“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” Or some thoughts on the development of spin talent:
In County level age-group cricket i.e. Under 11s to Under 14s (and perhaps even Under 15s) spin bowlers are far more dangerous than ‘seamers’ and ‘swingers’. They take more wickets at fewer runs per wicket. Young batsmen can generally better cope with pace than with turn and dip, and are more likely to be beaten by ‘flight’ than ‘pace’.
County coaching staff will generally get hold of the most talented spinners from the County age-group teams at after U12 or U13 seasons. Those selected for County spin clinics will have very good coaching in the latest forms of best practice. The ECB provide resources for Emerging Players.
10 years ago saw a huge revolution in spin coaching as ideas arrived from the sub-Continent were adopted.
For spinners, it becomes difficult to get in to county set-ups and catch up after this. Pace can come late or be unearthed late, but the impact of coaching on very young spinners puts them further apart from young ‘club’ cricketers than for pace teamates.
Of course in young cricket, bowling limits (over restrictions) for spinners are much higher than those for quicks. Actually is a reversal of what will happen later in their career. At 13/14 they are getting MORE bowling than their pace teammates.
The aim of this specialist county spin coaching is generally to increase the revs imparted on the ball. This greatly increases the capacity for drift and dip, the latter not only making it harder for batsmen to read length, but also increasing the ‘bounce’ of the ball.
In attempting to create ‘county’ bowlers, i.e. bowlers capable of playing in their first teams, coaches are preparing them for county wickets. They are judged less on how they bowl on helpful wickets and more on how they might bowl on a billiard table.
They work on the young talent’s wrist position to improve seam position and seam steadiness, wrist strength, arm speed, rotation of the body and speed through the crease.
A young bowler of 13 or 14 will be able to bowl over a 6ft high net placed half way down a wicket through a first gate (outside off stump for the off-spinner) constructed from two poles a foot apart, landing on a mat about a foot square on a ‘good’ length, turning to pass though a second similar gate before clipping off stump. They quickly develop exceptional skill levels.
By 17 the best are likely to have had time at Loughborough with Peter Such and coaches he brings in.
This can cause tension between what the county coach has tried to create and how Such & Co see things. Differences in detail. But potentially confusing or destabilizing.
The very best will already have been creamed off to join an ECB development squad, spending even more time at Loughborough.
From their time in Academies, the U17s and County IIs, coaching tails off and self-discovery and experimentation begins to predominate. The value afforded to players who take responsibility means that there is an emphasis, conscious or unconscious, on young talent working things out themselves. Here’s the problem, now solve it.
Spin bowlers need more bowling than other forms of bowling to achieve accuracy and control. There is much more that can go wrong with the consistency of muscle memory and with confidence levels.
Consistency and control is gained by sacrificing revs and speed. Long spells improve accuracy and confidence, which means they can bowl with greater revs and at more optimum speeds, as well as the benefits of learning from experience.
When, at a young age, selection favours consistency and control it sacrifices a spinner with the revs, the speed through the air, the drift and the dip needed at the highest level.
In every squad there are at least four times more opportunities for seam than for spin.
Spinners are taken off by nervous captains quicker than their counter parts bowling ‘seam-up’.
Wickets also are getting better during this stage of their development but disproportionately ‘better’ for seamers and batsmen.
It doesn’t have to be like that. There is a lot of myth making about the weather. One of the best cricketing wickets in the country and one which offers spinners bounce, pace, and turn is Old Trafford which has a rainfall of 1,000 inches a year!!!!
The relatively damp seamer friendly wicket is not ‘natural’. It is as contrived as any piece of ‘farmed’ land. If the ground staff at Old Trafford can do it, so can every other First Class ground.
Catch 22: – When you have four times the number of seam-up bowlers on your staff, what type of wicket do you produce? With such wickets, what type of bowlers do you hire?
Spinners get better with age, but professional cricket clubs cannot afford to wait. A spinner knows he has to bat better to stay in his team. It is difficult to develop both these talents. The more he practices batting the less time he is investing in his spin development.
Finally, spin bowling and batting against spin provides the most entertaining of all the ‘battles’ to be enjoyed on a cricket field. If professional cricket is an entertainment industry then presently it is like a comedy club that would rather not have jokes.
N.B. There are some great women spinners – apologies to them for using the masculine pronoun throughout.