June 20, 2014

Enough with the bowling variations

In T20 cricket, using slower balls and other variations has become an invitation to get hit into the stands
15

In the World T20 this year in Bangladesh, Andre Russell bowled the final over of the Sri Lankan innings in West Indies' semi-final against them. He began by bowling three fast, full-length deliveries, up to the batsmen, who scored a run each off them.

Then he decided it was time to bring in the variations. The next ball was a short delivery that ended up being called wide. He followed that up with another wide delivery. Russell was starting to get rattled. The next ball, a juicy length delivery, was walloped for six. The fifth ball was short and wide and got spanked for four.

Russell managed to get a wicket off the last ball but he conceded 15 off the over. After the first three balls had cost him only 3 runs. The over basically started to go bad when Russell tried to vary things. This is just one of many examples in recent T20 cricket where using variations has backfired on the bowler.

As limited-overs cricket has evolved and with it limited-overs batsmanship and bowling, variations have become an integral part of bowling. It has become the mandatory thing to do, to bowl an average of four different deliveries per over.

As limited-overs cricket took root, bowlers realised that bowling the same delivery over and over again was a bad idea. It made them predictable and easy to line up for batsmen. Thus the slower ball came into the game as a change-up delivery for fast bowlers.

There were many versions of it. The one that comes from the back of a seamer's hand (among its earliest exponents was Steve Waugh, and among the latest, Mohit Sharma) is for me the most fascinating. I find it quite amazing how bowlers manage to bowl this one, given that the wrist gets into almost impossible positions while delivering it. Why, Beuran Hendricks, the left-arm seamer from South Africa even bowls a bouncer like that. Unbelievable.

Then there are the slower deliveries that are easier to bowl, the offcutters and legcutters where the pace is taken off the ball, making it difficult for the modern batsman, who by now has mastered the art of hitting through the line. There is also the tennis-ball-bounce slow bouncer

That Andre Russell over I mentioned at the start has shown us that using variations in bowling today may not be as good an idea as it was 15 years ago.

Like how after Glenn McGrath's great success, the next generation of seam bowlers became obsessed with bowling in the "right areas" outside off stump, I find the seam bowlers of this T20 generation are too preoccupied with variations.

Because variations have become such an integral part of limited-overs cricket, the batsmen are sort of expecting them, so the most important purpose of variations, deception, is lost. I see the batsman thinking: Okay, he has bowled me two full-length balls, so here comes the variation. So he sets himself up for a short, quick ball or a slower length ball. And lo and behold it arrives and the poor bowler watches the ball get smacked into the stands.

I believe the time has come in limited-overs cricket where no variation can be regarded as a good variation in all circumstances. Variations came into the game to surprise the batsman with the unexpected, but modern batsmen have come to expect variations all the time, and have shaped their game accordingly. The surprise element that came from variations is now non-existent for the batsman.

It is for this reason that I find watching James Tredwell of England bowl a great deal of fun, for I see him often confuse T20 batsmen. After being hit for a six off a good-length ball just outside off stump, his next ball is exactly the same. The batsman looks visibly surprised by this, for he is expecting the typical spinner's reaction: the shorter, flatter, quicker ball as the follow-up delivery.

What I like about Tredwell is that he is quite different from most spinners. He has no mystery ball, and crucially, he does not do what most bowlers do in T20 - pre-empt the worst. Instead, he keeps challenging the batsman with what look like hittable deliveries; but he does not assume that because they are hittable, they will be hit.

Of course, bowling Tredwell, an offspinner, in the death overs is an idea fraught with too much risk, but the point is that for seamers to bowl six full-length balls in an over without variations can be a sound tactic today. Consider the advantages.

To begin with, you have the element of surprise back on your side. Secondly - and this is important - I believe that to have control over all four of your variations, in a pressure situation, you need to be, well, a bowling great. We in commentary often introduce a bowler by raving about the array of deliveries he can bowl, but what about control over all those deliveries? Can most bowlers land those variations in precisely the spot they want to under pressure? The answer is an overwhelming no.

T20 cricket is littered with instances of close matches when a variation has gone horribly wrong, giving batsmen dollies to hit fours and sixes off to win games.

Why not make the job easier for yourself as a bowler by just focusing on one delivery and getting that right? It is something worth contemplating for the limited-overs seam-bowling community - one that gets a raw deal in the limited-overs formats of the game. Just for a while, try "no variations" as the new variation. You might be surprised by the results.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • imamol97 on June 24, 2014, 14:23 GMT

    Bowler's mindset's are also changed. having just 24 balls to bowl in a T20 match, bowler cannot take risk to bowl at same pace and without varying deliveries. Audience expect more hitting from batsmen and doesn't understand the fact that bowler's are having the worst time. In the end things changing faster & everyone is trying to save his sport.

  • imamol97 on June 24, 2014, 14:19 GMT

    Bowler's mindset's are also changed. having just 24 balls to bowl in a T20 match, bowler cannot take risk to bowl at same pace and without varying deliveries. Audience expect more hitting from batsmen and doesn't understand the fact that bowler's are having the worst time. In the end things changing faster & everyone is trying to save his sport.

  • on June 22, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    2 SOLUTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PRODUCED <8 RPO IN DEATH OVERS

    1). Fast full wide yorkers/half vollies with long on, long off, deep midwicket & 3rd man.

    2). Fast short of good length on off stump with fine deep third man, midwicket & sq leg.

    2nd solution has produced on avg even <6 rpo

    As a bowler always set your bowling strategy based on your strength & batsman's weakness, then u got to have appropriate field for that bowling plan. If u bowl yorkers & set square field u r gonna go for 15+ no matter how perfect yorkers u bowl & batsman is a mug..Similarly if u bowl perfect short of good length fast rising deliveries to a batsman who has no back foot play without a deep fine 3rd man he will score 15+ runs of edges.

    Most batsman don't have an attacking short of good length ball. All they can do is edge the ball or take single. So bowling good length with deep third man, short mid wicket & short cover stops the boundary, single & keeps batsman honest. As spinner set point deep & 3rd man in.

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:51 GMT

    But as a spinner u got to bowl 2 doosras per over otherwise even a pathetic batsman will trace trajectory of your ball in his mind & will start treating u like a slow bowler.

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:39 GMT

    @Monty Ross Malinga's yorkers have failed but only against Kohli..........

    There is a very small league of super talented batsmen (Sehwag Sachin Devilliers Jayasuria Maxwell Hayden Gayle Kohli ) THE OUTLI?ER against whom these strategies fail bcz for them all balls no matter how good or how bad they are, are equally hitable. Only these batsmen are prone to variations.

    But as a captain & as a bowler you should plan for major lot not for these outliers. These super talented ones themselves make some mistake & get out.

  • on June 22, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    2 SOLUTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PRODUCED <8+ RPO IN DEATH OVERS

    1). Fast full wide yorkers/half vollies with straight long on long off & straightish midwicket.

    2). Fast short of good length on off stump with fine deep third man, midwicket & sq leg.

    2nd solution has produced on avg even <6 rpo

    As a bowler always set your bowling strategy based on your strength & batsman's weakness, then u got to have appropriate field for that bowling plan.

    If u bowl yorkers & set square field u r gonna go for 15+ no matter how perfect yorkers u bowl & batsman is a mug...Similarly if u bowl perfect short of good length fast rising deliveries to a batsman who has no back foot play without a deep fine 3rd man he will score 15+ runs of edges.

    Most batsman don't have an attacking short of good length ball. All they can do is edge the ball or take single. So bowling good length with deep third man & short mid wicket & short cover stops the boundary & single. As spinner keep point deep instead & 3rd man in.

  • on June 21, 2014, 0:54 GMT

    I disagree with the article because the people named in the article are not top notch bowlers in international cricket. I agree we should stick to basics but variations can only be used if you pull them off with consistency and practice. You have to master the art. At the moment Malinga does it best, in t20 when steyn doesnt he gets wacked around for runs as well and same goes for johnson. In 90s waseem akram had the most variation one can ever come with. He use to bowl 6 different deliveries and mastered them same goes for saeed ajmal at the same time he has the answers to most of the batsmen same like in the past shane who use to play with the batsmen rather than the other party excalating. Bowlers these days are not mentally strong, aggressive and doesnt come up to take wickets. Main priority is these days only to contain and thats shouldnt be the mindset at all.

  • flickspin on June 20, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    as a bowler thier is nothing better than getting a batsmen with variation

    after reading about bill o rielly (bradman called the greatest bowler ever) bowlers should have variation, he bowled, leg breaks,top spinner,wrong uns and bounces at medium pace, if he were playing 20/20 he would be the best bowler and would be worth $1000000.

    if a fast bowler were to develop the skills o rielly had, they would be unplayable

    i have tried to emulate o rielly, but i dont think i have the control or pace he had

    as off spinner i bowl the flick spin off break, tradional off break gleeson ball, doosra, top spinner, arm ball, and side spinner

    as a leg spinner i bowl leg breaks, top spinners, wrong uns, flippers and a shihad afridi fast ball

    i get told all the time by team mates to stop variations and put the ball on a dime, but using variations is great fun and makes bowling more enjoyable

    bowling the same ball over & over is boring, variations dont work 85% of the time, 15% of the time they do

  • on June 20, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Does anyone have any sort of statistics backing up the assertions one way or the other that variations are bad? At the moment, what we have here is a collection of anecdotes - which does not make data.

  • teju666 on June 20, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    Very good observation and I like Sanjay's analysis as always. I dont think Steyn or Johnson fiddle with this variation. They do what bowlers do best - fast, hostile bowling, short pitched stuff for good measure and then that occasional slower ball or yorker. Predictable but unplayable. So when Sanjay talks about control, he is right. Deception is an art and you need to be skillful when doing so. So best be skilled at a few variations and master your core strengths

  • imamol97 on June 24, 2014, 14:23 GMT

    Bowler's mindset's are also changed. having just 24 balls to bowl in a T20 match, bowler cannot take risk to bowl at same pace and without varying deliveries. Audience expect more hitting from batsmen and doesn't understand the fact that bowler's are having the worst time. In the end things changing faster & everyone is trying to save his sport.

  • imamol97 on June 24, 2014, 14:19 GMT

    Bowler's mindset's are also changed. having just 24 balls to bowl in a T20 match, bowler cannot take risk to bowl at same pace and without varying deliveries. Audience expect more hitting from batsmen and doesn't understand the fact that bowler's are having the worst time. In the end things changing faster & everyone is trying to save his sport.

  • on June 22, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    2 SOLUTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PRODUCED <8 RPO IN DEATH OVERS

    1). Fast full wide yorkers/half vollies with long on, long off, deep midwicket & 3rd man.

    2). Fast short of good length on off stump with fine deep third man, midwicket & sq leg.

    2nd solution has produced on avg even <6 rpo

    As a bowler always set your bowling strategy based on your strength & batsman's weakness, then u got to have appropriate field for that bowling plan. If u bowl yorkers & set square field u r gonna go for 15+ no matter how perfect yorkers u bowl & batsman is a mug..Similarly if u bowl perfect short of good length fast rising deliveries to a batsman who has no back foot play without a deep fine 3rd man he will score 15+ runs of edges.

    Most batsman don't have an attacking short of good length ball. All they can do is edge the ball or take single. So bowling good length with deep third man, short mid wicket & short cover stops the boundary, single & keeps batsman honest. As spinner set point deep & 3rd man in.

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:51 GMT

    But as a spinner u got to bowl 2 doosras per over otherwise even a pathetic batsman will trace trajectory of your ball in his mind & will start treating u like a slow bowler.

  • on June 22, 2014, 11:39 GMT

    @Monty Ross Malinga's yorkers have failed but only against Kohli..........

    There is a very small league of super talented batsmen (Sehwag Sachin Devilliers Jayasuria Maxwell Hayden Gayle Kohli ) THE OUTLI?ER against whom these strategies fail bcz for them all balls no matter how good or how bad they are, are equally hitable. Only these batsmen are prone to variations.

    But as a captain & as a bowler you should plan for major lot not for these outliers. These super talented ones themselves make some mistake & get out.

  • on June 22, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    2 SOLUTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PRODUCED <8+ RPO IN DEATH OVERS

    1). Fast full wide yorkers/half vollies with straight long on long off & straightish midwicket.

    2). Fast short of good length on off stump with fine deep third man, midwicket & sq leg.

    2nd solution has produced on avg even <6 rpo

    As a bowler always set your bowling strategy based on your strength & batsman's weakness, then u got to have appropriate field for that bowling plan.

    If u bowl yorkers & set square field u r gonna go for 15+ no matter how perfect yorkers u bowl & batsman is a mug...Similarly if u bowl perfect short of good length fast rising deliveries to a batsman who has no back foot play without a deep fine 3rd man he will score 15+ runs of edges.

    Most batsman don't have an attacking short of good length ball. All they can do is edge the ball or take single. So bowling good length with deep third man & short mid wicket & short cover stops the boundary & single. As spinner keep point deep instead & 3rd man in.

  • on June 21, 2014, 0:54 GMT

    I disagree with the article because the people named in the article are not top notch bowlers in international cricket. I agree we should stick to basics but variations can only be used if you pull them off with consistency and practice. You have to master the art. At the moment Malinga does it best, in t20 when steyn doesnt he gets wacked around for runs as well and same goes for johnson. In 90s waseem akram had the most variation one can ever come with. He use to bowl 6 different deliveries and mastered them same goes for saeed ajmal at the same time he has the answers to most of the batsmen same like in the past shane who use to play with the batsmen rather than the other party excalating. Bowlers these days are not mentally strong, aggressive and doesnt come up to take wickets. Main priority is these days only to contain and thats shouldnt be the mindset at all.

  • flickspin on June 20, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    as a bowler thier is nothing better than getting a batsmen with variation

    after reading about bill o rielly (bradman called the greatest bowler ever) bowlers should have variation, he bowled, leg breaks,top spinner,wrong uns and bounces at medium pace, if he were playing 20/20 he would be the best bowler and would be worth $1000000.

    if a fast bowler were to develop the skills o rielly had, they would be unplayable

    i have tried to emulate o rielly, but i dont think i have the control or pace he had

    as off spinner i bowl the flick spin off break, tradional off break gleeson ball, doosra, top spinner, arm ball, and side spinner

    as a leg spinner i bowl leg breaks, top spinners, wrong uns, flippers and a shihad afridi fast ball

    i get told all the time by team mates to stop variations and put the ball on a dime, but using variations is great fun and makes bowling more enjoyable

    bowling the same ball over & over is boring, variations dont work 85% of the time, 15% of the time they do

  • on June 20, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Does anyone have any sort of statistics backing up the assertions one way or the other that variations are bad? At the moment, what we have here is a collection of anecdotes - which does not make data.

  • teju666 on June 20, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    Very good observation and I like Sanjay's analysis as always. I dont think Steyn or Johnson fiddle with this variation. They do what bowlers do best - fast, hostile bowling, short pitched stuff for good measure and then that occasional slower ball or yorker. Predictable but unplayable. So when Sanjay talks about control, he is right. Deception is an art and you need to be skillful when doing so. So best be skilled at a few variations and master your core strengths

  • ladycricfan on June 20, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    If your stock ball is difficult to hit, you can bowl that delivery ball after ball. But when the batsman starts to become comfortable with that delivery you need variations. You don't need to use the variations just for the sake of it. But if you don't have variations you will be so predictable and the batsmen will start hitting you.

  • Barnbarroch on June 20, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    Very interesting. James Faulkner seems to be a victim of just this tendency to over-elaborate and get badly hit about as a result.

  • ksquared on June 20, 2014, 6:27 GMT

    Variation is still the name of the game just ask the best bowler in T20 Lasith Malinga. Whenever he becomes predictable with his yorkers he gets walloped everywhere. You can probably see that most of his wickets in recent times have been slower balls or due to variations in length. Still I feel this article makes a valid point the batsman are starting to look for variations more than the conventional though Malinga is an exception, but for the truly great batsman it doesn't matter what you bowl if they are set more often than not the bowlers tend to travel the distance.

  • SR_SAJJAD on June 20, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    I think relying too much on left arm.spinners and part-time bowlers has made cricket boring

    Genuine fast bowlers are rare all we see are mediocres

  • ReverseSweepRhino on June 20, 2014, 4:58 GMT

    Spot on! Successful bowling variations depend on two factors--perfect control, and the element of surprise. Modern top-tier batsmen have seen most bowling variations several times, both on screens and in the nets. It is not sufficient to attempt a variation, it has to be executed to near perfection for success. A weak variation that is easily read by a batsman deserves to go to the boundary. If you lack either the skill or the confidence to bowl a successful variation delivery in the closing stages, it is best to take the classic "line and length" route, instead of taking huge risks with uncontrolled variations. At least with these, if the batsman misses or mishits, you have the chance of a wicket. A badly attempted variation can often go for four all on its own (if the keeper can't reach it) without any input from the batsman.

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  • ReverseSweepRhino on June 20, 2014, 4:58 GMT

    Spot on! Successful bowling variations depend on two factors--perfect control, and the element of surprise. Modern top-tier batsmen have seen most bowling variations several times, both on screens and in the nets. It is not sufficient to attempt a variation, it has to be executed to near perfection for success. A weak variation that is easily read by a batsman deserves to go to the boundary. If you lack either the skill or the confidence to bowl a successful variation delivery in the closing stages, it is best to take the classic "line and length" route, instead of taking huge risks with uncontrolled variations. At least with these, if the batsman misses or mishits, you have the chance of a wicket. A badly attempted variation can often go for four all on its own (if the keeper can't reach it) without any input from the batsman.

  • SR_SAJJAD on June 20, 2014, 5:53 GMT

    I think relying too much on left arm.spinners and part-time bowlers has made cricket boring

    Genuine fast bowlers are rare all we see are mediocres

  • ksquared on June 20, 2014, 6:27 GMT

    Variation is still the name of the game just ask the best bowler in T20 Lasith Malinga. Whenever he becomes predictable with his yorkers he gets walloped everywhere. You can probably see that most of his wickets in recent times have been slower balls or due to variations in length. Still I feel this article makes a valid point the batsman are starting to look for variations more than the conventional though Malinga is an exception, but for the truly great batsman it doesn't matter what you bowl if they are set more often than not the bowlers tend to travel the distance.

  • Barnbarroch on June 20, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    Very interesting. James Faulkner seems to be a victim of just this tendency to over-elaborate and get badly hit about as a result.

  • ladycricfan on June 20, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    If your stock ball is difficult to hit, you can bowl that delivery ball after ball. But when the batsman starts to become comfortable with that delivery you need variations. You don't need to use the variations just for the sake of it. But if you don't have variations you will be so predictable and the batsmen will start hitting you.

  • teju666 on June 20, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    Very good observation and I like Sanjay's analysis as always. I dont think Steyn or Johnson fiddle with this variation. They do what bowlers do best - fast, hostile bowling, short pitched stuff for good measure and then that occasional slower ball or yorker. Predictable but unplayable. So when Sanjay talks about control, he is right. Deception is an art and you need to be skillful when doing so. So best be skilled at a few variations and master your core strengths

  • on June 20, 2014, 10:23 GMT

    Does anyone have any sort of statistics backing up the assertions one way or the other that variations are bad? At the moment, what we have here is a collection of anecdotes - which does not make data.

  • flickspin on June 20, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    as a bowler thier is nothing better than getting a batsmen with variation

    after reading about bill o rielly (bradman called the greatest bowler ever) bowlers should have variation, he bowled, leg breaks,top spinner,wrong uns and bounces at medium pace, if he were playing 20/20 he would be the best bowler and would be worth $1000000.

    if a fast bowler were to develop the skills o rielly had, they would be unplayable

    i have tried to emulate o rielly, but i dont think i have the control or pace he had

    as off spinner i bowl the flick spin off break, tradional off break gleeson ball, doosra, top spinner, arm ball, and side spinner

    as a leg spinner i bowl leg breaks, top spinners, wrong uns, flippers and a shihad afridi fast ball

    i get told all the time by team mates to stop variations and put the ball on a dime, but using variations is great fun and makes bowling more enjoyable

    bowling the same ball over & over is boring, variations dont work 85% of the time, 15% of the time they do

  • on June 21, 2014, 0:54 GMT

    I disagree with the article because the people named in the article are not top notch bowlers in international cricket. I agree we should stick to basics but variations can only be used if you pull them off with consistency and practice. You have to master the art. At the moment Malinga does it best, in t20 when steyn doesnt he gets wacked around for runs as well and same goes for johnson. In 90s waseem akram had the most variation one can ever come with. He use to bowl 6 different deliveries and mastered them same goes for saeed ajmal at the same time he has the answers to most of the batsmen same like in the past shane who use to play with the batsmen rather than the other party excalating. Bowlers these days are not mentally strong, aggressive and doesnt come up to take wickets. Main priority is these days only to contain and thats shouldnt be the mindset at all.

  • on June 22, 2014, 10:33 GMT

    2 SOLUTIONS HAVE ALWAYS PRODUCED <8+ RPO IN DEATH OVERS

    1). Fast full wide yorkers/half vollies with straight long on long off & straightish midwicket.

    2). Fast short of good length on off stump with fine deep third man, midwicket & sq leg.

    2nd solution has produced on avg even <6 rpo

    As a bowler always set your bowling strategy based on your strength & batsman's weakness, then u got to have appropriate field for that bowling plan.

    If u bowl yorkers & set square field u r gonna go for 15+ no matter how perfect yorkers u bowl & batsman is a mug...Similarly if u bowl perfect short of good length fast rising deliveries to a batsman who has no back foot play without a deep fine 3rd man he will score 15+ runs of edges.

    Most batsman don't have an attacking short of good length ball. All they can do is edge the ball or take single. So bowling good length with deep third man & short mid wicket & short cover stops the boundary & single. As spinner keep point deep instead & 3rd man in.