‘If I was an outsider, I’d be making fun of it’ – Seven of cricket’s weirdest bowling actions from down the years
Every bowler has their own distinct method of delivering the ball.
From the traditional side on facing with a vertical arm, some players have pushed their action right to the limit of possibilities, with differing results. Whenever such an action materialises, it’s accompanied by a fair amount of scrutiny and usually derision in some quarters.
But, this list features one or two of the most successful and memorable bowlers of all time, as well as some who’s unusual actions proved to be one hit wonders.
‘Malinga the Slinga’ – need one say more? One of the true great limited-overs bowlers, particularly at the death, Lasith Malinga’s low round-arm action rendered him a pace-bowling trailblazer. He attributes his unique action to the fact he learned to bowl exclusively with a tennis ball. Malinga has 338 ODI scalps and has taken the ninth most wickets in the format. He finds himself at No.5 on the all-time T20I list, with 107 wickets at 20.79, and successfully led Sri Lanka to ICC World Twenty20 glory in 2014.
His innovative action lent itself to a brutal inswinging yorker, a deceptive slower ball and a vicious bouncer. Malinga credits his coach, Champaka Ramanayake for his success, who would glue a pair of shoes near the popping crease for Malinga to bowl at for hours and perfect his infamous yorker.
There have been questions over the legality of his action, in which his bowling arm regularly whistled past close to the umpire’s head. But his arm never violated the permissible flexing angle, currently defined in the ICC’s illegal bowling regulations as “where the Player’s Elbow Extension exceeds 15 degrees… from the point at which the bowling arm reaches the horizontal until the point at which the ball is released.”
Ultimately, his slinging action was believed to be his downfall, placing a sizeable load on his hips and knees. Injury blighted the middle and back end of his career. He remains the only male player in history to have picked up four wickets in four balls on two separate occasions in international matches. He did so against South Africa in 2007 and in 2019 against New Zealand.
“I mean, if I was an outsider, I’d be making fun of my action.”
Australian Paddy Dooley has made quite the impression in the Big Bash League since making his debut in the competition last year. In the most recent edition of the tournament, he picked up 19 wickets at just 12.78. The 25-year-old left-arm spinner possesses a peculiar ‘windmilling’ action, involving a decoy delivery stride of sorts that takes the viewer, and most likely the batter, a bit of getting used to.
He picked up 4-16 for the Hobart Hurricanes against eventual winners Perth Scorchers, including the wickets of Marcus Stoinis and Faf du Plessis. His unorthodox action received praise from Mike Hussey and Michael Vaughan on debut, which Dooley attributes to a backyard Jasprit Bumrah impersonation four years ago.
“When India, were over for the summer of cricket, I was just in the backyard on Christmas Day practising some Jasprit Bumrahs,” he said. “It kind of worked for my rhythm so I just went with it, and it goes all right now. If it distracts the batters when they first see me, it’s an added bonus.”
Dooley, who used bowled with a Graeme Swann ‘double pump’, reckons the novelty of his action will wear off but is prepared for when the eventuality does arise. That may still be some way away, though.
Quite possibly the most unorthodox spin-bowling action cricket has ever seen, South African Paul Adams’ left-arm unorthodox action was famously likened to a “frog in a blender” by Mike Gatting.
Playing in 45 tests between 1995 and 2004, Adams managed to pick up 134 wickets, largely owing to an action that left the batter bewildered by a spectacular cocktail of arms and legs which delivered the ball. Adams would approach the crease from an angle and take a giant leap with his hands pointed skyward before entering his delivery stride. From there, his head would drop and an entangled mess of arms and legs would release the subsequent wrist-spinner.
As countless freeze-frames have since shown, Adams appeared to be bowling completely blind with his head facing perpendicular to the wicket. The bowler himself has maintained that he could see enough of the batter to know what he was doing. His career soon became hampered by injury and the element of surprise gradually wore thin, and he grew distant from first-class cricket after his final Test showing in 2004.
No left-arm spinner has taken more Test wickets for South Africa.
Another spinner subscribing to the Paul Adams school of unorthodox left-arm bowling was Shivil Kaushik, whose brief spell in cricket’s public eye left quite the impression.
After performing well in the Karnataka Premier League, Kaushik secured an IPL contract for 2016 with the Gujarat Lions. He almost had a dream debut in only his second over when he bowled Steve Smith before the third umpire adjudged his front foot had overstepped.
Much like Adams but without the leap, Kaushik approached the crease slightly slower as if charging up what was to follow. His head plummeted straight down and the ball shot straight out of the back of the wrist-spinner’s hand. His former coach has reported of Kaushik that “he himself confesses that he doesn’t know which one will turn which way.”
That uncertainty was most likely the reason for Kaushik’s short-lived career in the limelight, perfectly summarised by the 19th over he bowled to Virat Kohli in May 2016, where he was struck for 30. Kaushik has since disappeared off the cricketing map, but the memory of his odd action will live on forever.
Every now and then you come across a bowler who belies traditional coaching. Fairly often at club level, you will come across a bowler who bowls ‘off the wrong foot’ – manifesting itself in an awkward hop-skip before release – but rarely does this uncorrected habit rear its unorthodox head on the international stage.
Pakistani quick Sohail Tanvir gained notable success, particularly in the T20 format with his action – which is far from easy on the eye. He has played for over 20 different sides, including in domestic T20 leagues in India, Pakistan, England and the West Indies, as well as picking up 54 T20I wickets at 26.92. He was the first ‘purple cap’ winner in the inaugural season of the IPL.
Tanvir’s very brief foray in the Test arena saw him play two Tests on Pakistan’s 2007 tour of India, with the second match at Eden Gardens leaving him so frustrated that he started bowling left-arm finger spin to Wasim Jaffer and Sachin Tendulkar – which he incidentally bowled off the correct foot. Naturally, India are pretty well versed at facing spin and this reaped no reward for Tanvir.
The first English representative on this list, while only a part-time off-break bowler Dan Lawrence has one of the most eccentric run-ups going. His action was widely shared on social media during England’s tour of the West Indies in 2022, in which he picked up two wickets.
Lawrence begins his run up by winding up his bowling arm, akin to a human Newton’s Cradle, before grasping the ball in both hands under his chin. The ball then makes a swift journey to his crotch area, before returning with both arms to above his head, not dissimilar to Harbhajan Singh. Then, as Lawrence’s leading left arm rises to the sky, the ball nestles briefly in his armpit before returning skywards as Lawrence leaps up before delivering the ball.
Every juncture of the run-up seems almost completely unnecessary as Lawrence’s bowling action itself is nothing that far out of the ordinary.
South Africa’s banishment from Test cricket between 1970 and 1991 due to the apartheid regime inhibited the career of one of the Proteas’ great talents in Mike Procter. A fine all-rounder who made an indelible impression during his seven Tests between 1967 and 1970, Procter averaged 36.01 with the bat and 19.53 with the ball in an illustrious 401-game first-class career with Gloucestershire and Rhodesia.
Bowling with considerable pace and often from around the wicket, Procter appeared to bowl off the wrong foot. But this, in fact, wasn’t the case as he instead released the ball just before his front foot was planted. He found himself with his chest almost fully facing the striking batter as he bowled, instead of the more conventional side-on position.
A rare example of a bowler whose unconventional action did not hamper his first-class fortunes; if he were able to have played Test cricket, it is most likely that Procter would have been remembered as one of the great all-rounders of the format.