Purportedly November 28, 2013

The thing about speed guns

Does knowing how fast someone is bowling add to our experience of watching?
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Would it be magical to be able to put a number to Thomson's pace?
Would it be magical to be able to put a number to Thomson's pace? © Getty Images

"That's FAST. That's SOMETHING."

When Mark Nicholas' enthusiasm levels in the Channel 9 commentary box crank up - up, up till there's a silken hint of metal splintering off metal in the microphone he's holding - it reminds us of the romance and lingering force in cricket of words like sinister, danger, violence, fear. How is it, one suddenly notices, that in these days of heads being helmeted so many crucial joints and appendages are still not encased in a hi-tech marshmallow foam, but are exposed, and these vulnerable body parts have vulnerable-sounding names, such as ribcage, and elbow, solar plexus, neck, breastbone, and all it takes is a speeding cricket ball to bump them and then can come stinging, bruising, blood, welts, numbness, breakage? Mitchell Johnson's next ball after the Nicholas-described ball was 1.4 kilometres per hour faster:

"Up he comes again, he bowls, Trott works him on the leg sideā€¦"

Jonathan Agnew said that, on radio. This is no commentary box adventure story of the taciturn Englishman and the overexcitable Englishman. Instead it's a disjuncture: between what the eyes see and what the speed gun tells us. The ball that Nicholas saw skidded, leapt, speared into Trott's gloves, set spectators howling, and prompted Johnson to stand wide-legged and leering over the top of his moustache. The Agnew ball, technically quicker, was flicked nonchalantly behind square for three runs.

The play was at the Gabba, England's first innings, Johnson's second spell. His third spell, from the Vulture Street End, whistled the wind through the middle order. Johnson ran in unusually straight. Balls did not bounce conventionally; they hit the ground, rose sharp, kept steepling, seemingly followed blokes. English batsman after batsman combated this with confused feet. Some jumped with the ball, a few stayed flatfooted and played with their feet far from the action, others' feet squirmed with scant enough conviction that when ball hit bat or flesh their whole bodies jerked. One delivery tore past Michael Carberry's nose - "That's a PROPER SNIFFER, that is," exclaimed Nicholas - as Carberry hooked and didn't connect and people moaned and the speed gun said only 142.6kph, and another ball missing Tremlett's off stump went unplayed at, and unremarked on, because it was not remarkable, despite coasting at 148.7.

"That HAS CANNONED into the bat stickers" - 142.3.

"OOOOH, good heat" - 141.9.

Are speed guns faulty? Probably, but a more interesting question is whether they add to or steal from our entertainment. We know, speed gun or no speed gun, that Johnson's third spell was thrilling. We know as well, thanks to the speed gun, and compared with the quick men scorching the turf in front of radars and photosonic cameras 38 summers ago, that Johnson on average has more zip than Englishmen Alan Ward and John Snow (aged 34) had and is slower than Jeff Thomson, Andy Roberts, Dennis Lillee, Michael Holding, Wayne Daniel and Bob Willis.

This is information we are entitled to, or else it's a case of too much information proving the truth to be drabber (a dozen or so kilometres drabber) than imagination, or probably it is both, which would make the speed gun a bad yet inexorable thing. Possibly it is gadgetry overload. Certainly it is addictive, and I like looking at it when the rhythm of a Test is escaping me, and I sit, watching the balls go down, watching the speedo, observing occasional rips, noticing how a bowler's readings mostly don't vary much, and then the rhythm's got me back, I forget about the speed gun, until some volcanic sweep of events has Mark Nicholas talking in capital letters again.

That is getting pseudo-psychoanalyst-like about the relationship between the speed gun and the audience. More purely, it's fun, and had furnace Adelaide Oval had a speed gun back when Larwood clattered Oldfield round the temples, all eyes would have gone first to the prostrate batsman, then to the speedo. And maybe captain Woodfull two nights earlier wouldn't have said what he said about one team's playing cricket and the other's up to something alien, would have just made a mental note to self to get a bat on those mid-140s lifters because they are never as fast as they look.

Without a speed gun, a million mythologies may flower. This is a familiar futile dilemma. A bowler's speed is now maths, batsmen's skulls are safe, hardly anyone in the world writes letters - and the speed gun, now that it is here, is no likelier to be outlawed than batting helmets or twitch-speed email. Perhaps it is close to the truth to say the speed gun makes watching cricket more entertaining, a little less enjoyable, magical. Magic lies in imagining Jeff Thomson knock over 6 for 4 and hospitalise one other Mosman chap at Bankstown Oval in December 1973. Were we to know mathematically and (purportedly) factually that Thommo was actually several klicks slower than Shoaib Akhtar popping one down to Nick Knight at 100mph (felt like "about 78", Knight told Mike Selvey) in Cape Town, well, that's useful information to have - but magic?

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and, most recently Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • tickcric on November 28, 2013, 7:24 GMT

    Frankly while watching Johnson bowl I was getting a little confused. Everyone was raving about him and I could see the liveliness of Johnson's deliveries but speed gun was only showing speeds between 140 to 145k, in most cases! Seldom it crossed 145 as I remember. I understand a short pitch delivery at say 143 is tremendous pace but is it something unplayable? After all in recent past we have regularly seen speeds above 150 from the likes of Akhtar, Lee, Bond, then why are the England batsmen seeming so incompetent against 140-145. As a matter of fact England's very own Freddie Flintoff used to bowl at around that pace... I dont have the answer yet. I am just guessing its the combination of pace and bounce which is making it so terrifying; or otherwise the speed gun is faulty. Any ideas?!

    It was great fun watching Johnson unleashed at the Gabba!

  • cricwick on December 3, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/310747.html The above article explains about speed guns. Looking through it seems the speed displayed is that for the entire course from delivery to the hit and the immediate speed after bowling or the speed at which the batsman faces the ball

  • DaisonGarvasis on December 1, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    Speed at which the ball leave the hand combined with the bounce and nature of the pitch makes it lethal. Though Johnson proved handful to couple of India batsmen in the last ODI series between IND-AUS in Indian pitches, Johnson did go for runs he was nowhere unplayable to other batsmen. In the first test, combined with speed, bounce another contributing factor was the ACCURACY of his short balls that troubled the batsmen. The batsmen could not "ignore" the short balls; they had to "take some action". And when they were made to take action in a hurry to avoid "getting badged" they made error. And the expectation to get the "sniffer" made them play false shots to even relatively un-harmful deliveries - when they were expecting a killer of a delivery and receive a softer one in turn, the "release of pressure" gave away the wickets at times too. Its mainly conditions that makes a good bowler a lethel bowler.

  • on November 30, 2013, 22:42 GMT

    @ Shaggy76: Good point, I remember Jeff Thomson sending down balls that were slamming into Rod Marsh's gloves as he (Marsh) was leaping vertically into the air and he was only just able to reach them. And as you say they were still rising...

  • RagTagTeam on November 29, 2013, 8:27 GMT

    @Sudha Gopinath Sure, the speed gun measures the ball's at the bowlers hand. It uses the doppler affect, which can only allow it to detect the component of "speed" down the axis of the pitch.

  • cornered_again on November 29, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    Imagine Shoaib Akhter bowling at the gabba pitch at these english batsmen... Miss you shoaib

  • on November 28, 2013, 23:59 GMT

    When questioned about the accuracy of the speed guns used at international matches, the inventor apparently said "If I was arrested for speeding on the evidence of one, I wouldn't be happy". They're so inaccurate as to be effectively meaningless; their only purpose is to boost bowlers' egos - just as measuring the length of sixes does for batsmen. Many fans (and some commentators) tend to forget that you win a match by taking wickets, not just hurling the ball down as fast as possible. People forget that in the match in which Shoaib supposedly broke the 100mph barrier, he finished with 1/63 off 9 overs (although he did rather better with the bat) and Pakistan lost by miles.

  • on November 28, 2013, 23:23 GMT

    @Sailesh: That is all good but are you aware that it is the speed of the delivery at the point of release and not when it reaches the batsman. Did you seriously think batsmen would stand any chance of hitting something coming at them at 150kph?

  • jimmy787 on November 28, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    We're often told that the speed gun measures the speed out of the bowler's hand. However, I concur with the other comments in this forum that it's not as simple as that. If the speed gun only used the speed out of the bowler's hand for its measurement, short deliveries would register a greater speed because the bowler has to put in more effort for those deliveries. However, because short deliveries often appear slower on the speed gun convinces me that the speed gun is more sensitive to velocity along the horizontal axis of the pitch. Short pitched balls have greater proportion of vertical velocity than horizontal velocity, hence they appear slower on the radar than full deliveries.

  • Shaggy076 on November 28, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    I'm a bit cynical about speed guns, Mcgrath at 135 used to smash the keepers gloves. Just look at the ball when it hits the keeper, with Johnson it is still rising and smashing the gloves - I think that is a better indication of true speed.

  • tickcric on November 28, 2013, 7:24 GMT

    Frankly while watching Johnson bowl I was getting a little confused. Everyone was raving about him and I could see the liveliness of Johnson's deliveries but speed gun was only showing speeds between 140 to 145k, in most cases! Seldom it crossed 145 as I remember. I understand a short pitch delivery at say 143 is tremendous pace but is it something unplayable? After all in recent past we have regularly seen speeds above 150 from the likes of Akhtar, Lee, Bond, then why are the England batsmen seeming so incompetent against 140-145. As a matter of fact England's very own Freddie Flintoff used to bowl at around that pace... I dont have the answer yet. I am just guessing its the combination of pace and bounce which is making it so terrifying; or otherwise the speed gun is faulty. Any ideas?!

    It was great fun watching Johnson unleashed at the Gabba!

  • cricwick on December 3, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/310747.html The above article explains about speed guns. Looking through it seems the speed displayed is that for the entire course from delivery to the hit and the immediate speed after bowling or the speed at which the batsman faces the ball

  • DaisonGarvasis on December 1, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    Speed at which the ball leave the hand combined with the bounce and nature of the pitch makes it lethal. Though Johnson proved handful to couple of India batsmen in the last ODI series between IND-AUS in Indian pitches, Johnson did go for runs he was nowhere unplayable to other batsmen. In the first test, combined with speed, bounce another contributing factor was the ACCURACY of his short balls that troubled the batsmen. The batsmen could not "ignore" the short balls; they had to "take some action". And when they were made to take action in a hurry to avoid "getting badged" they made error. And the expectation to get the "sniffer" made them play false shots to even relatively un-harmful deliveries - when they were expecting a killer of a delivery and receive a softer one in turn, the "release of pressure" gave away the wickets at times too. Its mainly conditions that makes a good bowler a lethel bowler.

  • on November 30, 2013, 22:42 GMT

    @ Shaggy76: Good point, I remember Jeff Thomson sending down balls that were slamming into Rod Marsh's gloves as he (Marsh) was leaping vertically into the air and he was only just able to reach them. And as you say they were still rising...

  • RagTagTeam on November 29, 2013, 8:27 GMT

    @Sudha Gopinath Sure, the speed gun measures the ball's at the bowlers hand. It uses the doppler affect, which can only allow it to detect the component of "speed" down the axis of the pitch.

  • cornered_again on November 29, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    Imagine Shoaib Akhter bowling at the gabba pitch at these english batsmen... Miss you shoaib

  • on November 28, 2013, 23:59 GMT

    When questioned about the accuracy of the speed guns used at international matches, the inventor apparently said "If I was arrested for speeding on the evidence of one, I wouldn't be happy". They're so inaccurate as to be effectively meaningless; their only purpose is to boost bowlers' egos - just as measuring the length of sixes does for batsmen. Many fans (and some commentators) tend to forget that you win a match by taking wickets, not just hurling the ball down as fast as possible. People forget that in the match in which Shoaib supposedly broke the 100mph barrier, he finished with 1/63 off 9 overs (although he did rather better with the bat) and Pakistan lost by miles.

  • on November 28, 2013, 23:23 GMT

    @Sailesh: That is all good but are you aware that it is the speed of the delivery at the point of release and not when it reaches the batsman. Did you seriously think batsmen would stand any chance of hitting something coming at them at 150kph?

  • jimmy787 on November 28, 2013, 23:16 GMT

    We're often told that the speed gun measures the speed out of the bowler's hand. However, I concur with the other comments in this forum that it's not as simple as that. If the speed gun only used the speed out of the bowler's hand for its measurement, short deliveries would register a greater speed because the bowler has to put in more effort for those deliveries. However, because short deliveries often appear slower on the speed gun convinces me that the speed gun is more sensitive to velocity along the horizontal axis of the pitch. Short pitched balls have greater proportion of vertical velocity than horizontal velocity, hence they appear slower on the radar than full deliveries.

  • Shaggy076 on November 28, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    I'm a bit cynical about speed guns, Mcgrath at 135 used to smash the keepers gloves. Just look at the ball when it hits the keeper, with Johnson it is still rising and smashing the gloves - I think that is a better indication of true speed.

  • anteaus on November 28, 2013, 21:04 GMT

    Speed is misleading. I think circumstance, player state of mind and conditions play a greater role in what a fast bowler does. For example, I recall Mitchell Mcclenaghan ripping through several teams in the last year - and seemingly doing it through pace.

    I remember sitting there watching on television after having heard he was the new quick to watch out for... and after a couple of balls thinking "he's only bowling 128, what are they talking about?" Then he proceeded to take 4 wickets for not many runs, causing all sorts of horror through pace and bounce, yet he was 20kmph slower than Morkel. He seemed to genuinely hurry up batsmen and looked to be doing it as a classic fast bowler - but the numbers didn't add up.

    All I can think is that he had the combination of 'just enough pace', good lines, good bounce and the right attitude... you can have all the pace in the world but if you bowl bad lines, or predictable lines, batters are going to work you out.

  • Sigismund on November 28, 2013, 19:14 GMT

    There's no psychobabble, its plain and simple. The ball-by-ball speedgun is like a flickering screen in a pub; it distracts one's attention from the genuine entertainment. It is therefore a menace. It's all well and good to record the speeds, and remark on them occasionally (although it is very difficult to discern what they actually mean), but having the ball-by-ball speeds lures the viewer into a simplistic experience of the match and thus spoils his entertainment.

  • on November 28, 2013, 16:43 GMT

    A short pitched delivery registers a lower speed on the speed gun compared to a full pitched one, all things being equal. The reason for this is that the speed gun only measures the speed along the horizontal axis from stump to stump and does not account for the vertical motion. Bouncers travel a larger vertical distance and hence a larger proportion of the actual velocity is along the vertical axis, and hence, the speed gun registers a lower horizontal velocity.

    I'm sure Johnson was just as quick with his bouncers as he was with other deliveries.

  • on November 28, 2013, 13:57 GMT

    To all of those commenting on this article about how the speed registered is affected by the angle of trajectory, distance travelled etc - so a bouncer at 145 kph is in reality faster - you are commenting on how radar worked up until about 10 - 20 years ago. Modern radar now measures speed instantaneously, i.e. the ball does not have to travel a given distance for speed to be measured. Therefore it measures the speed the ball is travelling at the instant it leaves the bowler's hand (when it is at its fastest). This is demonstrated by TV coverage from SKY in the UK - where they are able to show the speed at which the ball is travelling at different positions on its way down the pitch. Interesting what this showed is that a ball measured leaving the bowler's hand at, say 140 kph, reaches the batsman at a significantly lower speed. So no batsman is ever facing 140+ kph bowling. But I guess if the ball is coming from crazy angles it must take longer to process that, and seem faster.

  • tickcric on November 28, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    @ o-bomb, yes his action can be a crucial factor, not to mention the nature of the pitch. Also accuracy of the speed gun have come into question time and again, so you never know whether the pace was more than it registered... One thing was clear, it was not comfortable out there. Normally the England tailenders can bat a bit but against Johnson it was apparent some of them were trying to save themselves more than their wicket!...Thrilling to watch perhaps even to play - for a batsman high in confidence and ability, who will take it as challenge he can surmount. Steyn vs Tendulkar, Cape Town comes to mind.

  • Mayaro_Man on November 28, 2013, 10:27 GMT

    Mitchell's length and angle also had something to do with what was happening. I saw both Akram and Waqar live and in their prime and Akram was a few yards slower than Waqar, yet he scalped more because of his skills, left arm angle and his variations in line and length. Add to that the pitch as well, steaming in at Eden Gardens and bowling 145 somehow does not compare to 145 at Eden Park. Add to that game conditions and the combat itself. All these factors add to the magic, not a single thing like whether we know how fast a delivery was. I would say that speed guns helps on tv which is different from actually seeing it unfold. Listening to the commentators add their flavor is part of the mystique also, like listening to a radio 4.00 am in the morning because Windies were touring Aussie or vice versa. Te gam itself! Celebrate it.

  • on November 28, 2013, 9:45 GMT

    Yesterday's Match I think Steyn Bowled a slower bouncer, the speed gun clocked 147 kph.

  • o-bomb on November 28, 2013, 9:08 GMT

    @tickcric - I think some bowlers seem quicker than they are. Undoubtedly Johnson on his day is as quick as any other bowler at the moment, but he may be more difficult to pick up because of his whippy action delivering the ball from slightly lower than a batsman might expect. If it takes a batsman even a fraction of a second longer to pick the ball up it makes a huge difference to how he's going to play the ball. Obviously having not faced Johnson I can't know for certain, but he seems like a bowler who might be more difficult to pick the point of delivery than most. This makes him seem quicker.

  • on November 28, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    the speed guns now are measuring the speed of the ball at the time it leaves the bowlers hand. so whether it is short ball full length ball or whether the pitch is fast or slow does not make a difference.lillee thomson roberts holding etc were definitely quicker than any of the bowlers who are bowling today.

  • RagTagTeam on November 28, 2013, 8:35 GMT

    I also think the pace of bouncers is slower than a pitched up deliver, but I have 2 reasons:

    * The speed gun measures a component of the balls -velocity- along the axis of the pitch (so ignores the component of up/down). So the velocity of a ball that pitches close to the stumps is more accurately judged (as it has a small up/down component), where one that pitches short has a greater component of velocity in the up/down axis.

    * The rest of the losses come from the ball pitching harder into the surface, causeing greater losses in momentum and then having further to travel after slowing down. I doubt friction plays a huge part, more down to the elastic properties of the pitch, but I guess backspin could complicate that.

  • on November 28, 2013, 8:13 GMT

    Speed Guns dont actually give the correct speed of any Ball bowled, this is why Bouncers are slower than length ball, as it all has to do with the angles of the Ball to line of the camera, if they are not inline Inacurate readings are given, Ball is measured slower than it is, here a simple equations, camera is mounted 1.5 meter from the ground, bowler bowls from 2.5 m, that is already 10% error with bouncers another 5-8% ask your geometry teacher how to measure speed accurately and will tell you straight line, and not from a angle.

  • AuntyChrist on November 28, 2013, 8:07 GMT

    @aditya.pidaparthy : The answer to your question: It is the distance travelled till it reaches the batsman divided by the time it takes to reach the batsman from release. A fine example is how Indian bowlers clock up their speeds abroad. This can only be accounted by the fast pitches..meaning that the speed after pitching is taken into account. It is my firm belief that keeping in trend with modern sports where athletes in all fields are faster and stronger than ever before, bowlers today are faster than before too. Which makes me wonder if the faster pitches during the Thomson days improved their speeds after pitching. Surely that is the only speed the batsman are concerned.

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    contd. @ AuntyChrist: As to why batsman feel short balls are faster despite a lower average speed over 22 yards is easy to understand, they have to change the axis on which they are trying swing the bat. Usually they are inclined to play straight but for a short ball they have to change the direction of the bat to horizontal which causes them to lose time and feel a shorter ball is coming at them quicker. Its only perception. But When looking at pure numbers over 22 yards a shorter ball should be slower, but a shorter ball can be expected to travel faster during the interval from release to pitching.

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 7:36 GMT

    @AuntyChrist: The crux of my question is, what distance does the speed gun consider while measuring the speed of the ball. Is it the distance travelled by the ball from release to pitching divided by the time to bouncing or is it the distance travelled till it reaches the batsman divided by the time it takes to reach the batsman from release. If it is the distance travelled till the ball pitches, the speed of a shorter ball would have to be faster as bowlers impart more force to get the appropriate bounce for a short ball. If it is the distance till it reaches the batsman the fuller balls would be faster as distance travelled by the ball after pitching (and hence travelling at a lower speed) would be shorter for a fuller ball. I might be wrong but I have consistently noticed shorter balls show a higher reading. Contd..

  • on November 28, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Wait a second guys. I am pretty sure that the speed gun measures the starting speed and not the end speed. I remember a graphic showing one of Brett Lee's 150+ deliveries only clocking 128 when it reached the batsman. That is why fast bowlers now record the same speeds whether they are bowling in India or perth. That means that it doesn't matter if the ball is pitched up or short. I think they do the same thing in tennis. As for speed guns in broadcasts I personally feel that the game will be poorer without it. Yes sometimes it is inaccurate but most times it is consistent and predicting the speed of a bowler is a fun game within the game itself.

  • TheOnlyEmperor on November 28, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Speed guns also help a viewer understand why a bowler who generally bowls sub 130 kph should never ever try the short pitched ball during the death overs of an ODI or in any T20. The batsman in such situation is in a state of heightened awareness and preparedness to swat anything away for a 6 and sub 130 kph speeds help him only see the ball better when it's short. In such cases, the yorkers help because the batsman can't get under the ball to loft it, and even though he gets more time to see it than the short one, he is resigned at the fact that he can't get it off the park and accordingly adjusts to convert it into a scoring ball. A ball that swings a bit with pace is extremely potent as the reverse swingers know. When a batsman misses the ball a couple of times, he reboots his position, his stance and what he must do with the ball after the bowler delivers. He is willing to study the ball a lot more carefully. That's why speed variations help in causing self doubt in batsmen.

  • TheOnlyEmperor on November 28, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    I look for the speed gun figures for every ball and also check out speed variations during the over. It gives insight on what the bowler has been trying to achieve and the visuals help us understand what he actually managed to achieve. Many a time, it helps us understand that a bowler often loses control over line and length when trying to achieve something 'extra'. The 'extra' could be a faster one, or a disguised slower one compared to normal one of the bowler. A batsman often feels intimidated and takes a longer time to adjust when the ball is short pitched and the ball is directed towards the upper torso cramping him for space. Such balls may seem 'faster' than the fast full length balls which gives the batsman more time to view the trajectory and therefore adjust. A ball also seems to rush on to a batsman if the delivery is short pitched, directed at the body and takes on more than the anticipated bounce.

  • AuntyChrist on November 28, 2013, 6:29 GMT

    @aditya.pidaparthy: 'Speed' in cricket is the distance from the non-strikers crease to strikers crease divided by the time taken by the ball to cover that distance. So fuller balls should be shown faster in speed guns than shorter ones (it does contrary to what you stated) because of two reasons. The ball travels slower after pitching as you said and secondly geometrically a shorter ball travels a greater distance than a fuller ball. The key thing to understand here is that the speed gun here is actually measuring velocity i.e the displacement of the ball in horizontal axis There are implications to this as I make out. 1) Shorter balls with greater vertical components will be slower on the speed gun 2)Taller ballers/high arm action will be slower on the speed gun than low arm/shorter bowlers but the former might feel faster(nippy/skiddy) A good example is Mcgrath-Malinga 3) Bowling wide of the crease will show lower speeds 4)Swinging balls should be slower on the speed gun.

  • on November 28, 2013, 5:41 GMT

    The reason why the speed gun gives a lower number for those deliveries that are pitched short is obvious:

    1. The trajectory is longer compared to a full pitched delivery. 2. Ball makes contact with the surface with a high coefficient of friction, earlier.

    The speed gun does not consider any of this and hence the disparity in short vs good length or full deliveries. When cricketers say fast/quick for a bouncer, what they generally mean for a ball that's made contact with surface is very different from linear velocity. They probably mean the rate of change of height -- which is called bounce -- and not the linear velocity itself. And most viewers who have a high school education know this already.

    Not sure what the author is trying to say here by comparing two deliveries of different lengths through the speed gun reading.

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    I have always been confused about the speed guns and honestly have not been able to find a single source which describe what speed is measured. Is it the speed of the ball from release to the point it bounces or is it the average speed of the ball from release to the point it reaches the batsman. The cricket ball loses speed drastically after it pitches hence a short ball should have an average speed lesser than a fuller ball since it travels more distance after slowing down, but consistently the readings shown on TV indicate that short balls are faster which would make sense if the speed if measured from release to the point it bounces, which also makes sense as the short balls are released faster to get more bounce. All this makes logical sense, but yet I am yet to find a definitive answer in this regard. Maybe once this is sorted out we can understand and appreciate the speed gun readings better.

  • Skott on November 28, 2013, 3:59 GMT

    It's the same with 'unplayable' deliveries. If the ball moves a bit off the pitch and the batsman misses a defensive prod, one of the commentators is sure to call it 'unplayable'. But if we had something that could compare the ball tracking from different deliveries? How many others would be exactly the same (or close enough) and yet were played with ease by the batsman? Lots, I 'd say-- if not from that day, then from different test matches over the last few years. Unplayable, except for when it was played.

  • Skott on November 28, 2013, 3:59 GMT

    It's the same with 'unplayable' deliveries. If the ball moves a bit off the pitch and the batsman misses a defensive prod, one of the commentators is sure to call it 'unplayable'. But if we had something that could compare the ball tracking from different deliveries? How many others would be exactly the same (or close enough) and yet were played with ease by the batsman? Lots, I 'd say-- if not from that day, then from different test matches over the last few years. Unplayable, except for when it was played.

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    I have always been confused about the speed guns and honestly have not been able to find a single source which describe what speed is measured. Is it the speed of the ball from release to the point it bounces or is it the average speed of the ball from release to the point it reaches the batsman. The cricket ball loses speed drastically after it pitches hence a short ball should have an average speed lesser than a fuller ball since it travels more distance after slowing down, but consistently the readings shown on TV indicate that short balls are faster which would make sense if the speed if measured from release to the point it bounces, which also makes sense as the short balls are released faster to get more bounce. All this makes logical sense, but yet I am yet to find a definitive answer in this regard. Maybe once this is sorted out we can understand and appreciate the speed gun readings better.

  • on November 28, 2013, 5:41 GMT

    The reason why the speed gun gives a lower number for those deliveries that are pitched short is obvious:

    1. The trajectory is longer compared to a full pitched delivery. 2. Ball makes contact with the surface with a high coefficient of friction, earlier.

    The speed gun does not consider any of this and hence the disparity in short vs good length or full deliveries. When cricketers say fast/quick for a bouncer, what they generally mean for a ball that's made contact with surface is very different from linear velocity. They probably mean the rate of change of height -- which is called bounce -- and not the linear velocity itself. And most viewers who have a high school education know this already.

    Not sure what the author is trying to say here by comparing two deliveries of different lengths through the speed gun reading.

  • AuntyChrist on November 28, 2013, 6:29 GMT

    @aditya.pidaparthy: 'Speed' in cricket is the distance from the non-strikers crease to strikers crease divided by the time taken by the ball to cover that distance. So fuller balls should be shown faster in speed guns than shorter ones (it does contrary to what you stated) because of two reasons. The ball travels slower after pitching as you said and secondly geometrically a shorter ball travels a greater distance than a fuller ball. The key thing to understand here is that the speed gun here is actually measuring velocity i.e the displacement of the ball in horizontal axis There are implications to this as I make out. 1) Shorter balls with greater vertical components will be slower on the speed gun 2)Taller ballers/high arm action will be slower on the speed gun than low arm/shorter bowlers but the former might feel faster(nippy/skiddy) A good example is Mcgrath-Malinga 3) Bowling wide of the crease will show lower speeds 4)Swinging balls should be slower on the speed gun.

  • TheOnlyEmperor on November 28, 2013, 6:49 GMT

    I look for the speed gun figures for every ball and also check out speed variations during the over. It gives insight on what the bowler has been trying to achieve and the visuals help us understand what he actually managed to achieve. Many a time, it helps us understand that a bowler often loses control over line and length when trying to achieve something 'extra'. The 'extra' could be a faster one, or a disguised slower one compared to normal one of the bowler. A batsman often feels intimidated and takes a longer time to adjust when the ball is short pitched and the ball is directed towards the upper torso cramping him for space. Such balls may seem 'faster' than the fast full length balls which gives the batsman more time to view the trajectory and therefore adjust. A ball also seems to rush on to a batsman if the delivery is short pitched, directed at the body and takes on more than the anticipated bounce.

  • TheOnlyEmperor on November 28, 2013, 7:00 GMT

    Speed guns also help a viewer understand why a bowler who generally bowls sub 130 kph should never ever try the short pitched ball during the death overs of an ODI or in any T20. The batsman in such situation is in a state of heightened awareness and preparedness to swat anything away for a 6 and sub 130 kph speeds help him only see the ball better when it's short. In such cases, the yorkers help because the batsman can't get under the ball to loft it, and even though he gets more time to see it than the short one, he is resigned at the fact that he can't get it off the park and accordingly adjusts to convert it into a scoring ball. A ball that swings a bit with pace is extremely potent as the reverse swingers know. When a batsman misses the ball a couple of times, he reboots his position, his stance and what he must do with the ball after the bowler delivers. He is willing to study the ball a lot more carefully. That's why speed variations help in causing self doubt in batsmen.

  • on November 28, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Wait a second guys. I am pretty sure that the speed gun measures the starting speed and not the end speed. I remember a graphic showing one of Brett Lee's 150+ deliveries only clocking 128 when it reached the batsman. That is why fast bowlers now record the same speeds whether they are bowling in India or perth. That means that it doesn't matter if the ball is pitched up or short. I think they do the same thing in tennis. As for speed guns in broadcasts I personally feel that the game will be poorer without it. Yes sometimes it is inaccurate but most times it is consistent and predicting the speed of a bowler is a fun game within the game itself.

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 7:36 GMT

    @AuntyChrist: The crux of my question is, what distance does the speed gun consider while measuring the speed of the ball. Is it the distance travelled by the ball from release to pitching divided by the time to bouncing or is it the distance travelled till it reaches the batsman divided by the time it takes to reach the batsman from release. If it is the distance travelled till the ball pitches, the speed of a shorter ball would have to be faster as bowlers impart more force to get the appropriate bounce for a short ball. If it is the distance till it reaches the batsman the fuller balls would be faster as distance travelled by the ball after pitching (and hence travelling at a lower speed) would be shorter for a fuller ball. I might be wrong but I have consistently noticed shorter balls show a higher reading. Contd..

  • aditya.pidaparthy on November 28, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    contd. @ AuntyChrist: As to why batsman feel short balls are faster despite a lower average speed over 22 yards is easy to understand, they have to change the axis on which they are trying swing the bat. Usually they are inclined to play straight but for a short ball they have to change the direction of the bat to horizontal which causes them to lose time and feel a shorter ball is coming at them quicker. Its only perception. But When looking at pure numbers over 22 yards a shorter ball should be slower, but a shorter ball can be expected to travel faster during the interval from release to pitching.

  • AuntyChrist on November 28, 2013, 8:07 GMT

    @aditya.pidaparthy : The answer to your question: It is the distance travelled till it reaches the batsman divided by the time it takes to reach the batsman from release. A fine example is how Indian bowlers clock up their speeds abroad. This can only be accounted by the fast pitches..meaning that the speed after pitching is taken into account. It is my firm belief that keeping in trend with modern sports where athletes in all fields are faster and stronger than ever before, bowlers today are faster than before too. Which makes me wonder if the faster pitches during the Thomson days improved their speeds after pitching. Surely that is the only speed the batsman are concerned.