You mention the name ‘Whispering Death’ to any cricketer worth his salt over the age of 40 and they will be able to conjure up the image of one of the most fearsome sights for a batter in the 1970-80s. The great West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding gliding silently in to the wicket off his extended and rhythmical run up was a thing of beauty, balance and harnessed power.
Sir Ian Botham, in a career spanning 16 years and 114,532 deliveries, never bowled a single no-ball. Not one! It is an incredible statistic. There are others on the list too, including Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Dennis Lillee and Lance Gibbs. A single run penalty at the time seems fairly inconsequential. Add the extra ball and any runs scored from it, especially in games where the free hit rule is in play, other no-balls your team mates bowl and particularly at school level your team can find themselves bowling an extra two or three overs, giving away 12 to 18 free runs at the very least. There is a very real likelihood that bowling no-balls can cost your team the game on their own, so it is important for bowlers to get their run ups right.
The importance of a repeatable and reliable run up for a young bowler is paramount. During your winter training, how many no-balls do you see bowled in the indoor nets? Getting the front foot right indoors is so important, whether you are able to approach off your full run or not. The habits you are building by bowling no-balls indoors are very difficult to get out of when you head outdoors and take the ball in the first games of the season.
Generally, indoor facilities will have at least a front foot line and a stump as reference points for the bowler. In bowling no-balls indoors, you are subconsciously training yourself to approach and take off using the stump as a reference point. Outdoors, the stumps and front line will be an identical constant, as will your take off point due to your subconscious awareness of the location of the stumps ahead of you. That you bowl no-balls and then struggle for rhythm for the next few weeks is hardly going to be a surprise. Indoors, always try to have an umpire standing to help you identify where your front foot is landing. The presence of an umpire will also help as you are training yourself with a further reference point which you will also have outdoors. Indoors, make sure that you have your umpire stand where you would expect him/her to stand when outdoors. As the bowler, you are very much within your rights to ask the umpire to stand closer or further away from the stumps (within reason), so find out where you are happy with the umpire standing and make sure that this is a constant. It is important to emphasise the positive relationship that you need to forge with the umpire, so in asking him or her to adjust their standing position, always do so politely!
In our new book out later this year, ‘A Leading Edge for Bowlers’, we look in detail at ways in which we recommend you build your perfect run up. If you are able to relax, not consider your run up and focus completely on the intended outcome of your delivery there is significantly more chance of success. It is frustrating to see talented your bowlers turning to start their run up from a different place each delivery, stuttering half way through their run up trying desperately to spot their stride and then either bowling way behind the popping crease or way over. It is not just young bowlers with this problem, in the 1990’s there was a fast bowler at Somerset who had the most random ideas about a run up. Andre van-Troost was a Dutch quick bowler and one of the most frightening bowlers to face. a) you never knew when he was going to turn and run in to bowl so you always had to be ready and b) when he bowled, not only was he very quick, but he had absolutely no idea where the ball was going! In early season, when the ground is quite soft, as a bowler you will be able to see how god your rhythm is by the consistency of your foot marks in the turf. For a bowler coming off a longer run, it is both satisfying and reassuring to see, after 4 or 5 overs, the footprints ahead of you that you have made as you stand at the top of your mark.
Spend time both indoors and outdoors in the early season getting a reliable run up right. The benefits of time spent on this, you will find, are incredible for your confidence in your approach to the crease and the consistency of your bowling will improve. Good luck!
A Leading Edge now have 3 books for sale on Amazon.co.uk. Cricket: A Leading Edge for Captains is available as a paperback (£12.99) and eBook (£3.99). Books are also from Walkers Bookshops in Oakham and Stamford, and from CM Cricket in Stoughton, Leicester. You can also buy The Ashes Illustrated and Dice Sports, fantastic books for sports fans!