When caught in the spin, call Merlyn

Ten years since inception, the presence of the spin bowling machine in all first-class counties stands crucial in England’s preparation for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019.

England's assistant coach Paul Farbrace stands beside Merlyn as he oversees a net session.   -  Getty Images

The old Merlyn machine often made guest appearances in the England training sessions before The Ashes. It was introduced to replicate Shane Warne in flesh. By 2009, the England and Wales Cricket Board had started investing heavily on the new Merlyn — the one where you could also add data from a good bowling spell.

It has been 10 years since Merlyn, and its popularity tripled with England’s improvement against spin in the recent years.

"One thing we can do with Merlyn is to replicate the angle. It’s a very good machine to get used to that. With spin it can all happen quickly, suddenly you have faced a few balls and aren’t off the mark, so it’s not allowing that to affect you," wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler was quoted as saying to the Wisden.

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In the new age ‘six variations in six balls’ spin genre, the Merlyn machine — present in all 18 first-class counties now — is a blessing in disguise for the English batsmen, who have trained at the domestic grounds ahead of the World Cup.

There are two separate Merlyn machines for the national cricket team as well. The ICC hasn’t placed extra orders for the World Cup but remembering the last summer — when the temperature in London shot above 40 degrees cracking the pitches and advertising Kuldeep Yadav in full throttle — the visiting sides can always fall back on Merlyn.

Andrew Flintoff

(File Photo) Andrew Flintoff is seen practising in the nets with the help of Merlyn in 2006 at Edgbaston.   -  Getty Images

 

“I would like that to happen [ICC asking for more such machines]. Who knows? Let’s see what the tournament throws up, it is going to be an interesting two months. For England, it all depends on the coach if he wants to use more of Merlyn machines before the tournament starts,” Nye Williams, Managing Director at BOLA Manufacturing Limited — the company that makes the machine — told Sportstar over the telephone from Bristol, UK.

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Williams also cited Buttler’s role in promoting Merlyn. “I think Buttler being a great Merlyn user helps us. We have one in every county ground. Some of them have two. The ECB has invested heavily in Merlyn over the last nine years. The players are getting to use it often,” he said.

The machine helped Eoin Morgan’s side stand up to Kuldeep in the ODI series last year. After the chinaman returned with figures of 6/25 in the first game, the Englishmen tried playing against the turn. The wristy bloke leaked 68 for his three wickets in the second meeting, and in the decider, he remained wicketless for 55.

“It is all about how the players are preparing. In ODIs, when a spinner is bowling in the middle overs, the scoring opportunity dries up. You have got to take advantage of that. You have to score in those overs. This is where Merlyn may help,” said Williams.

Since the shock exit from the World Cup in 2015, England mastered  its spin game. By 2016, the English batters scored at a strike-rate of 99.36 against spinners. Their average against spin, that ranges between 55 and 58, is second only to India.

India leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and Afghanistan's Rashid Khan will pose equal threat in the World Cup.

Basic features of Merlyn

Spin only machine – leg-break, off-break, arm-ball among many more variations

It is programmable; sequence of deliveries can be planned to set up a batsman

Time gap between balls option available - 7, 9, 11 [in secs]