Length and Direction: The twin essentials of bowling success.
One of the first things a boy should be tauht is what is a good length. This should thoroughly be explained to him, so that he understands perfectly what it means.
A cricket ball has the power to swerve or to alter its course in the air before it pitches. It also has the power to spin or change its direction after pitching. But once it has pitched, and its direction and pace noted, it has no further power to alter. It must, then, be obvious that the shorter it is pitched the sooner the batsman has the opportunity of judging what it is going to do, and the more time he has to decide what stroke to play, and prepare for it.
Therefore, the bowler must try to pitch the ball in such a position that the batsman has the minimum amount of time to see the ball and decide what to do with it. It may also be noted that, a full toss, which is a ball pitched so far that it reaches the batsman before it hits the pit, may swerve or dip or have some peculiarity of flight.
This makes it more difficult to play than the shorter ball, which after pitching, is easily followed by the batsman. What is called a good length ball is the most difficult to play. It pitches at such a length that it gives the batsman a minimum amount of time to decide what he is going to do. He does not know whether to play back or forward, and is often forced to compromise, playing what is called a 'Half cock' stroke. This means that he starts to play forward, finds that the ball is too short, and stops his bat half way, allowing the ball to hit it, without making any attempt to score - purely a defensive stroke.
In many cases he is playing 'Blind' in doing this, unless he get well over his bat, and should the ball alter its direction after pitching, there is a good chance of taking a wicket.
It will be seen from the foregoing that the short ball is the easiest to play, and, as a general rule, it is bad bowling to bowl short. The pupil should have this impressed upon him, and should be encouraged to keep the ball well up to the batsman, even to the extent of full tosses.
There are however, ocassions when a short ball - otherwise a long-hop - will be the means of taking a wicket. Sometimes the state of the game is such that the batsmen are forced to play carefully, taking no risks. Good length bowling is simply playing into their hands, whereas an ocassional long-hop will coax them to hit, and incidentally change their game. It is possible, in these circumstances, that they will mistime the ball, and the unexpected happens.
Length varies according to conditions. For instance, the faster the ball the shorter it may be pitched to be of a good length, and the slower it is the further up it must be pitched. The reach of the batsman also has its effect on length. To a tall player, the ball would have to be pitched shorter, so that he would not by the aid of his reach, be able to smother, or to make a half-volley of it.
This Half-Volley, by the way, is one of the easiest balls a batsman could get to score from. It is a ball which is struck by the bat as it hits the ground, and it should be a 'gift' to any good batsman. Therefore, a bowler must avoid sending down a ball which a batsman could make into a half-volley.
This matter of the reach of different players, and their style, whether they play firm-footed or use their feet to get to the ball, introduces a very important point for bowlers, and emphasises the importance of length and direction.
To be continued..........