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The Confusion Of Coaches

Let me be clear. You don’t need pace to be a great seam or swing bowler.

McGrath, Pollock, Anderson, Southee and 100s of others have shown that through dogged battering of the cricket ball into the same area of the pitch, time after time, that eventually you will have success. Hitting your ‘areas’, bowling in ‘the channel’ and ‘hitting the top of off stump’ are the only key phrases  you probably need as a coach to reinforce the fact that pace isn’t necessary to be successful.

Obviously, you have to move the ball in the air or off the pitch, too, but it is the incessant hammering of the same area of the pitch that will reap rewards. This is at least the message we all seek to portray.

At club level, the game is littered with ‘weekend warriors’ who ply their trade using this method. On slow, often soft, grassy pitches, it is a medium pacers’ whet dream to just land the ball on the seam and watch it dart about. It is hard to get the ball away. Pace here isn’t necessary, nor is it seen in abundance. 

However, this is the reservoir from which our next generation emerge. So the genuine quicks, those who have a passion for pace and a desire to rip through a batting line up, will often quickly realise they are in a minority. Coaches will tell them to slow down, bowl a line and length… and the prospect of producing pace bowlers ebbs away.

What’s wrong though, is that if you COULD hit your areas at 5-8 mph faster, you would definitely take that as a bowler. I have yet to meet a bowler who wouldn’t want an ‘extra yard’ of pace, meaning that speed does play a very big part of bowling development.

The problem stems from not understanding how to work with a bowler’s action to develop that speed, make it more efficient, less injury prone and ultimately a better machine. After all it is the PROCESS of fast bowling that creates the OUTCOME we seek. And the better your processes, the more accurate and faster you become. The confusion of coaches is only looking at the outcome therefore and not how that is achieved. That confusion is furthered by the fact they don’t now how to coach speed. And this comes from not being taught it in the first place as a coaches. So national boards don’t teach speed, the coaches don’t teach speed, and thus fast bowlers don’t maximise their speed. It’s a medium pacers mentality that’s great on ‘bowling friendly’ tracks, but falls apart in places where pitches are known to be batting friendly as can be seen by some of the poor track records of bowlers who go there.

Speed however, remains relevant in ALL situations and at all times. Particularly when the pitch offers the batsman an easy ride from seam. 95 mph deliveries unsettle the world’s best. Striving for pace is clearly highly desirable.

Bowlers can have actions riddled with inefficiencies yet they have learned to bowl with them, rather than improve them. Does this make physics and biomechanics irrelevant? No, of course not. It simply means they have worked out over time, to be different from the Saturday club bowlers who also have such inefficient actions. In spite of the action, not because of it, is usually how bowlers are successful.

I often ask attendees at my speed workshops “why don’t you see club cricketers with an action like Brett Lee?” To which most reply “because if you had that action, you wouldn’t be playing club cricket”. You gotta love an open mind that has been asked the right question.

So this is the nub of it. Bowlers have to focus on swing, seam, line, length etc because they do not spend much time working on their actions in the first place – actions, that if having a solid, repeatable and efficient machine are anything to go by, give you the consistency in the first place.

The brutal truth is, you HAVE to be accurate anyway as a bowler regardless of your speed. The slower you bowl, the less margin for error there is. You can get away with things at higher speeds that you cannot a lower speeds – fact. So I would like to see an encouragement for people to step up their speed rather than continually slow it down, which seems to be the populist view.

There is a coach education issue, a coaches’ mentality issue, and a bowler issue that simply gets perpetuated over and over. Comfort is often sought in statistics that ‘prove’ people are right, and things which are not understood are dismissed as crackpot, irrelevant or simply left field. But if you seek world class best practice, you look at all the possibilities and instead of thinking “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” you instead think “what can we do better to improve on what we have”.  Most mindsets are sadly stuck in the comfort of the first thought – until they HAVE to change.

Speed, for speed’s sake, is not what I advocate. It has to be accompanied with Accuracy. That’s what ABSAT coaching means and is all about and why UPF exists. 

But what I do believe is that you don’t slow anything down to be better. You speed it up to be more effective. It isn’t a ‘lack’ of anything – speed or control – we seek, but rather an increase in all our parts, that will make for far better cricketers.

Averageness starts by being complacent, and you only get progress when you challenge. With Dale Steyn at world number one for more than a decade, and no real fast bowling contender to his throne for that time other than Shoaib, Johnson & Lee… you have to question what in the world coaches are striving for. 

With the retirement of Shoaib Akthar, Mitchell Johnson and  Brett Lee, the world has far less to be excited about in pace terms. Steyn remained out on front, almost in a league of his own, able to uproot the batsman, but he is now coming to his own end of career. Rabada has recently burst through but here we are not talking about a 150 kph bowler. And the pacers going around do not have the blistering speed of the recent retirees.Ultimately, a lack of pace doesn’t make you a bad man, but the point is you don’t have to sacrifice speed for anything. Not even for your outcomes. So next time you watch the current crop of bowlers, just add 8 kph to their TV speeds and imagine how much more effective they would be.