A cutting problem

Generally, the leg-cutter is bowled at a pace which makes it difficult to hit; and, since it moves away off the wicket, from the striker towards the off-side, is more inclined to produce slip and wicketkeeper catches than hittable balls.

Ask any top class batsman, and he will tell you — and this would not be a singular opinion but one arrived at by common consensus — that one of the most difficult deliveries to play in cricket is the leg-cutter.

And what kind of a ball is the leg-cutter? Briefly, a leg cutter is a medium-pace delivery, which pitches on a good length and then, as it bounces, changes direction to pass to the right or off-side of the batsman’s bat in order to dismiss the striker by any of the methods described in the laws of cricket. Generally the leg-cutter is bowled at a pace which makes it difficult to hit; and, since it moves away off the wicket, from the striker towards the off-side, is more inclined to produce slip and wicketkeeper catches than hittable balls. Fast spin is produced by moving the fingers of the bowling hand quickly down to the right side (off-cutter) or the left-side (leg-cutter) of the ball. The downward motion of the bowling hand causes the ball to ‘kick and lift’ and increases the probability of catches to the ’keeper and fieldsmen behind the batsman’s stumps.

While delivering a leg-cutter, the bowler aims more at the outside edge of the batsman’s bat with the intention of snaring edged catches to the ’keeper, first, second, third slips, gully and point. This is a busy sector of the field when a leg-cutter is bowled.

Another trick in the leg-cutter’s locker is to be found in the bowler’s ability to curve the ball in the air in the opposite direction to the spin imparted to the ball, in cutting it. Thus the leg-cutter curves evenly in the air towards the right-handed batsman’s pads before pitching, and spinning away towards the slips. This curving of the ball’s flight is like the skill of the baseball pitcher’s incurve. The batsman must play at the ball for fear that it might come in “with the arm” and bowl him. He is therefore in two minds about the behaviour of the ball. It might “keep low, shoot or lift unexpectedly”. Hesitating in playing his shot can lead to the batsman’s dismissal.

Further assistance to bowling the leg-cutter comes when the bowler pitches in the bowler’s ‘rough’: the roughed turf or footmarks left outside the right-handed batsman’s off-stump by the bowler operating from the opposite end.

Obviously the more the bowler lands his deliveries on rough patches of turf in the wicket the greater the degree of the ball’s unpredictable behaviour when it bounces. Will the ball be deflected by the rough ground in various directions? Will it shoot along the ground? Will it rear up to hit the batsman on the head? The longer the ball remains in contact with the turf the greater its chances of deviating at unforseen angles and the greater its chances of unpredictable behaviour. It may keep low… or jump. It may spin at right angles towards second slip!!!

There are however surprising advantages to the unconventional bowling techniques. In the first instance, bowlers employing an “open” body action find it easier to bowl the inswinger and leg-cutter than the more conventional “side-on” action. There is no need to bowl, looking at one’s target from behind the obstacle of the leading arm and shoulder girdle. One cannot ‘over-rotate’ the leading shoulder with the concomitant danger of becoming a low inaccurate ‘slinger’. On the other hand, the side-on bowler finds it easier to bowl the away swinger and probably bowls faster, because of the greater use of his body strength. The chest-on bowler compensates for these disadvantages by drawing more of his pace from a much faster run-up, and the element of surprise drawn from earlier use of his front-arm. He may also acquire more shock pace by virtue of his earlier release of the ball in the downward swing of his bowling arm. His compensatory factor originates in his not needing as much time to jump into his delivery stride and turn sideways, with his chest facing the batsman’s leg-side. The forward speed of the bowler’s body movement translates easier into his delivery stride. The bowler’s action is open, making it easier to bowl the inswinger and the leg-cutter. The flight of the ball is flatter and faster. It is also easier to deliver the inswinger and leg-cutter from wider on the right-arm bowler’s return crease. From this position he is able to use his open action to in-slant his deliveries towards the batsman’s stumps. His positioning on the bowling crease is therefore a far more aggressive tactic.

There are so many cuts in cricket’s harsh aggression that perhaps we should leave it to Shakespeare and the fleet-footed chaser of the ball at cover to decide which of the duet is “the unkindest cut of all.”