The slingshot kid

It is worthwhile remembering that while The Marylebone Mandarins may favour everyone bowling according to the textbook, history tells us that success in cricket quite often emanates from the unorthodox.

The face of Helen of Troy was said to have launched a thousand ships. That of Christina, the sister of John Willes, the 19th century Kentish cricketer, may be said to have been instrumental in taking more than a 1000 wickets. For, it was she who used to bowl to her brother John as he practiced his batting against the doors of the family barn in Sutton Valence near Maidstone. This, it was said, led to her being credited with introducing round-arm bowling into cricket — as a result of having to adopt what was termed “the new throwing style” because of her voluminous skirts and crinolines.

Tom Walker of the Hambledon Club had been experimenting in bowling with the release point of the ball below the level of the elbow of the straight bowling arm since 1788. But his innovation was met with hostility from Mr. Ward and the Old Guard of the Marylebone Club and in some instances Willes and his fellow reformers, William Ashby and Lambert of Surrey were no-balled, warned off by the legislators or barred from matches. In 1806/1807, 23 of Kent played against 13 of England, but friction between the supporters of the old and new styles of bowling caused a riot and the abandonment of the match. Conflict between the two camps continued in the pages of “The Sporting Magazine”. The conservatives feared that ; “the elegant and scientific game of cricket will degenerate into a mere exhibition of rough horse play”

As for John Willes? When he was no-balled in a match at Lord's, he mounted his horse and rode out of the game for ever! He left the round-arm cause to perhaps its greatest ever exponent: Sussex's James Lillywhite: “The Non-pareil”. In the passage of two centuries the Lillywhite succession has devolved on Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga: a fast bowler favouring exotic hair fashions ,and a skidding ,yorker-length accuracy which made him the leading wicket-taker in the 2011 World Cup. Lillywhite's sanctions dictated that he should bowl with his delivery arm below shoulder level, which is precisely the altitude of Malinga's stock ball today. Strangely this flat trajectory does not deprive the Sri Lankan speedster of what was regarded as Lillywhite's most effective weapons: “great pace and abruptness of rise.”

Such analysis makes me ponder the advantages and disadvantages of round arm bowling as demonstrated by such great practitioners as Australia's Ray Lindwall, who might be described as being “partially round- arm.” Firstly, it is that the horizontal or lateral movement of the bowler's shoulder, girdle parallel to the ground, allied to the forward momentum of the bowler's upper body and run-up maximizes the strength of the bowler's action and, with his bowling arm moving through a longer arc, increases his potential speed. The round-arm bowler has other shots in his locker. The lowness of his release of the ball quite often makes the ball squat below the height of the batsman's stumps. This enables the bowler to squeeze the ball under the batsman's guard. In addition the horizontal sideways movement of the bowler's shoulders, arms and hand towards the slips slants the ball towards the off-side — creating a natural outswinger.

To accentuate the movement of the ball across the face of the batsman's stumps and towards the slip fieldsmen, early round-arm bowlers such as Lillywhite bowled around the wicket: a tactic sometimes favoured by Malinga. The away movement of the ball makes it difficult for the batsman to move inside the line of a delivery which continually follows him as he steps back and across his stumps to play his on-side horizontal shots. By far the round-armer's greatest disadvantage is the sacrifice of accuracy. Delivering from around the wicket with a shoulder-high action means that to bowl the batsman, the round-armer has to pitch the ball outside the leg stump — minimizing his chances of gaining an lbw decision — or use his ability to straighten the line of the delivery by cutting the ball back from the off or employ reverse swing. True, his potency is increased by his tendency to deliver the ball from the ends of his fingers of the bowling hand on a full yorker length. But consider the outcome of any variation in length. Should a round-armer release the ball slightly too soon, he stands the chance of decapitating any short-leg fieldsman; if he hangs on to the ball minimally too long, he drags the ball to the off and the slip fieldsmen are in grave physical danger! He can take consolation from the statistic, however, that the great Australian fast bowler, Ray Lindwall, took 228 Test wickets bowling a similar round-arm style to his.

Biomechanically, the action of a round-arm bowler is completely closed. Malinga looks at his target batsman from above and behind his non-bowling front arm. He delivers across his front foot and arm and consequently has a very limited follow-through. He is slowing up in the last few strides of the run-up, preparatory to gathering himself in his jump into a side-on delivery stride — which is where his major speed effort — and injury threat — occurs. The sudden deceleration must make Malinga susceptible to soft tissue injury. But it is worthwhile remembering that while The Marylebone Mandarins may favour everyone bowling according to the textbook, history tells us that success in cricket quite often emanates from the unorthodox .