Shadowrun – Meeting Mr Johnson


For a batsman there is nothing more exciting and, yes, more enjoyable on a cricket field than facing a quick bowler on a decent track. Batting at the United Services Ground, Portsmouth was what the great game – that is The Bat, The Ball and The Very Quick – was all about.

Somewhere in the multiverse Roy Marshall is facing John Snow every day of the week. At the other end Barry Richards or Gordon Greenidge are waiting their turn. No helmets.

It is what all those hours of development were for – a great challenge and the most electrifying release of the best adrenalin that you will ever experience outside of a battle field.

That is why the hook is so addictive. The intensity of that last picture of the ball in front of the nose and the gloves coming across the field of vision and the unique feeling of a timed hook, the fleeting, collaborating glance as the ball sails 45 degrees towards the boundary. The sense of rotation.  More! Gimme more!

Some people say that ‘no one likes facing a really quick bowler. That’s only half right. Try facing John Snow on a feather bed at Lord’s … then pop down to Hove to meet his elephantine memory on something ‘tidal’.

What batsmen dread is bounce they can’t ‘read’. It is always disconcerting.  For some, the control freaks, it can be more than can be borne, like a good young mathematician going into an exam and finding for the first time a problem they can’t immediately solve.

And that is what facing Mitchell Johnson appears to be like.  Every element of a batsman’s experience says that this ball headed this way in these conditions will bounce to this height. And they’re six or seven inches out and it’s too late to bail out. Or worse … the next ball maybe so.

That is why Johnson’s recent accuracy is part of it.  When one in fifty can hit you the human psyche can blank out that possibility, not when ‘it’s’ going to happen sometime in this over.

Andy Robert’s surprise bouncer. Recollections of those who faced S.F. Barnes. Third Man can still recall facing David Harris as if it were yesterday. Illegibility. Mystery. Threat. The Proximity of the Knowable Unknown.

It must take a bit of getting used to when facing Lasith Malinga but his lift and  bounce, like that of Alfred Mynn is nothing near as anomalous  and mentally disintegrating as that of the supremely strong Johnson, with the slightly higher action.

Is there also an element of swing (not out or in swing) but because of the low action and the seam position this provides, might not the swing be down into the pitch steepening the angle of incidence, increasing the steepness of the bounce? That would explain a great deal.

Changing a well grooved physical routine is difficult but changing a well grooved mental reaction to a stimulus is a hundred times harder.

Maybe you could find a five foot bowler able to fling it down at 100mph onto a fielding ramp positioned 8 meters short of the batter.

Someone soon will re-programme their batting reactions and there shall be a contest. Or you could stay indoors and play Shadowrun



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6 responses to “Shadowrun – Meeting Mr Johnson

  1. growltiger

    Hypothesis: the round-arm delivery as currently perfected by Johnson is intrinsically illegible.

    Lemma 1: In contrast to a classical action, the apparent point of release of a slinger (as shown, for instance by Hawkeye) does not correspond uniquely to the actual point of release. Instead, there is a curve of release points that appear identical from the batsman’s viewpoint.

    Lemma 2: Balls that are delivered from different points on this curve will behave differently.

    Argument: Combining these two propositions, balls that appear to be released from the same point (and with same action) will behave differently.

    Lemma 3: Training a batsman to play apparently similar balls differently over the millisecond interval available for discrimination requires a detectable difference in the action.

    Conclusion: As there is no such difference, the training is impossible.

    It seems not implausible that the problems suffered so briefly by Trott may have come from systematic and incessant practice based on the premise here disproved. That might indeed have been more than the fragile mind could take. (“It’s just not doing what it does on the Visualisation gear in the nets. I don’t get this…”).

  2. Down at Third Man

    GT, Are you sure L1 is qualitatively different to the ‘curve of release points’ of a vertical arm? For the latter would not variance result in different lengths, for the former (Johnson) in different direction. Both impact on ability to time the point of contact.

    Clearly batsmen have more experience making predictions from the latter than the former (Johnson).

    The opposite would have been true as bowling evolved from round-arm to overarm, surely.

    Why does Johnson get more lift from a release at a height of say 7 foot six than a bowler releasing at 8 foot six?

    The seam does not travel to the batsman vertically (as for the ‘orthodox’ overarm bowler’s stock delivery), but at an angle from two o’clock to eight o’clock (batsman’s view). Disruption of airflow and drag could alter the incidence of the the ball (however marginally) into the turf.

    Is there also likely to be a dragging back on the ball on the release of the slinger? Which many swing bowlers believe increases their potential for swing, which for Johnson results in variation of bounce.

    • growltiger

      Definitive answers would need data from the perceptual psychology lab! But my impression is that the slinger’s release curve is qualitatively different because the slinging delivery has more rotation of the shoulder joint, in addition to the rotation of the upper body against front leg found in the orthodox delivery. So it is not just a matter of the batsman being puzzled by release along a less familiar axis. (Your two other suggestions – a different aerodynamic path, and unexpected backspin on the ball – seem entirely plausible reasons for a distinctive Johnsonian effect).

  3. Lord Frederick Reynolds

    You remind us of young Davey Harris, TM.

    In taking my place at the wicket, I almost felt as if taking my ground in a duel… and my terrors were so much increased by the mock pity and sympathy of Hammond, Beldham, and others round the wicket, that when this mighty bowler, this Jupiter tonas, hurled his bolt at me, I shut my eyes in the intensity of my panic, and mechanically gave a random desperate blow, which, to my utter astonishment, was followed by a loud cry all over the ring of ‘run, run’.

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