Thursday, 4 August 2011

The bowling action basics

Spin bowling bio-mechanics- bowling action basics and analysis
Please note I'm not an expert - just an enthusiast (Work in progress 3rd Dec 2015)

Recently I came across a series of images that had been commissioned by one of the big cricket bodies to examine the break-down of the bowling action. I've been aware of the ECB's images that are readily available on the internet that illustrate the bowling action and they used the same terminology.
Image result for cricket strength spin bowling action

Phase 1: Pre Delivery Stride (PDS)
Phase 2: Mid bound (MB)
Phase 3: Back Foot Contact (BFC)
Phase 4: Front Foot Contact (FFC)
Phase 5: Ball Release (BR)
Phase 6: Follow Through (FT)

Some what belatedly I realised the value of this method of breaking down the action and thinking of it in terms of developing my bowling action.

In 2015 (see other sections of this blog and my Youtube channel here ) I made the decision to completely re-configure my bowling action, looking to improve it. Looking around I found that there seems to be very little that is spin-bowling specific and that the majority of the advice and guidance deals with fast bowling. So this is my attempt as producing a series of illustrations and images that might be useful to the spin bowling community.

The bowling action whether it's fast or slow is pretty much the same thing and can be broken down into these different phases. Using this blog post you should be able to improve your bowling action.

Standing at the top of the crease - What are you doing and thinking? First, you need to know exactly where it is you're going to stand. I've heard people over the years say things like you shouldn't measure your run-up. Their reasoning being that if you're a good bowler, you should know exactly what you're doing and be able to get it right without measuring it out. I personally like that notion, but couldn't actually do it with any accuracy, so what I do is measure it out when we're playing at home before the other team are turn up. I have in the past used bowlers markers...

But always forget to retrieve them at the end of the game, so instead I now use the tops of Lucozade bottles and just press them into the ground as my marker.
Image result for cricket bowlers marker discSome people like to make a big gesture and scrape dirty great lines in the ground with the spikes of their cricket shoes. But whatever approach you take, obvious or discreet, it does need to be part of your approach and therefore needs to be consistent and repeated.

Stuart MacGill says that at this point you should be relaxed with your wrist nice and floppy and a loose grip on the ball. This is backed up by Warne in his tutorials on-line, he too advocates a loose grip, he equates a tight grip with having an overall sense of tension throughout the body and therefore unlikely to be relaxed. At this point make the decision as to what it is you're going to bowl, if necessary make field adjustments, Warne would suggest just make small adjustments but be obvious about it so that the batsman is focused on what you're doing, it may be the case that you may break his focus on his batting.

MacGill in his video emphasises the fact that you always set off on the same foot and that this process must be exactly the same each time... "Repetition, Repetition, Repetition". For me when I started to re-configure my bowling this was one of the key things that I changed right at the outset and it had a massive impact immediately.

Zubin Barucha in the Praveen Tambir video similarly advocates the need to have the exact same run-up each time, another point he makes with regards to the run-up is that your eyes should be level and your head not to one side (Something that Tambir used to do). As you run-in keep straight, don't zig-zag and keep your eyes along the same plane as much as you can both vertically and horizontally looking at where you're going to bowl. Barucha and Warne in videos both talk about the variation in the run-in being implemented by running in and arriving at different points on the crease. This means the delivery is executed for instance - close to the stumps or wide of the stumps, but when you do this, the way you run-in should be exactly the same, if you start slightly wider at your mark - do so discreetly.

The Run up
The run-up is important... very important and for years I've messed around with it and have never been able to establish a consistent way of doing it. I would suggest to anyone who bowls spin to take this aspect of what you do seriously. It may be that I was never coached, so never had this reinforced as being such an important aspect of what we do, but the bottom line is when you bowl you must be able use a...

Consistent and repeatable action

Far too many of us look to Warne as a method of bowling, but I would look a lot further, look at Stuart MacGill, Pravin Tambe, Mushtaq Ahmed, Yasir Shah and Shahid Afridi examine and watch their bowling, watch their videos on Youtube, look at their run-ups and the way that they approach the crease. The Warne method is possibly one of the most difficult to emulate and use as a template because his physique and build is probably not like yours or mine.

But, more than anything you need to at some point synthesise the information you glean from watching the videos with something that suits your physique, lifestyle and age, it may mean like me, you will have to do some additional exercises working on core strength or your glutes, especially if like most of us you sit around all day working at a computer. (See this link here).

Have a look at this post here from my blog that looks specifically at developing a run-up.

Phase 1 - PDS (Pre delivery stride).
For most of this, if you're going to analyse and deconstruct what you do you will need some form of camera and access to a computer with at least the standard windows software such as windows live movie maker. That will enable you to video yourself and easily edit the footage and slow it down in order that you can analyse what it is you're doing right and wrong.

PDS (Pre delivery stride). Sometimes referred to as the load up and the point at which you 'gather'. The key point in phase 1 for us as Wrist Spinners is that we set off into the bound setting ourselves so that we start to get 'Side-on'. It's essential that we get side on and avoid having a front-on or a mixed bowling action. My new run-up is short, some people have said that it is Mushtaq-esque I take three steps before going into the 2nd phase, I stand square on, without any angled run-in and start off on the left foot. The PDS gets me landing on my left foot, setting me up to get my body fully side-on through the bound (2nd Phase).
Front on view above you can see that I'm looking over my left shoulder in the gather, my shoulder have started to get into position whereby I'm side-on.
Again (above) you see that I'm looking down towards where the batsman would be - over my shoulder and outside of the leading arm in the gather. The wrist is cocked and through the run-in and the approach to this phase in the action, my head has been along the same plane not deviating from side to side - simply moving straight at the batsman - click the image to see slow mo footage of the action.

In the process of getting this right, one of the key pieces of information that helped me was the advice to get the leading arm hand up around my ear in the gather. Other key things you need to be doing at this stage is cocking the wrist, keeping your head up-right and your eyes focused on the target. This next piece of advice comes from a fast bowling tutorial but seems to make sense to me. Look at the two images below here and look at the position of the elbow.
If you click on the image there's a video that explains and illustrates the theory here. The image on the left is poor presentation of the elbow as it's hanging out wide, both the leading arm and the bowling arm should be compact at this stage as this aids accuracy, but having said that many of us bowl with a more round-arm action and it may be the case that this doesn't suit or work for you. Remember these are just ideas and each of these suggestions can be disregarded if they don't appear to work with you. For me this might make sense as I tend to bowl with more over-spin looking to be accurate. 
Phase 2: MB (Mid bound)
This is the section where if you're a right arm bowler you'll have leapt off of your left foot and got airborne. It's while you're in the air that you'll then start to go from the chest on position to the side on position you'll need as you land out of the bound. It's therefore essential that you have enough 'Hang-time' in the air to get this side-on aspect. When you're learning this I found this is one of the sections that I had to really focus on in order to land out of the bound with my right foot landing side-on (BFC) Back foot contact.
When you're learning this or adapting this to improve your bowling think about how you land - your right foot needs to land side-on ready for the 3rd phase BFC - Back foot contact. It's while you're in the end getting ready for BFC that you start to get really side on which is required. It may take a lot of practice and concentration to get this phase working. It may also require that you go away and do some strength and agility work in order that you're able to execute and perform this part of the action?

My bound at this point has been commented on in that it may be a little high, some people reckon that it should be around about half the height of a set of stumps as a rough guideline, but I'm happy with mine and it may change over the coming months, but for the moment it feels good and it enable me to get side-on. If you struggle with the bound the advice is to use hurdles or some kind of object to jump over in order that it becomes more active and obvious. A coach that I've worked with and take notice of recommends that in the off-season when you can look at these issues, one of the ways that you can address them is to do things in an over-exaggerated way and then tidy things up in pre-season nets.

Phase 3: BFC (Back foot contact).
BFC another phase where there's a lot going on including some of the really important aspects and if you're struggling with any of these aspects it may take some work to get these components working well. My feelings are if you break your bowling down into these phases, you can address them one at a time and bolt on the components as you go along. When I did this work to re-configure my bowling action and improve it, I did so using the phases starting with the run-up.

This to be truthful is an aspect of my bowling that I'm still working on, once you're at BFC, your leading arm needs to reach out long and strong (Beau Casson). Again going back to the video of Praveen Tambir here, Zubin Barucha makes a comment about the fact that Tambir gets more power into his bowling due to the fact that he manages to keep his elbow and the leading arm 'Up' longer than most people and in doing so creates something extra. As with a lot of these video's they don't explain these things in any real depth, this may mean the torque is increased or possibly the speed of the delivery? It's up to us as bowlers to implement such ideas and see if they work for us, but the differences may be relatively subtle dependent of whether the implementation of the arm coming down slightly later increases torque or speed. If it's torque, the impact may be more obvious? MacGill in his video again alludes to the importance of this, but describes it differently, but in doing so he's possibly emphasising the need to hang that leading arm up long and strong a little longer...
Click on the video.

The way he puts it is that he wants the leading arm in this section of the action stretched all the way down the side of the body, a full stretch and then the whole of that leading side of the body pulled down and straight through

The other important component of this section is the delivery stride and the length of it. Having shot footage of my bowling from the side I noticed this was a very weak aspect of my bowling and I then did some research looking into the bowling strides of the current and recent wrist spinners. The observations made were that their strides are generally big

Fully side on at this stage, we’re into the bowling action where we focus on the upper body, the arms now start to gain momentum, the leading arm reaches out high and long, Beau Casson describes it as being ‘Long and Strong’, this reaching out needs to be towards the batsman/off-stump and is described as the ‘Rudder’ – it dictates where you’re going to bowl the ball. As the leading (Left arm) straightens and comes down towards the hip, the delivery arm comes up in unison,

but seemingly not perpendicular to each other in the way that you might teach kids to bowl when grasping the basics. There’s a crucial aspect to the timing here and the arms can be out of sync with point at which you move into FFC (Front foot contact).

The movement from BFC to FFC involves the delivery stride and this seemingly needs to be relatively long. If you look at the current leg-spinners they all have long strides, so the inference would be that this adds something, it may make the movement through the crease more dynamic and add the necessary torque to get the ball spinning more. Most of the advice discussing this part of the action talks about the energy levels and making this part of the action ‘Explosive’, which makes sense as you’re loading up to release the ball. But, it has to be comfortable, don’t look to develop a massively long delivery stride in the way that Tambir does if it feels wholly wrong and reduces the smoothness and rhythmic feel of the action. Although having said that when practicing, consider and try using the over exaggeration approach. I’ve always found that when I do things that feel enormously exaggerated, on viewing them they’re never quite as dramatically different as I imagined.

The big delivery stride then takes you to…

Phase * FFC (Front foot contact).

As your front foot lands your foot should be pointing towards **** Most of the advice says that the leg should be braced as you land on the ball of your foot or heel and then go up onto the toes and pivot. There may be some additional value in twisting the foot at the ankle at this stage to accentuate to pivot. The back foot, led by the right knee, which is now coming out of the BFC, drives through towards the batsman, NOT OUT AND AROUND, everything for the most part should be moving forwards towards the batsman at this stage. Again, when practicing this out of season, look to exaggerate this, one of the things I was told in the past was to do this knee drive so exaggerated that the right foot actually touches your butt, or at least you aim to do so as you drive the knee forwards. Look at Nathan Lyon for an example of how high his knee lift component can be.

The other thing that is usually mentioned at this stage as you get up on to your toes is to remain tall in the action.

The leading arm; This come down straight from its long and strong position reaching for the batsman – not swinging out wide and maintaining a compact aspect from the front, this arm comes to fading stop at around the hip. (Check to see the ‘Tuck’ aspect – look at what I do).

The bowling arm; The hand/ball come out of the gather in an un-coiling action in an ever increasing circular action, as the ball arm reaches about  11 to 12 o’clock the ball is released with the wrist in whatever position in accordance with your delivery – Leg-break, top-spinner, Flipper etc. The arm then comes down across the body and generally your momentum will mean at this point having released the ball, your body weight will topple forwards and the plane on which you head was moving forwards on is lost as you start to now fade into

Phase FT (Follow through).

The bowling arm will pass by your left hip and then continue on swinging behind your back a little.


The rotation will mean you’ll be side on at the point just after the fastest and most dynamic part of the action. You’ll be sideways, but moving down the wicket, your legs in relation to your body will now have to compensate for your side-on aspect as you slow down and finish the follow through. Don’t pull up sharp, don’t look to jump into a catching position, be alert to the fact that the ball may be coming back your way, fade out of the follow-through smoothly again maintaining a straight line down the wicket being mindful not to stray too near the middle, otherwise you’ll be penalised by the umpire for doing so.

At all points throughout the action keep your head and eyes just as a batsman does, along the same horizontal and vertical line.

Phase 4: Front Foot Contact (FFC)
Phase 5: Ball Release (BR)
Phase 6: Follow Through (FT)

Think of your bowling in terms of a structure- a building. You have to lay sound foundations on which to build something that is functional or better still special. If you don't lay the correct foundations you'll always be doing remedial work.

 - Beau Casson/David Freedman - bowling action analysis/instruction - Bound video - Pravin Tambe - BFC flexed leg. - Stuart MacGill BFC flexed leg - Scholarly article - Scholarly article - Dale Steyn and Mitchell Johnson in slo mo (Bowling action).

Okay it's fast bowling but the upper body - gather, leading arm etc all worth looking at.

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  1. "...tall onto the ball of your foot and twisting on the ball of the foot from the hips."

    I agree that this is one of the most under emphasised requirements of the art. When ever i feel that distinctive rotation through my hips and exiting onto the crease i know that the rest of my action/technique needs only to be serviceable to get the big result.

    good point mate.
    all the best

  2. Good to see you still have a look in at my blog Stoph, much appreciated! I've had a few coaches looking at my action on a website called siliconcoach, they're giving me things to try and it's making a big difference. The thing I'm working with at the moment is the leg that currently comes round the pivot leg, my leg swings out and around in the bowling action, whereas these coaches are saying it should come through fairly straight - directing all the energy towards the batsman.


  3. Hi Dave. Not sure if you're still looking at this blog, but I've got some comments...
    My understanding is that, for legspin, the front foot on impact should be a lot further from the back foot than it would be for an offspinner. This larger stretch will give you more arm speed and which should translate to side rotation on the ball and therefore dip and spin.
    Let me know what you think.

    1. Jason, yeah you're right I rarely look at this one anymore, but yeah I think your observation is correct, it's definitely something to think about and consider and I'll try and remember to add the notion to my main blog at sometime in the future, sorry about the massively delayed reply.