Fast Bowling Technique

Mr T A Sekhar

Fast bowling is one of the toughest disciplines in cricket, simply because it is an unnatural act to perform. The awkward movements and contortions that a fast bowler has to go through are not something for which the human body is designed for, but a number of men and women have lived with that challenge and emerged as absolute legends of the game, never mind the injuries.

Talking about the technique and dynamics of bowling fast, one thing that we must remember is that game of cricket coined as a side-on game. Is wicket keeping Side On

The side-on principle is far stricter when it comes to fast bowling. In the early days, every fast bowler was made to bowl side on irrespective of their feet positions. This was because fast bowlers ran front-on with their hips and shoulders facing the batsman. In order to get in a side-on position, they jumped in the air and twisted their upper body, putting a lot of stress on their backs.

As recent as late 80’s, every coach and coaching manual advocated only side-on technique for fast bowlers irrespective of their back foot landing and hip and shoulder alignment. In fact, most of the coaches assessed a bowler looking at the upper body rather than looking at the back foot with respect to the hip and shoulder alignment.

What is a side-on position?

Arguably the oldest body position in fast bowling, a bowler is said to be side-on when his/her back foot lands parallel to bowling crease, hips and shoulders face in the same direction as back foot toe , front foot is in line with back foot, front arm is in front of the face or slightly past face (inside), looking over the front shoulder.

The action begins at the run-up. Bowlers should start slowly with smaller strides, and as they gain momentum, the strides should lengthen. Once you reach an optimum speed, you should look to maintain that speed and not run as fast as you one can to get closer to delivery stride. Classic examples of fast bowlers with a good side-on position are James Anderson and Kapil Dev. Kapil had big jump and twist, and towards the evening of his career, he ended up slightly past side on (more on this later).

In fact, in those days when bowlers in their run-up, hedged their front shoulder towards the batsman to get side on. Add to this, some twisted their upper body during their jump to get further side on, and ended up being past side on. A perfect example is Australian pacer Graham McKenzie who had a terrific Test career till 1969. After the tour of India, he was picked to go to South Africa where he developed back pain due to getting in to past side-on position from the ideal side-on with out realising . There were no video analyst available .You may even see in body line series that Larwood would hedge and twist mid-air.

What is past side-on position?

As explained earlier, this position actually begins with the bowler’s run-up with him/her hedging the shoulder in the direction of the batsman and then twisting mid-air in the pre-delivery jump.

Upon landing, the back foot is not parallel to the bowling crease because of the upper body twist. The torso is a huge mass of muscle ,pushes the back foot in such a way that the back toe aims towards mid-on (for a right-handed batsman) instead of being parallel with the bowling crease.

This results the front leg to go across and upper body , front shoulder looks past the fine leg of a right-hander. It may appear as though bowler is aiming to bowl to a left hander, trying to take the ball across. This twist creates a lot of pressure on the vertebrae. The problem with this action is that when bowlers run in and try to twist the upper body, it is difficult to control the twist in order to get in to perfect side-on posture. Many bowlers have developed this problem and slowly lost their speed, swing and accuracy and ended up changing their action and run up.

When Dennis Lillee arrived at the scene it 1971, every one was amazed the way he terrorised the batsmen with his swing, pace and bounce both in Australia and England. But in 1972, he broke down due to a fractured vertebrae. He jovially said that he had three fractures on his back, went to a doctor he created the fourth. Those days the sports medicine, even in Australia, was not so advanced. Instead of going in for a surgery, he took a lay-off for about 15 months and worked with an Olympics sprint coach to remodel his run up and gradually improved his strength. He also worked with a bio-mechanist named Frank Pyke. Back then, the term bio mechanist was unheard of.

From 1972 to 1987, Australians did a lot of research in fast bowling injuries, and Lillee was their guinea pig. An orthopaedic surgeon, a bio mechanist, and a coach went around Australia and tested all the Under-19 fast bowlers. Nearly 40 percent of the fast bowlers were identified with stress fracture.

Then, they started identifying the problem area and concluded that those who are having the back foot landing facing down the wicket should not be asked twist their upper body to get side-on. Such bowlers should be identified as front on.

In April 1988, when I met Dennis at the Pace Foundation, I remember he was emphasising on side-on technique. But when he came back in December that year, he insisted that the bowlers who could not land their back foot parallel to the bowling crease and if their back foot is facing down the wicket, they should not twist their upper body to get side-on. He said the latest research papers were out in Australia and that there is another technique being invented, known as front-on.

What is front-on position?

In this position, bowler’s back-foot faces straight down the wicket and not parallel to the bowling crease. The hip and shoulders face the batsman, non-bowling arm is positioned close to outside of the face or even partially covering the left eye (not looking over front shoulder/ arm). The front foot landing is not in line with back foot; the front foot is slightly away from the back foot.

The run up for this technique involves running with shorter strides and building up momentum , no rock back, smaller delivery stride compared to side on technique, little jump or even no jump in order to go through the crease swiftly. In this technique, since bowlers do not rotate or twist the upper body while delivering, their bowling speed comes from their running speed and from going through the crease. The release point, however, is same as side-on.

Most of the West Indian fast bowlers are front-on, classic examples are Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose. But coaches in India are not convinced with front-on technique even now. They are of the opinion that this action does not allow bowlers to bowl outswing . In my opinion, the swing is determined by the wrist position, body posture, and release. Both side-on and front-on bowlers can swing the ball both ways.

One very important point to keep in mind as far as the front-on technique is concerned is that from the back foot landing facing down the wicket till front foot landing, the alignment of back foot hips and shoulders must remain front on. Many bowlers could not remain front-on and tended to rotate their front shoulder, due to which their back foot began pointing between fine leg and square leg. This was common among the Australian bowlers. Hence, they invented a technique called Semi -Open.

What is a semi-open technique?

This technique is basically for those bowlers who cannot remain front-on from back foot landing to front foot-landing. This is in between side-on and front-on.

In this approach, the run-up slightly faster than the side-on, very little rock back, very little or no jump depending on the individual. The delivery stride is shorter, and the bowler needs to go through the crease swiftly. In modern day cricket, one can see many bowlers fall in this category. Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee ,Venkatesh Prasad are classical example of this technique.

The last but not the least is Mixed Technique. This one is the one that creates a lot of injuries and inefficiency which results in poor accuracy.

Mixed Technique

Bowlers who are past side-on can get in mixed technique. The reason is when you jump and twist, the upper body gets side-on. Controlling the twist in the air is not easy, so one ends up past side-on as our body is all connected from head to toe. Hence, the bowler ends up aiming down the leg side.

The front foot also goes towards that direction, but the batsman is at a different angle. So, in order to put the ball towards the batsman, the upper body and front leg rotates. This results in opening of the upper body and the hips, but since the back foot is past side-on, this creates a lot of pressure on the back and groin. Even some of them devlope lateral flexion .This posture can cause back injury. Instead of bowling where one wants to, the bowler ends up putting the ball where he/she could. This is called mixed technique past side-on at the back foot landing, open at the upper body.

The other mixed technique is open at the back foot landing and closed at the upper body. This happens when the bowler wants to be side-on even though his back foot is facing down the wicket. This action creates a lot of pressure at the back and ends up in stress fractures of vertebrae.

I always found it is easy to correct the upper body in these cases than the back foot landing. As a coach, one should give options to the bowler in order get him comfortable in any suggested corrections.

As a coach one should KEEP IT SUPER SIMPLE instead of complicating things. A good coach is the one who can find fault and give solutions how to correct those flaws.




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