The 7 Deadly Sins of Spin Bowling | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

The 7 Deadly Sins of Spin Bowling

Menno Gazendam is author of Spin Bowling Project. Get your free 8 week spin bowling course here

Bowling spin is a passion, and it is fraught with danger at every turn. You can't use pace or intimidation so you need guile and guts.

It's easy to make mistakes on your journey. I know, I have made them, and I have seen others make them too.

If you want to be a superstar spinner, avoid these sins and take a shortcut to success:


1. Not trying to turn the ball

Your a spin bowler, not a slow bowler. So, spin it. If you learn to spin it first you can correct your accuracy later. Spinning hard makes the ball not only turn off the pitch, it makes it drift and dip in the air. Even on flat wickets you need to make the ball fizz out of your fingers.

2. Not having a perfect stock ball

After you spin it, you need to hit your target line and length. And that takes a lot of practice. So much that you should forget about variations until you have the perfect (and dangerous) stock ball.

3. Bowling too straight

You need to get the batter driving. Or at least thinking that a drive is on before it dips, a spins through the gate. You can't do that if you bowl straight all the time.

4. Bowling flatter when getting hit for six

I know, it hurts. The last thing you want is to go for two in a row. So you are tempted to bowl flatter to stop your stock ball going again. But really, you are in the game. A batsman is vulnerable after playing a big shot and you want to tempt him. Toss it up and invite him to do it again. Chances are he will get it wrong and your wicket only cost 6 runs.

5. Not flighting the ball

Flight is a misunderstood term but a crucial skill to master. Tactically it means the batsman moves his head above the eye-line, which makes it harder to pick. The ball travels slower and so turns more, it also drifts and dips more (if you rip it). This makes you into a bowler with 4 ways of deceiving the guy at the other end, not just turn.

6. Not pivoting

Pivoting is the anchor against which you turn your body and generate energy. You cannot turn the ball without this movement timed to perfection. Stay open, smooth and work on it every day until you feel the revs on the ball.

7. Not varying the pace

A batsman loves a bowler who he can line up. Your job is to make sure he never quite knows when the ball is going to arrive. Keep the batsmen guessing by slightly varying your pace in the air. The ball arrives slightly before, or after expected and you have upset the rhythm and timing of the batsman. Frustration for him and wickets for you.

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Love your blog and it's helped me loads.

I've read the article about pivoting and I still don't know if I'm doing it right. I get some turn, but not what you call fizz and I'm sure this is the key.

Is there a drill I can do to help me get the feeling of what the pivot is?


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Amazingly I have discovered yet another ball that I can't explain and I can't find any known origin or the name of it's inventor. For the sake of clarity I will explain using a right handed leg spinner as bowler. In this variation the back of his wrist would be facing towards fine leg and his palm towards cover. Spinning the ball with his ring finger it would come out with the ball rotating towards mid-on with backspin and a little off spin. What I don't understand is that when opening the bowling once I bowled it and it swung across the whole pitch! The keeper litteraly had to do a full length dive to catch it (WIDE BALL) I had always practiced it with an old ball in net sessions and had never expected this much swing. I usually only bowled it for the backspin aerodynamics and skidding effect but now it is a much more potent weapon. I am actually left handed and I bowl this ball from over the wicket, it starts very wide on the leg side before swinging to outside off stump and getting a bit of off spin or outswing after bouncing. Batsmen have given me quite a few stares and glares when I bowl it but it has gotten me a bagfull of LBW's. Do you have any idea what this ball is, and also why does it swing so much? I bowl about 50 kilometres per hour with a 156 gram ball, and it swings that much with any type of new ball.

What you are describing is called an "arm ball". There is a LOT of confusion (particularly amongst commentators) about the arm ball. In fact the many different forms of a spinner's 'straight one' are very often confused- top spinners referred to as flippers etc.
The arm ball is a delivery which spins back towards mid on and as a result has the same appearance in the air as a seam bowlers outswinger. This causes it to swing towards the offside, as you described and at the very least it will skid on instead of spinning into the right hander. The amount of spin on the ball determines how much extra length you get on the delivery. Topspin causes a ball to dip shorter than its initial trajectory suggests and backspin does the exact opposite so an arm ball will get lbws for you as batsmen are not only beaten by swing (if the conditions allow it) but also by going back to a ball that ultimately pitches fuller than expected. This is the danger of the Glimmet and Warne style flipper (backspin imparted by the thumb).

Sounds like your arm ball is coming out pretty well. It requires a slightly rounder arm than the stock off break (spun slightly over the top to give it that perfect 'towards fine leg' combination of side and top spin) so it will tend to start a bit down leg if you use your normal alignment. Try bowling it a bit wider of the crease and using it to beat the outside edge as well as searching for the lbw. Remember that the crucial thing for the arm ball is a bit of extra pace. This will also help to conceal it from the batsman. They can be a bit easy to pick sometimes, particularly if the ball is new, because the outswinging seam position is visible and by definition cannot be scrambled. So work on bowling to a friend in the nets and have them call it before it pitches to let you know if you have them fooled.

Thanks Swanny! Smiling

Actually it isn't the arm ball, you see I'm a left arm wrist spinner, not a finger spinner. It's an orthodox backspinning slider, but further around the loop, so the back of my wrist faces the slips when I bowl it and the seam fine leg spinning backwards to a Right Handed Batsman. I have no idea why it swings in the wrong direction but I keep the rough side on the left side so it does swing that way most of the time. I know how the arm ball is bowled (not that it matters to me at all) but this is something entirely different, although the effect is similar. It's more akin to a flipper than an arm ball in my opinion, (not the way of bowling it but the delivery itself) as it has that same slicing through the air, flat trajectory, low bounce and swing effect. It's not meant to be a regular variation or something that I practice, but occasionally when I get the release of my 45 degree OBS entirely wrong it comes out as this obscure backspinning / off spinning delivery which is quite easy to pick. (unfortunately)

I'm not that keen to use it as a variation and have pretty much abandoned the 90 degree backspinning OBS, but there will be other wrist spinner that probably use it as they're main wicket taking ball. Of course there aren't a lot of spinners that'll tell you backspin is a better variation than top spin, but in my experience it certainly is. Mostly because of the pitches that I bowl on and the batsmen I bowl too. Finger spinners are better off using top spinners in my opinion though.

Why can't the arm ball be scrambled? If you hold the ball like a normal off spinner and just run your fingers down the back it should come out scrambled and have the potential to skid on, not neccesarily away from the batsman but definitely not into them? A straight ball that isn't picked is better than a swinging away-moving ball that is picked, isn't it? There's an added bonus if you can bowl your regular off breaks with a scrambled seam as well, depends on the pitch (most pitches I've bowled on allow grip for both the seam and glance, but there's a lot of talk about scrambled seam deliveries skidding on entirely on some / most pitches)

Your right about the commentators that get confused, almost everything that skids on is an arm ball, slider or top spinner to them! Wish they would look at the slow motion replays BEFORE stating the delivery that was bowled.

Hi Jacques,

Looks like you really know what you are doing with this ball. Sorry, I got confused about which arm you were bowling it from and whether you were bowling to a leftie or not.

Just to make sure I now have the delivery in my mind: you are a left arm wrist spinner (a la Brad Hogg). So if you release your stock leg break with the seam spinning towards fine leg for a right hander, pitching in front of off and spinning back into him. Then you may bowl with slightly more side spin so the seam is pointing towards square leg and spinning that way in the air. Then there is the release position for the traditional slider where the wrist is just slightly further round (although I find that my leg breaks -right handed- dont grip if I try and spin it too square so I have never pushed my wrist round this far). The ball you are talking about is bowled with the wrist slightly further round than the slider so the ball comes out spinning towards a right hander's mid on.

The back of your hand is almost towards a right hander's slip cordon, right? I've been trying to work on arm flexibility a bit this year and it sounds like you have got that going really well already.

I read about people bowling backspinners by exaggerated wrist positions in the Peter Philpott's book. Sounds like you have figured out a way to release these with accurate seam up swing. I am definitely going to have a crack at this, although for me it would swing in.

Also, I completely agree with you about the 'scrambled,no swing' vs 'clean seam, some swing' issue with an offie's arm ball. It is far more important that the batsman doesn't realise the ball won't come into him off the pitch. I have always found an off-spinners armball eminently driveable on account of it floating up a bit, thanks to its backspin. But you do have to pick it to stop worrying about your 'gate' and drive comfortably.

As a leggie I find that this very much applies to the wrong un. I can bowl it where I want to these days but I find that any good batsman will pick it unless I give it mainly over spin and only a fraction of side spin and also bowl the leggie with just a slight angle of side spin. This means the wrist position doesn't change too much between them. But to get that proper leg break you really need to go for the Warney, slightly front of the hand side spin.

Effectively you are sacrificing movement for secrecy in both cases (although obviously in the case of the wrist spinner the topspin you gain has its charms).

I think one can point to a host of leggies who have suffered as a result of this "good googly" syndrome. Piyush Chawla, Rahul Sharma and currently Imran Tahir is really showing how a good (difficult to pick) wrong un can detract from your leggie.

Also, really interesting to hear a spinner talk about the virtues of backspin. Clarrie Grimmet, who bowled a lot of flippers, said he could never understand the value of any ball which didn't gather speed of the pitch and therefore a purely spun backspinner wasn't much use. I wonder if there really is a case to be made for the backspin on the delivery you bowl and of course Warne's flipper gaining a bit of pace towards the stumps when they pitch because of the "skid"?

Yes that's just about right, but the seam faces mid off for a right handed batsman and mid on for a left handed batsman (sorry for the confusion) spinning backwards. It has quite a lot of revs, enough to make it pitch significantly fuller than my leg break. With the use of the ring finger and wrist in bowling it there's also more potential for it to have decent revs, much more so than the Warne slider which is only palmed out of the hand?

The 45 degree OBS is my perfect idea of a skidding on-backspinning delivery, it is difficult to see any difference at all in the wrist position between in and the square leg break, and the slight change makes a big difference. The reason why yours doesn't skid on is because (like I've discovered while perfecting mine) if it doesn't have some movement laterally and a slightly angled line in the opposite direction of the turn, it will most likely turn on surfaces that are conducive to spin. I don't know how much drift you get, but even a little drift (a stumps length) is enough to make it skid on, if you want it to move in the wrong direction after pitching you need a lot, plus a bit of swing because it's possible with the seam position. Bowling it with a scrambled seam makes it much harder to pick and thus more effective in my experience, but it might not work for others since other bowlers don't get drift when bowling scrambled seam.

My 45 degree OBS around the wickets usually drifts from around leg stump to a few inches outside off for a right handed batsman, ideally skidding on away from them, or just straightening. The OBS that's further around the loop so it has some off spin on it swings from leg stump to a bit further outside off, but with a cross seam stays straight in the air and nips away a bit.

It might sound impossible to bowl, but it's very possible! I have the same double jointed wrists that Muttiah Muralitharan has, and I do lots of wrist flexibility exercises to help increase their elasticity, so it's not a delivery that you can learn to bowl overnight. It took me a couple of months before I could do it.

I'm with you on using the 45 degree top spinning leg break as a stock ball instead of the 90 degree seam leg break. Although the square leg break gets you lots of turn, the 45 degree leg break has proven itself to me to be the delivery that will get more batsman out, whether they be tailenders or top order batsmen, on most pitches that are either conducive to spin or not! The positive attributes of it are that you can put more revs on it than the 90 degree leg break, because the wrist (spring, vessel of the ring finger) is moving partially in the same direction as the arm (not working against it, but going with it, thus increasing momentum which gives you more spring power in the wrist) You get a combination of both drift and dip through the air instead of just drift, so there are two major aerodynamics at work in your deliveries. You can even get more drift with the 45 degree leg break, simply because it so much easier to get loads of revs with. The extra pace off the wicket is another perk you have when bowling it, as well as the extra bounce and steeper bounce it generates. Top spin allows very good grip on the average pitch, whereas side spin sometimes inhibits grip on certain surfaces, so the 45 degree leg break overall has a better chance of turning. Most leg spinners release the ball so that the seam is slanted backwards to an extent when viewed from above, the 90 degree leg break has a smaller chance of hitting the seam perfectly because of this, but the slanting doesn't reduce the 45 degree leg breaks chance of hitting the seam. The 90 degree leg break is useful in some situations, but in my opinion it is the single most overrated delivery in cricket.

A la Brad Hogg? I'm more of a Beau Casson. My action is almost identical to his and I'm not really a Hogg-type bowler. He was a good chinaman though, great ODI bowler and had one of the best googlies in the game. The "good googly" syndrome has never affected me, I bowl very few googlies, only 5 in about 100 balls! Too scared of getting googly syndrome again (which I had for about a month) or good googly syndrome.

Grimmet played in a whole different era and we have no idea how the pitches / batsmen might have taken to backspin so his disapproval of backspinning deliveries shouldn't really put any modern era wrist spinners off of them. Backspin does seem to gain pace off the wicket sometimes, especially on hard wickets. On soft wickets they slow down a bit, but on average pitches definitely create the illusion of skidding through quicker. I prefer having an arsenal that consists mainly of backspinning deliveries, it just seems so much more lethal. Not sure why, but making the ball skid on and stay low is always more deadly than making it kick and bounce up in my opinion. (Of course only in a variation delivery) A backspinning stock ball doesn't have much to offer, but you could pull it off if you have some good backspinning deliveries that you can vary and suddenly bowl a top spinning delivery. Not sure if it will work though, I'll have to try it for myself this season.

Sorry I misread your sentence about your square leg breaks skidding on when you go further around the loop. I've also found that the further you go around the loop from the 75 degree leg break (Warne's average seam position in his leg break) the more the ball seems to skid on! Plus, the surfaces I bowl on aren't great for bowling deliveries with pure side spin, unless you bowl them much slower than your normal pace. (Which isn't a good idea because the lack of over spin means you have to strike a perfect balance between bowling it slower, but also quite flat since it won't dip) Not really something I can afford to do when I play at club level with batsmen using their feet all the time.

Sir, I may plz b pardoned 4 my reply!! but Sir, are not the back-spinners [which swing at times too, bcoz of occasional upright seam] for wrist-spinners termed as "sliders" or "zooters" or "zingers"?? I knew that similar deliveries by OFFIES or finger-spinners are termed "arm balls" ---- Sir, plz share some valuable knowledge plz sir

I'm perhaps the worst-knowledged person here on this forum??? But respected guyz, would anyone plz teach me how to bowl:
1> Incoming carrom balls
2> Flippers by an off-spinner
3> Top-spinning flippers by leggies
4> Top-spinning arm-balls i.e., top-spinning back-spinners by offies
5> Top spinning sliders i.e., top-spinning back-spinners by leggies

1) Almost every specialist off spinner in international cricket is bowling their own version of the carrom ball. The original version as bowled by Iverson Gleeson is very difficult but also very effective. The middle finger bends around the ball like the ring finger bends around the ball in an orthodox leg spin grip. Using this method you can go around the loop at will. Other bowlers use their middle finger to flick the ball out from a slightly different grip. The carrom ball is nearly impossible to bowl if you have very small fingers. Don't worry about lots of turn with the carrom ball. As long as it doesn't move in the same direction as your stock ball.
2) Why would an off spinner want to bowl a flipper? Are you thinking of a backspinning carrom ball or just a usual off spin slider? The backspinning carrom ball is bowled with the back of the hand towards the batsman, it has back spin and swings in or away a bit. The usual slider can be bowled in many ways as long as it is slightly faster and skids on without turn. Muttiah Muralitharan might have been able to bowl a top spinning flipper with his super flexible wrist and strong fingers but I haven't seen one.
3) The top spinning flipper is ridiculously difficult and for most leggies not worth the effort. The back spinning flipper is bowled with the back of the hand facing point (RAL vs RHB) and the top spinning flipper has the back of the hand facing square leg. (RAL vs RHB) I have never bowled or faced a proper top spinning flipper, but I can imagine that it's quite easy to pick and not a particularly good delivery type. In my opinion it would be a better delivery for an off spinner.
4) You can't bowl a delivery with both top spin and back spin at the same time. It can either have top spin and be a top spinning delivery, or have back spin and be a backspinning delivery. The backspinning arm ball is a regular outswinger with an off spin grip. The top spinner for an off spinner has the karate chop part of the hand facing the batsman.
5) The same is true here. An orthodox slider as bowled by most leg spinners is bowled from the front of the hand, (similar to a fast bowlers delivery) there isn't lots of spin applied but the ball is simply pushed from the hand. The alternative is a heavily backspun slider which is bowled from the front of the hand with the thumb facing mid off. (RAL vs RHB) Spin is applied with the ring finger and the ball slices through the air, swinging and drifting in slightly with no turn. On dusty pitches it might turn a bit, the solution is to apply more back spin than side spin. This OBS often behaves like a weak flipper, but it works better when pitched up.

"Top spinning sliders" sounds a lot like Shahid Afridi's stock ball. He bowls leg breaks with a 45 degree top spinning seam but usually doesn't get turn. Commentators label his leggies as "sliders" on many occasions. I assure you they are leg breaks and because he gets quite a lot of drift from wide of the crease at a tremendous speed his deliveries simply don't grip the surface. (That's enough to fool the commentators.)

Even though I am not really into cricket, I have heard that it needs a lot of talent to be a good Spin Bowler. There are a number of things that a spin bowler should be very careful bout. Thanks for discussing about the 7 sins of spin bowling.

Here's some controversy. There's no such thing as a Slider or a Zooter. They're either arm balls in the same style as a finger spinner e.g. you just bring your arm over and let go without spinning it, or they're leg breaks gone wrong...

If it's not in "The Art of Leg Spin Bowling", it's not a leg spin variation!

Absolutely! If there is a 'slider', someone of consequence needs to commit it to an edited book, not a catchall or journeyman cricket player or writer, a serious protagonist of the art of wrist spin... Warne, MacGill, Mushtaq Ahmed someone of that calibre. It needs to be something with a bit of gravitas along the lines of Philpotts or Grimmetts books. I doubt if we'll ever see it because the delivery already exists under it's conventional name! You've only got to watch SKY's master-class with Warne, Ponting and Ian Healey - all laughing their heads off at the idea that the Slider exists and then Warne explains explicitly that it's simply a Big Leg-Break gone wrong. Yeah it slides on, and yeah the commentators who don't bowl wrist-spin or only ever did at a rudimentary level call it a 'Slider', but Warne names it... A Big Leg-Break that comes out with the seam angled and therefore it doesn't grip... and it skids on.