Australia news December 15, 2011

Australia's spin struggle exposed by CA study


As offspinner Nathan Lyon strengthens his claim to be Australia's No. 1 slow bowler, a study commissioned by Cricket Australia has revealed how the art of spin withered after the retirement of Shane Warne.

Lyon's emergence is made to look all the more remarkable by the study's findings, which expose a crippling lack of genuine opportunities afforded to graduates of junior cricket, and a poverty of patience and understanding for spin's subtleties.

The study, conducted this year and obtained by ESPNcricinfo, was done by CA and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to better understand why spinners struggled to make a lasting impact in Warne's wake.

Following Warne's exit from Test cricket in the first week of 2007, Australia's selectors tried 11 spin bowlers in search of the right practitioner at the national level.

In the Sheffield Shield competition, opportunities for spinners have diminished with time, their roles often limited to defensive commissions. Lyon, the most recent spin bowler to be tried for Australia, made a promising start, benefiting from a longer-term approach to his development in the team and the sympathetic captaincy of Michael Clarke.

The study involved 24 Australian spin bowlers of a variety of ages, including 10 international representatives, another five first-class players, and nine state junior cricketers. Research was undertaken by CA spin coach John Davison, CA/AIS analyst Wayne Spratford and University of NSW professor David Mann.

Its conclusions relate that spin bowlers were given fewer chances to grow and develop their skills relative to batsmen and fast bowlers, when the background of most spin bowlers dictated that they should be given more.

"Spin-bowlers should be given more time to develop than other cricketers," the study's authors wrote. "In general they have played five-six years of cricket before they start to bowl spin. It is commonly acknowledged that a certain volume of practice is required to develop an expert level of performance in any given type of skill (often cited to be 10,000 hours), and as a result spin bowlers will be older than their peers by the time they have acquired a sufficient volume of practice."

Slow bowling is commonly arrived at as a cricketer's skill of choice after other options have been tried. The study points out that spin requires more complex skills and ideas that are more easily reached and understood in adulthood.

"Cricketers generally need to develop a general motor-program ('muscle-memory') for bowling before they can progress to bowling spin," the study said. "This is much like a swimmer should learn to do free-style before they can specialise in other strokes.

"Many of the ligaments and muscles in the shoulder, wrist, and fingers may need time to sufficiently grow and develop before children are ready to bowl spin. Junior cricketers, generally, have a preference to 'make-it' as a pace bowler first, and may only take up spin as a 'default' if they are not good enough, fit enough, or sustain injuries when bowling pace. Several of our key first-class/international spin-bowlers did not start bowling spin until they were 17-18."

Significantly, the study found that spin bowlers commonly experienced a 25% drop in the amount of overs they bowled in matches when they made the transition from junior cricket to first-class competition.

"Opportunities to bowl in games diminish considerably when players transition out of junior cricket," the study said. "Spin bowlers generally decrease their bowling by 25% when they finish junior cricket, typically at a point when they should be increasing their volume of bowling."

As spin bowlers develop in Australia, their opportunities to bowl further and gain a greater level of skill are limited by a combination of unhelpful captains, conditions and 21st century leisure habits. The study suggests that in general, young slow bowlers do not practice on their own often enough, as previous generations had done.

"Many of our spin bowlers do not perform the volume of bowling that we observe performed by other sportspeople that reach high levels of achievement," the study said. "Spin bowlers tend to be practising less by themselves and restricting most of their practice/play to official team training and games. This may be an effect of a changing society where there are less opportunities for backyard/informal play, and more distractions such as computer games and television."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mick on December 18, 2011, 21:48 GMT

    To Damien in France, Alright fair play but i get frustrated hearing teams talk bout bowling as a unit etc all these approaches used by the aussie teams now being used successfully to dismantle them. I dont see how sharing approaches like that help our cause. Gives away any advantage. I dont see the All blacks giving away too much. I dont even see the Ecb giving much away. But we continue to. How can you be best practice when others can see everything you do and pick and choose what to follow

  • Dummy4 on December 18, 2011, 19:42 GMT

    guess thts the story everywhere. India seems to be embarrassed in the spin department as well. None of the current crop look like test match material and I say this in spite of Ashwin's 5fers against the WI. I'd be glad if he proves this wrong. The likes of Rahul Sharma, Ravidra Jadeja et all all look good for the limited overs game. This is suffocating. Where are the drifts, the topspinners, the Googlys. These are mostly tall spin bowlers relying on bounce and shotmaking from batsmen. Ojha seems to be swayed by too little. I hope the time spent by harbhajan on the sidelines improves his mindset and he concentrates more on bowling well and slower than sledging and theatrics. Hope the stocks improve.

  • Peter on December 18, 2011, 1:50 GMT

    @ brenburra, been there done that and it's hard to find a coach who will give encouragement to the youngsters. Just persist with it by yourself and along the way you will come across someone who loves spin as much as you do. One way I started for my son was to ask the leggy from the A grade district team, as spinners love to pass their knowledge on and then from there you will find others until you find the right one as we have been lucky enough to.Get a book called "The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling" by Peter Philpott it's a bible for spinners. Good Luck mate, I wish you all the best, if he is serious just let him know it is a very frustrating road ahead and many spinners who are not as good as him will get preference over him because they will be getting wickets with rubbish balls. My son is 16 and we still have problems with coaches, but I know in the end all will sort it self out.

  • Damien on December 17, 2011, 19:49 GMT

    To mick82, one of the reasons that Australia has done so well (and will recover quickly) is precisely because they DO follow a system of transparency. I'm an Aussie, living in France as the Director of Masters programme in Wine Marketing. Aus wine makers also follow the same mantra of transparency, and both learn collaboratively AND invite critque and comment because of this transparency. As such, the Australian side gets free 'advice' from all those who choose to comment on such actions, whilst opponents operating 'secretly' only benefit from the wisdom of those in the inner sanctum. The French wine sector has been heading down the toilet for the past 30 years because they ignore there's a problem, and very little sharing of information happens between regions. I'd hate Australians to follow that model!

  • Stephen on December 17, 2011, 16:49 GMT

    Whilst undoubtedly Lyon seems better than some of the other spinners Aus have tried recently, just need to point out that, of his 22 test wickets 13 have been batsmen 8 - 11, whilst it's good to be able to get rid of the tail-enders I think that judgement on Lyon should be reserved for a bit....

  • Gary on December 17, 2011, 1:53 GMT

    I agree with most of these articles, my son is a leggie at 12 years of age & all the paid for camps he's been on describe him as having real potential...The point is he has taught himself to this point. There really does not appear to be a path for these young guys to follow. He got invited to one training afternoon by the state cricket organisation for spinners & that was it, although making the rep team in his district - where he was given a bowl which at times seemed reluctantly by the coach although his fiqures were on par with the quicks. These young guys (like all young sportspeople) need to be nurtured & encouraged to develop their potential with this difficult craft. He has always bowled spin & just absolutely loves taking wickets & tying up & at times bamboozling batsmen (including me) I will continue to support him, any suggestions to find decent mentoring for young spinners would be much appreciated. Qld Australia.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    The situation is not helped by looking at Australia's spin bowling coach: John Davison is best remembered as a batsmen whom didn't quite make it at South Australia whom went on to smash the fastest century in world cup history for Canada. His bowling could at best be described as a "part timer". The state of coaching was so bad that in the recent guest article Ashley Mallet call's on Nathan Lyon to ignore the coaches!!! The level of elite coaching is not there, compounding the issues identified in the report. Steve Smith never bowled better than directly after his workout with Shane Warne. What disappoints me most is that Mallet is happy to take shots from the sideline, yet has not stepped up and offer to directly help Lyon

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2011, 5:53 GMT

    Actually there are not too many spinners in India too , despite India having great bowlers like Bedi, Prasanna and Venkat in the past. Harbhajan is way past his prime and the new spinners have to establish themselves yet. England has one good bowler in Swann. I think the role of the spin bowler too has to change if the bowler is not of the class or ability of Warne. Then the bowler has to restrict, change ends, change pace and hope the batsman will make some mistakes. The pitches too seem to favour seamers and pacers. Australia has a string of fast bowlers who have potential. Clearly the role models have been Mcgrath and Lee and not so much Warne. Of course there are pretenders like Steve Smith too ! The next crop of spinners will not attack but more often than not defend. Surprisingly the windies have a couple of budding spinners who look interesting. sridhar

  • Aidan on December 16, 2011, 4:58 GMT

    hhillbumper - Seriously mate - England have been good lately - but not even close to a dynasty - they have been embarrassed time and time again with their One Day squad; and to be sure there is not clear daylight between SA and Eng. Aus is emerging fine. Your jokes wont last long

  • Chris on December 16, 2011, 3:29 GMT

    There are lots of reasons why spinners start later or get less attention: 1) Most kids are tearaways and prefer to run in and hurl as fast as possible. Same with batting. 2) There are 3 quicks and one spinner in a team, hence fewer opportunities. 3) Most junior coaches don't know how to bowl spin, so coaching is non-existent to poor (I know - been there and done that!) 4) Kids' hands are small. To bowl spin well you need reasonably long fingers plus wrist strength and flexibility. Most kids can only really bowl cutters. Some can manage leg spin with a high trajectory. It does take focus from a junior coach/manager to encourage all the skills and identify who might have themin enough abundance to encourage some specialisation. Not easy for the Dads and Mums who coach the juniors without any real training. Cricket clubs need to take up the challenge to educate their junior coaches.

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