FOR SOMETIME at BOLA HQ we have been aware that our machines are not being used to their full potential in some quarters. Many experienced cricketers and coaches express surprise when informed that the BOLA machine can deliver a variety of spinning deliveries. This article is an attempt to rectify that situation.
Our first point of call is to Gloucestershire C.C.C. where Andy Stovold is Director of Cricket Development. Andy has been running regular bowling machine workshops and conferences for the last two years. "Time and time again, club cricketers attend our courses and don't know that the BOLA machine can bowl spin," explains Andy. "The first thing most people do when confronted by a bowling machine is turn the speed right up. We work very hard to get across the message that the BOLA is not a 'speed machine' and some of the best sessions that you can have with a machine are bowling spin - which can be a lot of fun.
"The machine can give you any delivery you want and largely reflects the wit of the coach who is using it. He has to do a little work to sort out the angles, trajectory and speed to produce realistic spin but it is well worth the effort."
The BOLA machine produces a ball that swings in the air in the same plane as it spins off the pitch (see box for machine set-up details). This means that the leg spinner's 'in-ducker' that drifts in towards the batsmen before spinning away is not possible. However, convincing deliveries for orthodox spinners (and 'leggies' without drift) are certainly achievable.
Although the ball from BOLA spins in the same plane as it swings some surfaces offer enough grip for the ball to turn more sharply after pitching. Coaches have to experiment with the surfaces available to them and there is also the possibility of using mats for spin sessions.
It is also possible to bowl spin with the BOLA machine utilizing the random delivery function, which mimics the spread of balls that a real spinner bowls. No spinner puts two balls in exactly the same place. But, as Andy points out, "Balls of different ages will come out of the machine slightly differently. Consequently a little variety is introduced and they will pitch about a foot apart." So it is worth keeping a bucket of your old balls.
Using different balls from the BOLA range can also add variety to your spin bowling. "The orange balls imitate a spinner bowling on a quick, hard wicket. The balls bounce higher and, on a good length, are more difficult to play. The red and the yellow balls produce deliveries more like a slower, lower wicket - like Bristol. Batsmen need to have experience of all sorts of conditions," explains Andy.
"There is a dearth of spinners throughout the Gloucestershire age group sides," says Andy. "We have no orthodox spinners between 11-16 years of age. There are a few leg spinners - because of the fun factor - and slow left armers, but no off-spinners. With most youth cricket consisting of twenty-over games and schools now playing in leagues, spinners aren't getting the chances to bowl that they used to and so there are less of them." This accentuates the BOLA machine's role in providing young players with some knowledge of the turning ball.
A long-time user of the spin functions of the BOLA machine is David Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain who has coached Worcestershire and Zimbabwe and is currently Director of Cricket at Derbyshire. He was an impressive player of spin himself; he averaged 43 from 22 Tests and struck Zimbabwe's highest test score of 266.
He thinks the BOLA machine produces realistic practice. "We are really talking about slow inswing and slow outswing but it creates really good drills," he explains. "We obviously coach people to play with the spin and to use their feet. But this has to be optional. If someone is reluctant to come down the pitch then it is no good trying to coach him to do so. You have to concentrate on teaching them to sweep because that is the only other option in playing spin. The machine is really good for coaching the sweep because the ball bounces relatively high."
Peter Drinnen, Technical Director Cricket Scotland, is another coach keen on using the machine's spin functions: "The important thing is to get the ball above the batsman's eye level so that he has to make some decisions as regards moving his feet. That's the main issue and the machine does it well. It can't mimic a quality leg-spinner's drift in the air but how many bowlers do you get in that class?"
To get the best out of your bowling machine it is important that practice is both imaginative and instructive. The coach input is obviously vital and on these pages – which we will add to in coming months – we aim to pass on some ideas and inspiration
Our firsts port of call is innovative coach Gary Palmer who runs the Cricket Coach Master Academy and regularly works with international and County squads.
"It is important that concentration levels are maintained for every shot. If the machine is feeding a particular stroke the batter can play the shot badly several times but forget this because he only remembers when he plays it well," explains Gary. "A good way to encourage concentration is to include a couple of red balls in a bucket of yellow balls and have the player shout when the unexpected ball appears. This increases their awareness to the alternative delivery such as a bouncer or googly."