"He approaches the wicket and releases the ball. I'm about to find out what it's really like to face a top class bowler.
It hangs there in the air.
If someone bowled a ball like this to me in a Baldwin match, I'd probably stop it with my glove, sling it back to the bowler and tell him, 'Never mind, have another go...' In fact, I might say it anyway, once it's been retrieved from the far stands.
Perhaps age has caught up with the Indian master. Or perhaps he was never quite as good as we all thought. Perhaps none of them are.
But then something inexplicable occurs. The ball, having seemed suspended in the air from some invisible string with the words 'Hit Me' on it, suddenly dips and loops at the last second. It pitches just short of a length, spits like a cobra and climbs at a scientifically unfeasible angle. Striking the outside edge of my bat it balloons gently into the air and is caught with pathetic ease by the wicketkeeper."
Michael Simkins – Fatty Batter.
You won't find many better descriptions of a master spinner totally deceiving a batsman than that. The great Bishan Bedi at work.
Can you do the same?
Mastery of flight or loop can take many years. However you can speed up the process with some simple practice methods that can be done alone.
What is flight?
To understand how to deceive the batsman in the flight we need to know what it is.
A ball with flight is about more than 'tossing it up', it needs to be spun with force above the eyeline of the batsman giving it that effect of hanging in the air.
The intention, like Michael Simkins found out, is to make the ball seem like doing one thing when in fact it does something different enough to deceive: The mythical combination of flight and guile.
Bob Woolmer and Tim Noakes identify several different ways of achieving this:
- Top spin. Where the ball hangs in the air before dropping sharply.
- Back spin. Where the ball skids through lower and fuller than expected, like Shane Warne's flipper.
- Side spin. Where the ball drifts in the air laterally more akin to swing bowling.
You may find one type of flight easier than another, depending on both your bowling style (finger or wrist) and your own technique.
Adjusting the way you spin the ball, how much you spin it, how fast you bowl it and how high above the eye line you make it go will all make a difference to how the batsman plays the ball. This decreases his or her chances of settling in and getting used to your style.
What must remain despite these tiny changes is your accuracy. Without putting the ball in the right place often enough the batsman can just wait for the bad ball.
Practicing flight and guile
Once you can confidently bowl your stock ball accurately you can work on your loop.
There are two simple methods to doing this. Neither requires a batsman so get yourself a bag of balls, find a net and get to work.
- The String Method: The simplest way to flight the ball is to hang some string across the net and to try to bowl the ball over it. Combine the string with a target on the ground like a bit of cardboard or some cones to land the ball.
- The Stumps Method: You can still use a target such as cones, but in this case you get an additional set of stumps and place them in front of the target as a barrier. The idea is to drop the ball over the stumps and still land it in the target.
With both methods you learn how to make the ball dip.
It makes sense to record your success rate. You will find the more you practice the higher percentage of balls you will land on the target.
The trick is to really spin the ball and let physics do the rest.
Give it a rip, get practicing and let me know the results.