I remember those net sessions, years ago, when I arrived late and had to make do with whatever ball I could find in the bag. I remember that ball was more often than not falling apart, bits of leather hanging off, the quarter seams beginning to separate and forget any chance of shining the ball! The general appearance of the ball was not necessarily the problem, it was normally the fact that it had been hit into the pond a few times and carried around by the groundsman’s dog all summer which had meant the ball had swelled up making it feel like a football in my hand.
As someone who, later in life, had the opportunity to select a match ball from the box of six, I always looked for the smallest, darkest one with the proudest seam, the one that in your hand you just felt was going to do some damage. Bowling with a ball that feels too big in your hand is something that every bowler will tell you they hate.
In my coaching, every year I deal with boys transitioning from U13 to U14 level and therefore trying to come to terms with using a 4 ¾ oz ball to a 5 ½ oz ball. It has to happen at some time and most have no problem at all with the change, so it is not necessarily the age group changing the ball size I am concerned with, more that it is so cut and dried. ‘You are now an U14 cricketer, therefore you have to use a bigger ball’, seems to me to be unfair on those boys and girls who may be developing physically at a slower rate to some of their peers.
Particularly I feel for spin bowlers who, if they are small in stature with small hands and fingers, have little or no chance of gripping the ball to impart appropriate spin or control. I am no leg spin bowler, but I feel young leg spinners of a shorter stature and therefore smaller hands find huge difficulty and are discouraged by lack of success as they move through the age group to U14 and U15. I worry how many give up at this point and therefore how many spin bowlers have been lost to the game around this age?
I would love to see at U14 and U15 level boys and girls having the choice of using a suitable size ball for them with which to bowl their overs. Allow the umpire to have a smaller ball in the middle that can be given to someone who is struggling with the bigger ball due to their size. In my current U14 team, I have boys ranging from 4’11” to 6’2”. I am not at all suggesting that the boy who looks me square in the eye and bowls nicely already with a 5 ½ oz ball be given the choice. I would however, love the boy pushing 5’ and quickly becoming disillusioned with his leg spin to have a 4 ¾ oz ball at his disposal for when he gets the opportunity to bowl.
Whilst catching may become slightly easier for the taller cricketers when a junior ball is being used, I feel that for the development, inclusion and encouragement of shorter players attempting to bowl, this is a fair trade off. It ensures those with some talent for spinning the ball are able to continue their development started in U10 and U11 through U14 and U15 age groups whilst minimising the dip in progress because their hands are not big enough the grip the larger ball adequately.
PL & WD
A Leading Edge is a series of educational cricket books written and illustrated by Patrick Latham and Wesley Durston. Their first book, ‘A Leading Edge for Captains’ written for younger captains looking to find out more about leadership and captaincy is available on Amazon as well as in a range of independent bookshops around the UK. ‘A Leading Edge for Bowlers’ is due for release later in 2019.