Thursday, 7 April 2011

"It's just so tempting"

Nets this evening was fun, got another bruise for the collection, and got a fair few stumpings too!

I got about 15 minutes worth of solo bowling in before my net was taken over by others, but it wasn't coming out quite as I'd like. I got padded up and went in, with the personal brief of remembering that left-right trigger and playing with a defensive mindset. Here it is ball-by-ball:

I faced roughly 30 balls and played one or two very nice shots, I also left the ball well. There's a few in there that look like backward defensive played-and-misseds, but they're most leaves where I lifted the bat up in case I needed to block then saw the ball was missing. One shot, the eighth, has overtaken the pull shot from last week as my best ever shot, and watching it back puts a smile on my face every time. Having looked at it in slow motion I can see that I got behind the ball and crouched down a little, then adjusted to the bounce and wristily turned the bat round at the moment of contact followed by a nice flourish in the follow through. My leg glance is one of my best shots and I couldn't have played a much better one than that.

Other than that, there were a few dodgy moments, particularly soon after taking one just above the right knee from Sam which found a ball-sized gap between pad and thigh-guard. More ice for me, and I'm getting pretty tired of it now... Another bad moment was the beamer that I left only to watch helplessly as it dipped onto the leg-stump. Anyway, even if I was clean-bowled twice, with a few catches offered to slip and gully, it wasn't too bad overall. The trigger movement seemed very natural and I felt much better able to get behind the ball and (most of the time) judge which balls could be safely left. Ball 23 is interesting as I triggered into position too early and, with my feet given just enough time to feel planted, played as I would have in the previous video, backed away and despite an OK block I'd moved too far to leg side and missed the ball resulting in a clean bowled. In a strange way it demonstrates how much the trigger improves my batting, but I do need to work on exactly when I make my move across.

I went back to bowling and hit a rather good patch of form with lots of good length balls. If there's one thing I look for when I bowl, it's to land the ball on a good length. This I find is usually somewhere around 1.5 to 2 metres in front of the batsman's feet (I could only bowl shorter if I bowled a bit faster), and today I was also getting some good spin that helped the ball to dip and drift a little, with a modest amount of turn on pitching. I give the ball a fair amount of flight, as the extra speed as it falls helps add a little movement in the air. It also makes the batsman's eyes light up. I always describe myself as a "beware of Greeks bearing gifts" type of leg-spinner and this is what I mean. The batsmen either get caught playing a big shot or else come down the wicket and get stumped, all because they can't resist a nice loopy slow ball that looks just so damn hittable.

Captain Sam must have come down the wicket and missed four times or more. Phil did it at least twice. "It's just so tempting", said Phil, to which I replied "yeah, exactly..." as I have gone to great pains to find, and occasionally to rediscover, this magic length which the batsman can't cope with. Even so, it was poor batting from Sam and Phil. Whether they like it or not between the two of them they made the same mistake half a dozen times and they really ought to have learned. What they ought to have done is play back, but at my level everyone loves a good slog.

The alternative to playing back was demonstrated wonderfully by an Indian I haven't met yet who came on to bat at the end. I knew as soon as I saw him that he'd play my bowling well. Like Sam and Phil, he kept coming down the wicket BUT crucially instead of bringing his bat way back primed for a mighty swing he kept his options open. If I bowled a good length ball with only a little spin he'd whack it, but if I got a good rip on the ball and it was drifting and/or dipping a little he still had the flexibility to block it and he watched the ball amazingly well. I was very impressed. Frankly bowling to him was a dead loss to me, as I haven't yet got enough tricks up my sleeve to deal with a good player of spin such as him, but it was worth it just to watch that subcontinental style in the flesh.

Phil hasn't been to nets since the first session back at the end of January, and he was very nice in praising me for how much I'd improved, and even his "you're a cruel bugger" on leaving the nets was said with admiration. "Should be good for a few overs" Sam said - he couldn't very well say otherwise given the knots I'd tied him in...

After everyone had finished batting I had a smoke and the fielding exercises got under way. I thought about joining in but they had two even groups so I didn't want to disrupt that, so I went back and had a bowl in the empty nets again, this time with a camera running. Unfortunately I'm afraid my form deserted me slightly so the video doen't really give a true reflection of how I was bowling, with more drag-downs, less pivot to start with and a wayward length.

I was disappointed when I watched it back but I did learn something - When I was bowling I thought I was landing the ball mainly between the wickets or slightly leg-side, but when I watched it back I saw that actually they were mostly outside the off-stump. Clearly I need to recalibrate where I aim the ball as the angle I come in to bowl is throwing my radar off a bit. Phil was saying earlier on that I needed to bowl a bit more leg side so perhaps this has been happening for a while - perhaps this is what causes me so many problems when I bowl at left-handers too.

I think I need to start structuring my solo practise better. It's all very well to bowl stock ball after stock ball, but now that I'm getting a decent grip on it I think I need to expand my horizons a bit. Next time I have a couple of hours practise, I'm going to try to bowl a bagful of each in the following sequence:

1) standing start drill, 2) stock ball - "freestyle", 3) stock ball - loopy, 4) stock ball - flatter, 5) stock ball - round the wicket, 6) stock ball - left-hander line, followed by a break and a drink, 7) stock ball - "freestyle", 8) back-spinner (zooter), 9) top-spinner, 10) experiments with other variations, 11) mixed over, 12) stock ball - "freestyle"

Hopefully I'll be able to improve all aspects of my bowling this way, right from my basic stock ball to my overall concentration, which when I've been bowling alone does seem to have lapsed a bit. Maybe a bit of variety is what's been lacking.

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