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March 26, 2012

What's with the full tosses?

Michael Jeh
Salman Butt consoles Saeed Ajmal after Pakistan's shock defeat, Australia v Pakistan, 2nd semi-final, ICC World Twenty20, St Lucia, May 14, 2010
Who can ever forget Saeed Ajmal's horror over against Michael Hussey in the World T20 semi-final?  © AFP
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Despite full-time careers as cricketers, doing precious little else other than train, play, recuperate and shop for designer clothing, I'm not convinced that modern bowlers are any better today than they ever were. In fact, under pressure, I'd argue that they are a lot worse, despite the increasing presence of sports psychologists and other professional ancillary staff. Unlike their predecessors of even a generation ago, the inability of international standard cricketers to repeatedly make 'execution errors' is a blight on their so-called professionalism and brings into question whether bowling coaches are raising standards at all.

I've just finished watching the final ODI between Australia and the West Indies. The fact that it finished up being mildly exciting was down to some brave hitting from Darren Sammy and Andre Russell but just about any half-decent batsman could probably have despatched a brace of knee-high full tosses into the stands. Notwithstanding pressure, nerves, home crowd support, sweaty hands, small boundaries and better cricket bats, it's hard to believe that the very best bowlers in Australia continued to bowl full tosses. I mean, these guys are supposedly the best bowlers in the country. Think about it - of all the thousands of cricketers playing the game in Australia, these guys are the very best. They have a full-time bowling coach at State or international level, they practice 4-5 times a week, they have the best that sports medicine/science can throw at them, they're hydrated and honed to perfection…and they can't land the ball on the pitch during a Powerplay.

It's not just Australia that are woeful in this regard. Just about every team in world cricket cannot execute these skills under pressure, despite never being more 'professional' than in this era. Sri Lanka were terrible under pressure recently in the ODI series in Australia, bowling full tosses that cost them dearly at crucial times. India were no better - their death bowling was horrendous at times, most of it coming down to a simple inability to bowl yorkers. They weren't missing by a small amount either. The difference between a yorker and a waist-high full toss is some margin of error. It's like an opera singer continually missing the high note - if they miss it more than once in a performance, they'd be torn to shreds by the critics.

Bowling a yorker, even under pressure, is not that hard. Sure, batsmen have now developed strategies to cope with it, including standing deep in the crease or the new ramp shot. So it may not necessarily be tactically astute to attempt to bowl a yorker every ball. But surely no one can argue that bowling a waist-high full toss was part of the plan. Whatever it was they were trying to bowl, it was poorly executed, not just once or twice but time and time again. Surely they're not executing it this poorly at practice because if they were, they wouldn't be selected. So why are international bowlers unable to cope with pressure? Is it a mental thing?

If you go back a few years, the international standard bowlers doing the rounds could bowl yorkers almost at will. Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Graham Dilley, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Glenn McGrath, Chaminda Vaas, the list goes on…none of these guys bowled waist high full tosses at the rate that modern bowlers are doing right now. So what's changed? The weight of the ball or the length of the pitch? Clearly not.

Yes, I understand the notion of pressure and nerves etc but that hasn't changed in the last 40 years. I played 12 seasons of league cricket in England and had to bowl at the death every single weekend with the pressure of being the overseas pro and all that it entailed in a small goldfish bowl. I can never recall bowling that many full tosses. Better cricketers than me who were the pro's for opposing teams certainly gave me no freebies to plonk over midwicket. I'm at a loss to understand why the most coached, cossetted and full-time cricketers in the history of the game cannot execute a simple skill more effectively.

It's not as if this game against the West Indies is the only time it has happened. It's happening all the time, by most teams in world cricket. I remember an ODI in Sydney a few years ago when Umar Gul got it horribly wrong in the last few overs against Australia. It was hard to believe that such a talented bowler could get it that wrong. Who can ever forget Saeed Ajmal's horror over against Michael Hussey in the World T20 semi-final a few years ago (although, I must confess, I can't remember if any of them were rank full tosses)? Virat Kohli feasted on some late overs rubbish recently from various opposition. Yes, he is a brilliant batsman but it's a lot easier when the ball doesn't even bounce! I'm sure you've all got a favourite (or painful) memory to share.

I keep coming back to my own experiences, even at a very modest standard of cricket. It's not that hard! Sure, if batsmen come up with innovative ways to deal with yorkers, that requires a different strategy but I wouldn't have thought a steady diet of full tosses was part of that strategy. C'mon fellas, you're meant to be the best in the world and you're paid accordingly. No other profession would accept such a high ratio of execution error to this extent. At this level, it's simply not good enough.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Technique

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Posted by Sribalaji on (August 28, 2012, 14:14 GMT)

Can't deny completely, but modern day bowlers have a lot of variety than yesteryear bowlers. A good outswinger on line and length and A odd yorker delivery was enuf for Mcgrath to succeed. But today bowlers use off-cutters, leg-cutters, slow bouncers, reverse swing, knucle ball, floater and what not.. thanks to the T20. So there is some compromise on accuracy i guess... But Wasim Akram was one exceptional bowler, who bowled all these sort of deliveries with great accuracy, but that too in later part of his career. Experience matters a lot, but before they reach 28, bowlers career gets over, thanks to the amount of cricket they play. It's a big mess all together.

Posted by jackthelad on (July 1, 2012, 19:11 GMT)

It's not just the dodgy length, there's an epidemic in all forms of international cricket of wides and no-balls, arguing a basic lack of concentration on the fine detail of bowling in favour of more picturesque deliveries. How in heaven's name can a slow bowler bowl no-balls? Have they no idea of where their feet are? How can class quicks continually overstep the mark and fling the ball miles away from the wicket? Are they no longer told that 'these stumps were made for hittin''? Concentration on circuit training and holistic meditation when they should be in the nets getting it right.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (March 31, 2012, 7:36 GMT)

Playing schoolboy (State ) cricket, the two worst deliveries were the long hop , half volleys and full tosses. If you bowled a full toss the wicky/captain and slips would yell at you or turn away in disgust, muttering. I never bowled a waist high full toss in my life in 12 years ( plus club cricket) Not even with a greasy ball. It's just not done for any bowler, pace or spin. Now these guys bowl garbage every over (ODI's) I would have been dropped if I bowled full tosses. It's not Cricket.

Posted by Jafer Chohan on (March 29, 2012, 14:33 GMT)

I think that pakistan played really well and spoiled it totally at the end. Pakistan deserved to win.

Posted by shiv on (March 29, 2012, 0:24 GMT)

Not sure many would agree with me, but i have also come to feel Batsmen these days don't utilise the freebies on offer. Although, i agree with you that in certain crunch games they cart even length balls, but i find most batsmen defensive on a full toss, which is in my opinion the easiest ball to hit; the faster the easier. i have also wondered why this happens since even at my level (tennis ball cricket) we have better control of the ball even though we play occasionally. More so, i wonder on the injuries these professional cricketers are currently experiencing. Like you have said with the amount of advances in cricketing facitlities and science per se, there could be no excuse for niggles these professional cricketers get afflicted with very frequently. i would think, it could be attributed to overdose or just negligence - since they aren't able to sustain discipline and concentration for long.I would put it down to the T20 effect, which has eroded the attention spans.

Posted by SkippyD on (March 28, 2012, 18:40 GMT)

I think some of you are missing the point. If I was that rubbish at my job - I'd be fired. End of story. These guys get paid a lot and live out lives we can only fantasize about. If you can't stand the heat - stay out of the proverbial kitchen.

Posted by Kunal Talgeri on (March 28, 2012, 18:30 GMT)

In 1997, if memory serves me well, Mark Taylor's Australia went to South Africa for a seven-match ODI series against Hansie Cronje's side. Two ODI teams at the peak of their powers -- both sides had batsmen who were finishers, and solidity in the top order. In this backdrop, their best bowlers Allan Donald and Glenn McGrath employed the full toss so cleverly that it even fetched them a bagful of wickets (through LBWs or catches in the deep) in the late overs. Given their pace as fast bowlers, the full toss was a surprise weapon and used sparsely. Of course, it is a different matter altogether when Praveen Kumar or Darren Sammy try this. :-D

Posted by Stone-Aamir on (March 28, 2012, 7:39 GMT)

I agree with Michael but currently we donot have as many quality fast bowlers that we had 10-15 years ago. The pesent lot of fast bowlers are also struggling due to difficult conditions and very flat pitches, much more amount of cricket, batting oriented rules in limited overs. Any player can have a bad day but bowler's failures are rememberd much more then batsmen's. In limited over match one bad over can turn victory into defeat and it can also destroy bowler's career as we have many examples in the past. The quantity of cricket should be reduced so that bowlers can improve their skills and fitness as well.

Posted by ElTorqiro on (March 28, 2012, 1:58 GMT)

You continue with the assumption that every yorker is the same. 10 years ago you could make that argument, and if Wasim sent down 6 yorkers in an over, they were all exactly the same delivery - big, inswinging, 1ft from front of off stump. If you bowl 6 balls in a row like that these days, you're likely to go for 15+ runs an over (just look at Malinga's woes in Australia recently).

What you are seeing is not a failure to execute one type of delivery. It is a different delivery every single time, especially when you see a mistakes in a single over. The bowler isn't trying to trundle down the same ball each time - each one is different, be it a topspin slider, a knuckle slowerball, a split finger slowerball, a backspin dipper, or any other variation. Sure each is a "yorker" in length, but it's not one type of delivery being mis-bowled.

Claiming otherwise doesn't help the public understand what is happening, and you should know better. Execution error, yes, but not of a single delivery.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (March 27, 2012, 22:29 GMT)

Sifter, I see your point but I can't agree with you on this one mate. Bowling a yorker is not that hard, even for a gumbie like me. What the batsman do with yorkers is a different thing altogether and I'm not suggesting that bowling 6 yorkers an over is necessarily a wise plan. But the point that many seem to be missing when debating this blog is that I don't think bowling rank full tosses was part of any plan. It's a yorker gone horribly wrong. So what I'm saying is that the modern bowler can't land the yorker accurately. It's not a debate as to whether the yorker may or may not be the best tactic anymore; what I'm saying is that the spate of full bungers just proves my point that they can't execute yorkers with the accuracy that international standard cricketers should. It's hardly like they meant to bowl fullies did they? So it's clearly an execution error, time and time again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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