing to beat his bat on a few occasions. Under the pressure his footwork stays sluggish and he can't seem to pick up any runs.

He starts to think.

He wonders if his old technical errors are back. He is concerned his team mates will be on his back again for not getting quick runs. He starts to wonder if the bowlers are too good for him.

His doubts stop him thinking about playing the ball.

Before long he nicks off after a tortured half an hour and a single figure score.

Think, but at the right time

Raj's story is common. We live in a world of increasing information and decreasing time to think it through properly. The result is confusion and an unclear mind: Over thinking, underperforming.

One thing really good players are able to do is think at the right time to avoid this confusion.

Players like Kevin Pietersen (at least according to former England analyst Mark Garaway) are as great at planning and practicing as they are at their skills. They do all their thinking long before they get to the middle.

Our brains are wired that way: Able to do simple tasks without pain or confusion, but resistant to complex jobs. That's why the mantra "see the ball, hit the ball" is popular; it pans down a complex task like batting into a simple job.

But to be able to see it and hit it (or bowl it) we need to have put in the hard work in practice. You can only have a repeatable action if you have worked on making it repeatable in the nets. We need to think hard before play then switch into autopilot in the middle.

Stop thinking, start doing

Some coaches talk about "being in the zone" when players are doing well. It's a handy catch-all term for being in form and not having to think about it: Everything just happens.

When we think too much we can't get into the zone and we can't play at our best, so the best thing to do once you are playing is to stop thinking and just play the game.

The irony is, you can only do that when you do your thinking beforehand. Get your timing right and you will be a better cricketer.

image credit: thepurpleempire

For more ways to plan and prepare mentally for cricket check out How to Use Mental Training to Boost your Game on PitchVision Academy


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Here's an easy way to stay focused during your bowling spell

Bowling is hard. At least when you bat and you are out you can hide in the pavilion, but when you bowl and are clattered for 3 boundaries in a row there is nowhere to hide. You have to finish the over.

No wonder the mind becomes cluttered with thoughts and plans when you stand at the top of the mark.

But an unfocused mind makes it difficult to bowl. How many times have you bowled wide outside the off stump, tried to compensate and end up throwing it down he leg side instead?

Stuart Barnes, the Gloucestershire bowling coach, has a unique way any bowler can deal with the turmoil in the middle: breaking down the walk back to your mark:

As you can see from the picture, as you walk back you can split your return into three stages:

  1. Clear. The walk from the end of your follow through to the stumps is the time to think about something else. Forget the ball that has just gone or the one you are going to bowl and think about what a lovely sunny day it is, or anything to relax your mind from the stress of bowling for a moment. Wipe the slate clean.
  2. Review. When you reach the stumps, bring your mind back to the game by thinking about the ball just bowled. Was it what you wanted to do? Did the batsman react in the way you expected? Did the ball move as much as you thought it would?
  3. Plan/Decide. When you are about halfway back, stop reviewing and begin planning the next ball. Will you do the same again? If not, how can you change your plan based on what has happened so far this over?

By the time you reach the top of your mark you are ready. You know what ball you are going to bowl without confusion (you have already done your planning and decision making in the walk back).

This will improve your consistency by giving you more mental strength.

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Be a better cricket coach by giving less information
To be a coach, you have to coach, right?
Not always.

Coaching isn't like filling a jug with water. Minds don't work by having information poured into them until they are full. For a start, jugs don't wonder if it's the right kind of water for their needs.

Cricket Show 66: Middle and off please umpire

On the show this week David and Kevin chat about the ECBCA conference and bowling the opposition out for a below par score. Gary Palmer talks about an unusual guard and we answer your questions.


About PitchVision Academy

Welcome to this week's guide to playing and coaching better cricket.

I'm David Hinchliffe and I'm Director of the PitchVision Academy team. With this newsletter you are benefitting directly from over 25 Academy coaches. Our skills include international runs and wickets, first-class coaching, cutting-edge research and real-life playing experience.


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Issue: 84
Date: 2010-02-05