January 28, 2014

The speed-gun myth

Commentators spend a lot of time discussing bowling speeds but a machine can't tell us how fast a batsman considers a bowler to be
37

Glenn McGrath: a batsman's nightmare, though he didn't register scary numbers on the speed gun © Getty Images

One of the key messages from the recent Ashes series, according to the media anyway, was that "pace rules". The primary difference between Australia in England in 2013, and then England in Australia in 2013-14, was seen by many to be the fast bowling of Mitchell Johnson, the eventual Man of the Series.

His raw speed (admittedly combined with far greater control over direction than in some previous years) was claimed by many commentators to be the deciding factor in Australia's transition from a 3-0 series loss to a 5-0 series victory in the space of a few months. It was not uncommon to hear comparisons between the speed of Johnson and that of the legendary Jeff Thomson in the 1970s.

But what does "pace" or "speed" actually mean?

In recent times, the proponents of various fast bowlers often base their argument around the figures generated from the speed gun. While the overall speed readings are very interesting, it would appear misleading to rely solely on these figures, as they don't actually come close to telling the whole story about how "fast" a batsman will consider a bowler to be. It was not uncommon to hear commentators literally jump with excitement about the extreme pace of a certain Johnson delivery that caused a batsman significant problems, only to then see a speed-gun rating show that it was actually slower than the previous ball that the batsman had played easily.

In the most recent Ashes series, a recurring theme among the commentators was that James Anderson was tired and "lacking a yard of pace" compared to his spells during the English summer. This would appear to be supported by raw statistics that show he took 22 wickets at an average of 29 in England, whereas in Australia he took 14 wickets at nearly 44. However, a review of his average bowling speeds across both Ashes series makes for interesting reading.

In the first Test in Nottingham he averaged 84.9mph; in the fifth Test in Sydney he averaged 84.5mph. Anderson's average bowling speed per innings was remarkably similar across the ten Tests, and only varied around three miles an hour. His highest average speed per innings was actually in Perth, the "eighth" Test, where he averaged 85.5mph. Whatever the reasons for his relatively poor performance in Australia, it can hardly be argued that it was due to him "lacking a yard of pace".

At this point, I understand that many readers will no doubt be striking their foreheads on their monitors and shouting, "You idiot - he is a swing bowler and doesn't rely solely on pace." This is precisely why the speed gun is an unreliable measure. Ultimately, does it matter how we judge the "pace" of opening bowlers? Unfortunately, and this was primary reason for this article, the speed gun is becoming a concerning aspect of team selection. It was only a few weeks ago that Australian coach Darren Lehmann outlined that bowlers need to be bowling at 140kph to be considered for the Test team. Clearly the speed gun is becoming a determining factor that helps fast bowlers get selected.

There is a former Australia Test opening bowler, still only 27 years old, who has taken 202 first-class wickets at an average of 25.10, and took 5 for 105 in his last first-class match, but appears to have been forgotten about in terms of national selection. Trent Copeland doesn't bowl at 140kph, and therefore doesn't appear likely to add to his three Test caps. However, players who have faced bowlers such as Copeland, Chadd Sayers or even Glenn McGrath will note that they are "faster" than they appear. A few years ago McGrath's deliveries were measured as being slower than those of Greg Blewett. However, if you asked opening batsmen which one was "faster", without any reference to the speed gun, Blewett would have struggled to gain a vote.

Phrases such as "hitting the bat hard" or "bowling a heavy ball" are used to describe bowlers who manage to bowl "faster" than someone with an identical speed-gun rating. From discussions with many batsmen over a number of decades, I have concluded that certain bowlers seem faster than others because they force batsmen to make a late adjustment when the ball is not quite where they expect it to be.

From the point when the bowler hits his delivery stride, the batsman starts moving into position to play a shot. With only half a second or so from the bowler letting it go until the batsman plays the ball, the batsman has to move on instinct into the correct position. A bowler who delivers a "heavy ball" is generally one who consistently hits the bat slightly higher than expected, thus leading to a batsman feeling a less than ideal contact and subsequently having less control over the shot.

Likewise, if a bowler has an unusual or strange action that prevents a batsman getting an early sighting of the ball, they will appear faster. The great South African Mike Procter was rated by Tony Greig as one of the "top five" paceman of his era; Greig thought Procter bowled at a similar pace to Andy Roberts, John Snow, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. However, it was interesting that in one of the early speed tests, conducted in 1979, Procter came second-last among 12 bowlers, and only managed to beat Pakistan medium-pacer Sarfraz Nawaz. At that time Procter was in his early 30s, but he played first-class cricket for another decade, and he opened the bowling for the WSC World XI.

While the actual speeds recorded in this trial cannot be fairly compared to those of current bowlers, due to differing measuring techniques, the comparative nature of the test showed that Procter was a long way behind Thomson, who led the field. However, opening batsmen of that era would clearly not agree that Procter wasn't a genuine fast bowler. He is an example of how speed can be disguised, as his "wrong foot" action meant that batsmen were not picking the ball up early.

When Brett Lee was bowling at 135kph, batsmen perceived him as far "slower" than McGrath at the same velocity, as Lee had a flat and predictable trajectory. This meant that a batsman was in position to play a shot earlier than against McGrath, who tended to achieve extra bounce or movement off the seam that forced batsmen into a late readjustment. This then made the batsmen perceive the bowler as being faster than a pure speed reading would have given them cause to do.

It would appear clear that Anderson's lack of effectiveness in Australia related more to his inability to move the ball consistently, rather than him being tired and "losing pace", as some commentators argued. Speed is not easily defined, and success does not always equate to high speed-gun measurements. The current No. 1 bowler in the world, Vernon Philander, is a great example of this, but it appears that he would not get a run for Australia as he bowls at a "mere" 130kph.

I hope the Australian selectors and coaching staff are willing to recognise that the speed gun alone does not define the effectiveness of an opening bowler, or just how "fast" he may be.

Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • IndianInnerEdge on January 29, 2014, 8:20 GMT

    The thing with pace is - if a real good batsman is facing, Pace alone will seldom get him out, pace combined with bounce or swing is more likely. The problem with the wickets around the world, especially in the subcontinent is if you donot have the pace-read the minimum pace, in conditions where there is no swing or bounce, u are likely to get hit - that is where LEhman is coming from, and also i remember Duncan Fletcher whilst coaching Eng in the early 2000's saying if you dont bowl at 140+ donot bother turning up-wish he does something about indian pathetic bowling attach because by that attribute india would have a non existant pace attack.....i also believe the action, the height of the bowler has a lot to do with the perception of pace, that said i still am not sure if the speed gun gets it right every time

  • on March 17, 2014, 17:29 GMT

    lack of pace will make huge difference for eg in recent series philander s 130kph is not at all troubling davey warner he smashed all over the park steyn is not fit so he bowls around 137 obly he also getting smashed by warner high quality pace makes huge difference

  • on January 30, 2014, 14:57 GMT

    Unfortunately most of those commenting here r just armchair critics & have never play competitive cricket let alone Hard ball cricket................I being a highly inconsistent bowler have myself observed that on a day when u have good rythem u ball fast with high arm action (The measure of pace is bounce of the same length on same pitch) apart from 1 or 2 top order batsmen all other struggle against u but on other days when u r focusing on good line length than pace & bounce all batsmen hit u for sixes of all your deliveries..........Similarly in batting pace & bounce is sufficient to make it tough to play, other bowlers have to produce lots of other things correctly (need to have great line length, ball lots of yorkers, mix pace, swing both sides- that only happens in conducive conditions) to avert being smashed let alone making it tough to play.

  • on January 30, 2014, 14:36 GMT

    Either u got to have speed or have height & hit the deck to extract bounce otherwise with swing alone u will soon be taken to cleaners.

    Indian swing bowler Mohanty was treated like a spinner by IJAZ AHMAD hitting 9 sixes in 1997 in his 138 of 80 balls .Indian bowlers have always received such a treatment despite having lot of swing. Ponting destroyed them in WC 2003 final. Miandad swung indian swingers all over the park in Sharjah cup final hitting 6 at will of last ball. Indian bowlers have always relied on swing & their ER being World's Worst itself tells how easy a swing bowler is for the batsman if he lacks pace & bounce.

    But only finest batsmen like Tendulkar, Desilva, Kohli, Devilliers can hit all fast bowlers deliveries all over the park. Mediocre batsmen can only hit half vollys from fast bowlers & can only manage to top edge fast bowlers' all other deliveries. If fast bowlers r provided 3rd man & f9 leg fine it is impossible to score boundary of them.

  • DennisL on January 30, 2014, 14:09 GMT

    Vernon is almost sure to get a run AGAINST Australia a few weeks hence.

  • on January 30, 2014, 10:56 GMT

    excellent article ,vern is a great example

  • VB_Says on January 30, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    Pure pace versus fast and accuracy versus accuracy with medium speed - that is where the discussion begins. Grade 3 - Pure pace (Brett Lee) gets min weightage as even above average batsmen would score relatively freely. Grade 2 - Accuracy with medium speed (Glenn McGrath) would always be preferred as batsmen will find it difficult to score freely. The odd pace change or bounce makes a strokemaker uncomfortable. Grade 1 - The third and rarest are those who are deadly accurate and have speed too (Dennis Lillee). These kind of bowlers are most in demand and this is where Darren Lehman comes from. Mitchel Johnson demonstrated this quality aganist England. He always had speed, but this time he was quite accurate.

    The measured speed and perceived speed are relative to how confortable batsmen are able to play the bowlers. However, speed does add to his aura when a bowler can also be accurate.

  • Insult_2_Injury on January 30, 2014, 2:25 GMT

    I don't think it's as much about the bowlers speed, as it is the commentators haste. Unfortunately a TV commentator isn't allowed to let a picture paint a thousand words, so they blurt inanities, easily disproved by the vision. The more we have displayed on the screen the less need there appears to be for commentators, but then what happens to semi educated players on retirement? The latest absurdity is being 'hip' by displaying public tweets on screen. You know, the things you read on your phone? Except commentators persist in reading them to us! Surely the equivalent of fending at a wide one!

  • regofpicton on January 29, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    NeutralKN makes a very interesting point. Actually, if ball tracking can accurately plot the position of the ball at two instants in its flight it should give a more accurate speed between the two. I've never been able to figure out just when a speed gun is taking its reading. Ideally it should be at the top of the trajectory, else a component of vertical motion might get added in. Contrariwise, swing or seam should reduce ball speed as measured purely along the pitch.

    A bit of proper physics might also improve the accuracy of measuring the "length" of a six. Rather than measuring the distance to the "point of impact" (which is obviously greatly dependent on terrain), it would be much more accurate to measure the horizontal distance to the top of the trajectory and doubling in.

    None of which affects Mr Wark's article of course. I suppose the point there is, if a bowler can do a bit with the ball, the faster the ball is going when he does it the worse it is for the batsman.

  • StaalBurgher on January 29, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    @Stuart_online - Yes, of course. There is a wide spread conspiracy to spread the myth of Proctor.

  • IndianInnerEdge on January 29, 2014, 8:20 GMT

    The thing with pace is - if a real good batsman is facing, Pace alone will seldom get him out, pace combined with bounce or swing is more likely. The problem with the wickets around the world, especially in the subcontinent is if you donot have the pace-read the minimum pace, in conditions where there is no swing or bounce, u are likely to get hit - that is where LEhman is coming from, and also i remember Duncan Fletcher whilst coaching Eng in the early 2000's saying if you dont bowl at 140+ donot bother turning up-wish he does something about indian pathetic bowling attach because by that attribute india would have a non existant pace attack.....i also believe the action, the height of the bowler has a lot to do with the perception of pace, that said i still am not sure if the speed gun gets it right every time

  • on March 17, 2014, 17:29 GMT

    lack of pace will make huge difference for eg in recent series philander s 130kph is not at all troubling davey warner he smashed all over the park steyn is not fit so he bowls around 137 obly he also getting smashed by warner high quality pace makes huge difference

  • on January 30, 2014, 14:57 GMT

    Unfortunately most of those commenting here r just armchair critics & have never play competitive cricket let alone Hard ball cricket................I being a highly inconsistent bowler have myself observed that on a day when u have good rythem u ball fast with high arm action (The measure of pace is bounce of the same length on same pitch) apart from 1 or 2 top order batsmen all other struggle against u but on other days when u r focusing on good line length than pace & bounce all batsmen hit u for sixes of all your deliveries..........Similarly in batting pace & bounce is sufficient to make it tough to play, other bowlers have to produce lots of other things correctly (need to have great line length, ball lots of yorkers, mix pace, swing both sides- that only happens in conducive conditions) to avert being smashed let alone making it tough to play.

  • on January 30, 2014, 14:36 GMT

    Either u got to have speed or have height & hit the deck to extract bounce otherwise with swing alone u will soon be taken to cleaners.

    Indian swing bowler Mohanty was treated like a spinner by IJAZ AHMAD hitting 9 sixes in 1997 in his 138 of 80 balls .Indian bowlers have always received such a treatment despite having lot of swing. Ponting destroyed them in WC 2003 final. Miandad swung indian swingers all over the park in Sharjah cup final hitting 6 at will of last ball. Indian bowlers have always relied on swing & their ER being World's Worst itself tells how easy a swing bowler is for the batsman if he lacks pace & bounce.

    But only finest batsmen like Tendulkar, Desilva, Kohli, Devilliers can hit all fast bowlers deliveries all over the park. Mediocre batsmen can only hit half vollys from fast bowlers & can only manage to top edge fast bowlers' all other deliveries. If fast bowlers r provided 3rd man & f9 leg fine it is impossible to score boundary of them.

  • DennisL on January 30, 2014, 14:09 GMT

    Vernon is almost sure to get a run AGAINST Australia a few weeks hence.

  • on January 30, 2014, 10:56 GMT

    excellent article ,vern is a great example

  • VB_Says on January 30, 2014, 10:45 GMT

    Pure pace versus fast and accuracy versus accuracy with medium speed - that is where the discussion begins. Grade 3 - Pure pace (Brett Lee) gets min weightage as even above average batsmen would score relatively freely. Grade 2 - Accuracy with medium speed (Glenn McGrath) would always be preferred as batsmen will find it difficult to score freely. The odd pace change or bounce makes a strokemaker uncomfortable. Grade 1 - The third and rarest are those who are deadly accurate and have speed too (Dennis Lillee). These kind of bowlers are most in demand and this is where Darren Lehman comes from. Mitchel Johnson demonstrated this quality aganist England. He always had speed, but this time he was quite accurate.

    The measured speed and perceived speed are relative to how confortable batsmen are able to play the bowlers. However, speed does add to his aura when a bowler can also be accurate.

  • Insult_2_Injury on January 30, 2014, 2:25 GMT

    I don't think it's as much about the bowlers speed, as it is the commentators haste. Unfortunately a TV commentator isn't allowed to let a picture paint a thousand words, so they blurt inanities, easily disproved by the vision. The more we have displayed on the screen the less need there appears to be for commentators, but then what happens to semi educated players on retirement? The latest absurdity is being 'hip' by displaying public tweets on screen. You know, the things you read on your phone? Except commentators persist in reading them to us! Surely the equivalent of fending at a wide one!

  • regofpicton on January 29, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    NeutralKN makes a very interesting point. Actually, if ball tracking can accurately plot the position of the ball at two instants in its flight it should give a more accurate speed between the two. I've never been able to figure out just when a speed gun is taking its reading. Ideally it should be at the top of the trajectory, else a component of vertical motion might get added in. Contrariwise, swing or seam should reduce ball speed as measured purely along the pitch.

    A bit of proper physics might also improve the accuracy of measuring the "length" of a six. Rather than measuring the distance to the "point of impact" (which is obviously greatly dependent on terrain), it would be much more accurate to measure the horizontal distance to the top of the trajectory and doubling in.

    None of which affects Mr Wark's article of course. I suppose the point there is, if a bowler can do a bit with the ball, the faster the ball is going when he does it the worse it is for the batsman.

  • StaalBurgher on January 29, 2014, 23:12 GMT

    @Stuart_online - Yes, of course. There is a wide spread conspiracy to spread the myth of Proctor.

  • Stuart_online on January 29, 2014, 18:12 GMT

    Another reference to perpetuate the myth of Mike Procter's "wrong foot" bowling action.

    Look at any clip of him bowling on youtube. Yes he was rather front-on at delivery, and yes he had a rather windmill action with his arms, but he was a right arm bowler, and clearly placed his left foot between the popping crease and bowling crease as he delivered the ball, just like any other right arm bowler.

    Humble apologies if there something really obvious that I'm missing here, or if indeed he sometimes did indeed bowl with his right foot front-most.

  • Leggie on January 29, 2014, 17:32 GMT

    Very nice article. In the 80s, when India won two World ODI events - namely the 83 World Cup in England and the World championship of cricket in 1985 in Australia, the team was hugely supported by bowlers such as Binny, Madan Lal and Balwinder Singh Sandhu - and of course lead by Kapil Dev. None had the real "pace", but were all masters of swing and were successful in those helpful conditions. Same story in the 1986 test series in England, where Indian bowlers appeared to be unplayable!!! These instances are a few more examples that support the authors theory.

  • bouncer709 on January 29, 2014, 15:11 GMT

    Agree with the writer, recently SA vs India, I noted Dale Styen was bowling 135kph, and Indian bowlers were bowling 140+ kph, but Indian bowlers were looking slow as compared to steyn and other SA bowlers.

  • on January 29, 2014, 11:26 GMT

    Bowlers obsess far too much over speed gun readings, just as T20 batsmen do over the lengths of sixes. Neither is much help when it comes to actually winning matches.

  • NeutralKN on January 29, 2014, 11:11 GMT

    For matches that are provided in Oz through channel 9 they are using a radar type speed gun to get the speed of the ball . not sure how accurate that system. I think hawkeye has got ways to get speed of the ball using the ball tracking mechanism would be interesting to get difference between 2 different approaches.

  • SAFan11 on January 29, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    An accurate measure of speed should include several stats.

    Time from release point (Point A) to strike point (Point B) divided by distance measured horizontally. i.e. speed to batsmen.

    Velocity of the ball. i.e. Actual average speed of the ball through the air considering its trajectory.

    Rate of deterioration of velocity through the air (due to aerodynamics).

    Amount of velocity lost on the bounce (due to pitch conditions, ball condition and seam presentation).

    This will give us as viewers, commentators, analysts and selectors a better idea of what is really going on.

    Measures of revolutions per minute of a spin bowler are also meaningless unless they are presented alongside a visual representation of the angle of the spin and the presentation of the seam in relation to that spin.

  • SAFan11 on January 29, 2014, 7:49 GMT

    What is speed? Is it the time the ball takes to get from point A to point B? No ball takes a direct route from point A to point B. Therefore velocity out the hand is different from speed from A to B. How does the velocity of a delivery deteriorate over its course? Some bowlers may bowl the ball more aerodynamically and the ball gets to you sooner than you think. Different seam presentation and pitch conditions lead to less loss of pace on the bounce, thus you get skidy bounce or bounce that seems to jump at you. Some bowlers lean forward and deliver the ball from closer to the batsmen while batsmen strike the ball in different places thus shortening the distance between point A and B. A shorter space means less deterioration of velocity. Just because the batsmen hit the ball on the front foot doesn't mean the bowler had more velocity to start with he may just have lost less over a shorter distance. These stats should be presented side by side when measuring pace.

  • Cool_Jeeves on January 29, 2014, 7:38 GMT

    Stuart does make an important point - late movement adds to the illusion of pace as seen by the batsman. But never heard of a batsman get frightened by "that" kind of pace, e.g. as bowled by Anderson, whether or not he caused discomfort.

    But Marshall swinging the ball - that was dangerous, as many a batsman like Andy Lloyd would testify.

    Heavy ball is easy to understand - the ball comes to the bat and registers on the speed gun too, much quicker than the bowler's action would have you expect.

    Some interesting comments on what is measured - the average speed, or the initial speed? And what is displayed - average over the 22 yards, or initial?

    Finally, by now everyone understands that a 150kmph from a tall bowler is much more dangerous than 150kmph from a "flat" bowler like Lee...

    But if that be the case, then 1) why was Akhtar so dangerous - perhaps due to more pronounced movement and 2) Steve Finn must be a very very expensive loss for England and their tamper-happy staff.

  • RightArmEverything on January 29, 2014, 6:15 GMT

    I think Stuart makes an interesting point. I think guys like Copeland and Butterworth are too easily overlooked. They have consistently performed well and perhaps conditions overseas should be taken into account e.g. they might perform well in England. Copeland did well in Sri Lanka. I certainly don't think every fast bowler in the team needs to be at 140kph or more. Siddle was often below that speed in the Ashes and performed well.

  • Udendra on January 29, 2014, 6:05 GMT

    By now many fans know that speed guns do lie often. The best evaluator of pace are the batsmen who face the deliveries.

  • sifter132 on January 29, 2014, 1:29 GMT

    It's a matter of semantics isn't it? A truly fast bowler is one who troubles batsmen with his pace, it doesn't matter how fast that is. 'Bowls a heavy ball' is basically short hand for a sub 140kph bowler who is pretty useful. Never heard anyone faster than that described like that. The 140+ guys have 'genuine pace' instead. Bowling a 'Heavy ball' is kinda like being strong for a woman/skinny man, it's nice, but you'd rather have the bigger, faster, stronger one. It's a compliment where one needs to be found. If you can't say 'heavy ball', and he doesn't swing it, what else can you say about a 130kph bowler that's nice?

    As a follower of american sports they have a similar thing, but it's based around race. Quick white athletes are 'deceptively fast', even if they actually measure fast in tests. You'll never hear a black athlete called 'deceptively fast', he's either fast or not. It's just matching up expectations with language, and odd descriptions.

  • njr1330 on January 29, 2014, 1:22 GMT

    The world's only officially recognised 100 mph ball; Shaoib Akhtar to Nathan Astle in a Pakistan v NZ test match; led to a perfect forward defensive... And absolutely nothing happened!!

  • Cantbowlcantbat on January 28, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    Pace bowling and the 140kph rule are just a passing fad that's part of a cycle. When Lillee and Thomson followed by the WI quicks became all the rage in the mid 70s, they followed a period where there had been few genuine pace bowlers- Snow and Procter were the only genuine fast bowlers in 1970. Batsmen were really shocked by these batteries of fast bowlers, but they eventually got used to it (together with better protective gear and stricter rules on bouncers). During that time, spin was no longer in fashion, with only Abdul Qadir being a truly great spinner. Then along comes Warne and Murali and batsmen are now clueless as to hwo to cope with them. Then Warne & Murali retire and genuine fast bowling seems to be most batsmen's achilles heel because they have not been exposed to real pace. And on it goes......

  • on January 28, 2014, 22:45 GMT

    Valid point but poorly written. This point could have been summed up in one sentence or even a tweet. Could have at least quoted some expert opinions if there was no real data available.

  • on January 28, 2014, 22:16 GMT

    Great to be reading these kind of intelligent articles. It is noteworthy that the speed gun records the moment the ball leaves the hand and slows considerably by the time it reaches the batsman. Also TV notes the average speed which is deceptive because of the occasional deliberate slower ball which brings down the average the down.

  • on January 28, 2014, 20:40 GMT

    A 130 kph bowler will concede far less (lucky runs) edges beating 3rd man/ fine leg,its also rarer that they are top edge hooked or upper cut for 6,shots infront of square require more effort therefore the batsman sometimes losing technique,slip catches will be easier to take,a 140/150 bowler has the ability to change a game at any time and just as important, ideally you want great bowlers all offering something different(Steyn,Phillander,Morkel)(Harmison,Hoggard,Jones,Flintoff)(Pollock,Donald,Kallis),

  • MaruthuDelft on January 28, 2014, 16:33 GMT

    It is the trajectory and the delayed release. If the trajectory is more of a parabola then it will be really difficult. Abdul Quadir, although is a spinner, delivered parabolas that reached batsmen before they were fully ready. Ambrose's final delivery moment was delayed so long when he was bowling at his best that often Mark Waugh was not able to make up his mind (or his instinct failed him) as to when to begin his own movement.

  • Imranzia on January 28, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    The speed gun gives the average of the ball's speed through the 22 yards. But it does not show the pace of the wicket. bowlers like Anderson, Philander, Mcgrath or Mohd. Asif when bowling well would be quicker of the pitch. These types of bowlers grip the ball further up the fingers and impart less backspin. With the pitches in Australia a bowler like Morne Morkel might be more effective than Philander or Steyn as he bangs the ball in and the other two bowl fuller and skid the ball.

  • Hrolf on January 28, 2014, 14:24 GMT

    Very well thought out article. Can I just add that the decision time that a batsman has is longer than the time it takes for the ball to get from hand to bat, and this is critical. The later the bowler gives a clue as to his delivery, the faster the ball is perceived to be. Smooth actions such as Blewett and Lee are much easier to read early (in fact some of Lees bouncers were telegraphed by the way he held his shoulder). Whereas McGrath used a lot of wrist to get subtle variation, Johnson has an unrefined action with a lot of strength, and Thomson could vary his pace dramatically with little change of action. Bowling, particularly at the highest level, is the art of deception.

  • on January 28, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    I have seen it argued that the speed guns only measure lateral displacement (over the measuring interval) with the implication that a short-pitched ball will always register as being slower than a beamer projected at the same initial velocity. But a well-directed bouncer will always seem much faster to the batsman than a half-volley, even if the latter arrives sooner. From this point of view, the issues about late movement, whether off the wicket or in the air, are less germane to the question whether the speed gun gets it wrong.

    Anderson is evidently not quick enough to trouble good batsmen when there is no later movement. In 2011, it was often wetter, and more grounds had abrasive squares (rather than drop in pitches, surrounded by green grass). So there was more new-ball movement and more reverse swing. Neither was a feature in the 2014 Ashes. I agree that Anderson was down on movement rather than pace.

  • Bamber on January 28, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    I've never really understood the apparent reliance on the speed gun - as I understand it, it measures speed at point of release and not when the ball pitches or when it reaches the batsman, both more relevant measures of pace surely??

  • Katey on January 28, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    Thanks for that Stuart ... interesting read. I wish we could hear a bit more about the various aspects of bowling, e.g. what really causes a ball to swing. For instance, I have heard it said that slower pace results in more swing, but Dale Steyn doesn't appear to fit that rule. It would be great to get some science to shine a light on this and other bowling matters, a.o.t. just hearing someone's assertions. How about it?

  • BradmanBestEver on January 28, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    Give me Glen McGrath over Brett Lee or MJ any day of the week

  • on January 28, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    Only thing I didn't like about boof being coach was his over 140 rule. Brilliant bowlers like Copeland or Sandhu are effectively ruled out of the equation, with the later having the potential to have a long and prosperous career in the baggy green. Having a bowler like Copeland or Sandhu, along with raw pace like Johnson can bring variety. What's pretty disgraceful is this same tactic is used in the picking young bowlers for academy, grade etc. The slower bowler can take all the wickets in the world, but the fastest bowler will always get the gig. As James May always tells Jeremy Clarkson, speed is not everything.

  • jimbond on January 28, 2014, 9:51 GMT

    Good to see that this article does not rely on the 'heavy ball' myth. I for one could never think of any logical or scientific basis of something like a heavy ball.

  • AngryAngy on January 28, 2014, 9:35 GMT

    Quite simply, the radar gun only measures a vector either leaving or coming towards the radar. As no bowler simply bowls straight into the air, the downward velocity component of the delivery is always lost and it is likely that taller bowlers are indeed faster than radars will say. So too, it can be calculated that any reading might have a 1 mph error margin, due to the bowler's position on the crease; in other words, the sideways component is also lost.

  • Charith99 on January 28, 2014, 9:14 GMT

    Nice article. Chaminda vaas and Shaun pollock bowled 130kmph and they were very successful. It's nice to have raw speed but it certainly is not the only thing to have.

  • Charith99 on January 28, 2014, 9:14 GMT

    Nice article. Chaminda vaas and Shaun pollock bowled 130kmph and they were very successful. It's nice to have raw speed but it certainly is not the only thing to have.

  • AngryAngy on January 28, 2014, 9:35 GMT

    Quite simply, the radar gun only measures a vector either leaving or coming towards the radar. As no bowler simply bowls straight into the air, the downward velocity component of the delivery is always lost and it is likely that taller bowlers are indeed faster than radars will say. So too, it can be calculated that any reading might have a 1 mph error margin, due to the bowler's position on the crease; in other words, the sideways component is also lost.

  • jimbond on January 28, 2014, 9:51 GMT

    Good to see that this article does not rely on the 'heavy ball' myth. I for one could never think of any logical or scientific basis of something like a heavy ball.

  • on January 28, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    Only thing I didn't like about boof being coach was his over 140 rule. Brilliant bowlers like Copeland or Sandhu are effectively ruled out of the equation, with the later having the potential to have a long and prosperous career in the baggy green. Having a bowler like Copeland or Sandhu, along with raw pace like Johnson can bring variety. What's pretty disgraceful is this same tactic is used in the picking young bowlers for academy, grade etc. The slower bowler can take all the wickets in the world, but the fastest bowler will always get the gig. As James May always tells Jeremy Clarkson, speed is not everything.

  • BradmanBestEver on January 28, 2014, 11:31 GMT

    Give me Glen McGrath over Brett Lee or MJ any day of the week

  • Katey on January 28, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    Thanks for that Stuart ... interesting read. I wish we could hear a bit more about the various aspects of bowling, e.g. what really causes a ball to swing. For instance, I have heard it said that slower pace results in more swing, but Dale Steyn doesn't appear to fit that rule. It would be great to get some science to shine a light on this and other bowling matters, a.o.t. just hearing someone's assertions. How about it?

  • Bamber on January 28, 2014, 11:48 GMT

    I've never really understood the apparent reliance on the speed gun - as I understand it, it measures speed at point of release and not when the ball pitches or when it reaches the batsman, both more relevant measures of pace surely??

  • on January 28, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    I have seen it argued that the speed guns only measure lateral displacement (over the measuring interval) with the implication that a short-pitched ball will always register as being slower than a beamer projected at the same initial velocity. But a well-directed bouncer will always seem much faster to the batsman than a half-volley, even if the latter arrives sooner. From this point of view, the issues about late movement, whether off the wicket or in the air, are less germane to the question whether the speed gun gets it wrong.

    Anderson is evidently not quick enough to trouble good batsmen when there is no later movement. In 2011, it was often wetter, and more grounds had abrasive squares (rather than drop in pitches, surrounded by green grass). So there was more new-ball movement and more reverse swing. Neither was a feature in the 2014 Ashes. I agree that Anderson was down on movement rather than pace.

  • Hrolf on January 28, 2014, 14:24 GMT

    Very well thought out article. Can I just add that the decision time that a batsman has is longer than the time it takes for the ball to get from hand to bat, and this is critical. The later the bowler gives a clue as to his delivery, the faster the ball is perceived to be. Smooth actions such as Blewett and Lee are much easier to read early (in fact some of Lees bouncers were telegraphed by the way he held his shoulder). Whereas McGrath used a lot of wrist to get subtle variation, Johnson has an unrefined action with a lot of strength, and Thomson could vary his pace dramatically with little change of action. Bowling, particularly at the highest level, is the art of deception.

  • Imranzia on January 28, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    The speed gun gives the average of the ball's speed through the 22 yards. But it does not show the pace of the wicket. bowlers like Anderson, Philander, Mcgrath or Mohd. Asif when bowling well would be quicker of the pitch. These types of bowlers grip the ball further up the fingers and impart less backspin. With the pitches in Australia a bowler like Morne Morkel might be more effective than Philander or Steyn as he bangs the ball in and the other two bowl fuller and skid the ball.