In the nets: Matt Parkinson on defensive spin bowling
Matt Parkinson, the England and Lancashire leg-spinner, on how to subdue a batter who’s in all-out-attack mode.
I bowl leg-spin for my club and have a bit of success but when batters start smashing me straight back over my head, I’m not sure how to stop them. It can be demoralising! Do your coaches have any advice?
Steve Halsey, via email
From personal experience I know it can be tough, but my main advice is to keep trying to land your best ball. If you can do that when someone is trying to whack you, it’s a good sign. To stick with spin bowling, and especially leg-spin, you have to be strong-willed. But if you’re landing your best delivery and still going the distance, there are a few things you can try.
You could try 23-yarders, so it looks like you’re bowling the same ball, but you’ve bowled it from a yard back. I used that a lot when I was growing up, and I still use it now. The release is exactly the same but your front foot will be on the back line, dragging the length of your delivery back by a yard, and you’re hoping that the batter tries to play the same shot, the ball’s not quite there to hit, and they either get stumped or spoon it in the air.
Something else you can try is a ‘cut ball’. I’m still working on it now, and I’ve had many arguments with my spin coach, Carl Crowe, about this. I’m old-school, I like tossing it up, but if you’ve got a batter who’s really strong through the V or cow corner, this is a good way to get them off strike. It’s not pretty – in fact I hate it – but you’re looking to bowl a wideish ball, on around fifth stump, which is just short enough for them to cut, and you stick a fielder back at deep cover and let them have a single. The length is key – it can’t be really full and wide. You want it to almost be a drag down.
I’ve been a leg-spinner since I was seven and I still struggle to bowl a cut ball. I’ve been programmed to bowl the perfect leg-spinner – pitching on leg, nice and full – and then your coach tells you that you need to bowl short and wide. To reprogramme yourself to do that is really difficult, but it can be effective. Gary Keedy used to do it for Lancashire – people forget how good a T20 bowler he was. He’d bring square-leg up, have a deep point, a deep cover, and bowl a 40mph cut ball. No one could hit it. People got stumped, top-edged sweeps. Absolute genius bowler.
Another option is the ‘hip ball’, where you’re bowling a quicker delivery into the hip. You’re encouraging the batter to tuck it out to deep square for a single. But it depends on the level you’re playing at. If it’s Sunday club cricket and a batter’s trying to hit you over the top, you might want to just stick long-on and long-off back and say, ‘If you want to do it, try and do it’. If they’re clearing them, then think about the cut ball or hip ball.
You might want to think about varying your pace but the main thing if someone is coming after you is your length and keeping the ball out of the batter’s arc. People like Livi [Liam Livingstone] and Tim David have a bat swing like a golfer, so everything’s going straight, long-on or towards cow corner. If you can get the ball away from that arc, it’s not such a natural swing for them. When you’re bowling to top players, you have to go really wide. And if you go even slightly full, you’re stuffed.
A massive thing which goes under the radar when it comes to spin bowling is the captains that you have when you’re younger and making your way in men’s cricket. You can be as strong-willed as you like, but you also need a captain who understands spin bowling and understands the journey you’re going to undertake. If your captain doesn’t trust you, then you’re not going to bowl the overs you need in order to develop.
Inevitably there’ll be some bad days but as a youngster you need to bowl overs that you probably shouldn’t. I had some games where I bowled 25 overs and took 5-150 – it was chaos! There needs to be a good relationship between the spin bowler and his captain, or even the spin bowler’s parents and the captain.
My dad had a great relationship with our club captain, who could see that I was potentially going places with my cricket. He’d say, ‘We don’t care so much about the result, let’s throw Parky the ball and he can bowl 20 overs’, when other captains would likely have given me four and then taken me off.