There are two distinct styles of bowling: fast and spin. Individual bowlers generally specialise in one style or the other.
Occasionally a player may be adept enough at both styles to be able to switch between them, but this is rare.
The Bowling Action
All bowling styles conform to the same general action of the limbs, dictated by the rules governing no balls. The most
important rule is the one which specifies that the bowler must not straighten his arm at the elbow during the bowling action.
This means that throwing the ball (as a baseball pitcher does) by holding the arm back, bent at shoulder and elbow,
and extending both joints to propel the ball forwards, is illegal.
In baseball, pitches must reach the batter without bouncing. The speed of the ball, and movement through the air are the only tools the pitcher has to deceive the batter.
In cricket, bowlers usually bounce the ball on the pitch before it reaches the batsman. The bowler may use the speed of the ball, movement through the air, and deviation when bouncing to deceive the batsman. Usually, if the ball does not bounce on the pitch, the batsman is easily able to hit the ball - often for 4 or 6.
In order to propel the ball forwards without straightening the elbow, the bowler holds his elbow fully extended while
rotating his entire arm at the shoulder, in a vertical arc, beginning near the waist, rising behind the body to a peak
above the head, and following-through down in front of the body. The bowler releases the ball
near the top of the arc, so it flies forwards down the pitch towards the batsman.
The sequence of events in the bowling action is generally as follows:
- The bowler begins running up to the pitch from a measured distance behind the non-striker's wicket. Each bowler sets
his run-up distance by personal preference. It varies from 30 or more metres for fast bowlers to four or five steps for slow
- In the last stride before reaching the pitch, the bowler's feet both leave the ground and he tenses into the pre-delivery pose.
- The bowler's dominant foot lands on the pitch, near the non-striker's bowling crease. At this point the bowler's body
is rotated so that the dominant side is trailing, with the bowling arm held down behind the body, elbow straight, with the
hand near the waist. His other arm is held high in front of the body, to counterbalance.
- The bowler's leading foot lands on (or near) the popping crease. He brings his leading arm down while lifting his
dominant arm up in an arc behind his body.
- With both feet planted on the pitch, the bowler swivels his body around to bring his dominant shoulder forward, while
his arm reaches the top of its arc above his head. His other arm reaches the bottom of its counterbalancing swing. The
bowler's upper torso also flexes forwards to provide additional momentum to the ball.
- The bowler releases the ball from his dominant hand near the top of its arc.
- The bowler follows-through with a few more steps down the pitch, veering to the side to avoid running on the danger area.
Fast (or pace) bowlers attempt to use the speed of the ball to deceive the batsman into playing a poor shot and get
him out. Fast bowlers generally hold the ball with the seam vertical, aligned down the pitch, and deliver it so that
the ball rotates to keep the seam upright as it travels through the air. Bowlers who use a fast bowling style but bowl
the ball more slowly are called medium pace bowlers - these are often players
included in a team primarily for their batting.
In baseball, a fast pitch is about 144-160 km/h (90-100 mph).
In cricket, a fast ball is about 140-150 km/h (87-94 mph).
Fast bowling is generally considered to be when the ball is bowled at speeds in the range 130-150+ km/h. Medium pace bowling
is in the range 110-130 km/h.
Fast bowlers use a variety of techniques to make the flight of the ball less predictable for the batsman: swing, seam, and cut.
By aligning the seam of the ball to point slightly to the left or right, a fast bowler can make the ball curve in flight.
This is called swing. Swing is assisted by the asymmetrical wear and polishing of the ball.
Generally, if the seam is upright, the ball will tend to swing towards the rougher side. If the ball swings away from a
right-handed batsman (i.e. to the left from the bowler's viewpoint) it is an outswinger.
If the ball swings towards a right-handed batsman (i.e. to the right from the bowler's viewpoint) it is an
In baseball, curve balls curve because of the Magnus effect - the differential air pressure on opposite sides of a rotating body moving through the air. The ball must be pitched with rotation about a vertical axis.
In cricket, swing balls swing because of the geometric asymmetry of the ball itself. The ball is spinning about a horizontal axis, so the Magnus effect does not move the ball sideways.
Balls tends to swing more when newer, when the difference in the wear of the sides is less. Humid weather conditions also
assist swing. Swing bowlers generally achieve more swing when bowling the ball more slowly, rather than at top speed.
When a ball is about 50 overs old, the difference in the aerodynamics of the polished and rough sides changes, so that the
ball now tends to swing towards the polished side. This is reverse swing. Reverse
swing behaves very differently to normal swing. It increases as the ball gets older, occurs more in hot, dry weather, and works
on balls bowled at top speed. Reverse swing tends to occur late in the ball's flight, and be stronger than swing caused
by the alignment of the seam. This means a ball can be bowled to swing slightly one way (from the seam alignment) and then
as it nears the batsman swing dramatically in the opposite direction. As can be imagined, this makes the ball very difficult
Because the seam of a cricket ball is raised slightly, it can cause the ball to deviate sideways when it bounces on the pitch.
To achieve this, the bowler must deliver the ball with the seam held vertically, and rotating about a horizontal axis to keep
the seam vertical. If the ball lands on the seam, it can bounce either to the left or right, somewhat unpredictably. Seam
does not cause a great amount of deviation, but combined with swing it can be dangerous.
Instead of keeping the seam upright when bowling the ball, a fast bowler may spin the ball sideways in his hand as he
releases it, by dragging his fingers down either the left or right side. This spin causes the ball to deviate sideways
when it bounces on the pitch, which is called cut.
If the ball cuts away from a right-handed batsman (i.e. from the leg side) it is a
leg cutter. If the ball cuts towards a right-handed batsman (i.e. from the off side)
it is an off cutter.
Spinning the ball to produce cut causes the bowler to bowl the ball slower than usual. Some fast bowlers use cut as a
means of deliberately bowling a slow ball, more to deceive the batsman with the change of pace than the actual cut produced.
Such a slower ball can be as slow as 100 km/h.
Spin bowlers bowl the ball much more slowly than fast bowlers, and attempt to spin the ball so that it changes direction
when it bounces on the pitch. They aim to deceive batsmen by varying the amount and direction of the spin, thus making
the bounce less predictable.
In baseball, a slow pitch like a slider is about 112-120 km/h (70-75 mph).
In cricket, a spin ball is about 70-95 km/h (44-59 mph).
Spin bowlers bowl the ball at speeds anywhere from 70-95 km/h. Skilful spin bowlers will vary their pace considerably
from ball to ball, sometimes spanning this entire range.
Spin bowling comes in two very distinct styles: off spin and leg spin. A spin bowler specialises in one of these two styles.
Off spin bowlers are right handed bowlers who spin the ball so that, to a
right-handed batsman, it spins from the off side to the leg side when it bounces. i.e. it spins in towards the batsman.
The bowler holds the ball so it will be released with the seam vertical but perpendicular to the length of the pitch.
His first two fingers rotate around the ball so it spins clockwise from the bowler's viewpoint as it travels down the pitch.
When the ball bounces, the spin causes it to deviate to the right (from the bowler's viewpoint).
Off spinners bowl a few different types of ball:
Most batsmen have difficulty picking the different types of spin as the ball approaches
them. Experienced batsmen can
sometimes pick what type of delivery is being bowled by carefully watching the bowler's hand position. Batsmen with good
reflexes can also sometimes "read the ball" as it bounces, reacting quickly to move their bat in response to the spin.
Less experienced or talented batsmen can be deceived and find facing a spin bowler very tricky.
- Off Break: The basic off spin delivery, which spins from off to leg.
- Arm Ball: The bowler holds the ball the same way, but doesn't rotate the fingers
on release. The ball has no spin and travels straight when it bounces.
- Doosra: A relatively new type of ball, developed only a few years ago by
Pakistani bowler Saqlain Mushtaq. The bowler delivers the ball with the same finger action, but the back of the hand turned
towards the batsman. This gives the ball spin in the opposite direction, causing it to spin from leg to off.
A left-handed bowler who uses the off spin action naturally bowls the ball so it spins in the opposite direction to a
right-handed off spinner. Such a bowler is not called an off spinner, but a
left-arm orthodox spinner. The off spin action itself is often called
finger spin, since most of the spin is imparted by the fingers. Both off-spinners
and left-arm orthodox spinners are finger spinners.
Leg spin bowlers are right handed bowlers who spin the ball so that, to a
right-handed batsman, it spins from the leg side to the off side when it bounces. i.e. it spins away from the batsman.
The bowler holds the ball similarly to an off spinner, but when releasing it rotates the fingers and wrist around the
ball anticlockwise. The third finger does most of the work and the ball leaves the hand out the back of the wrist, away
from the thumb. When the ball bounces, the spin causes it to deviate to the left (from the bowler's viewpoint).
Leg spinners bowl a few different types of ball:
As with an off spinner, batsmen can sometimes pick what type of delivery is being bowled by watching the bowler's hand
position as he releases the ball, or they may read the ball as it bounces and spins. Off spinners are, however, generally
easier for a right-handed batsman to play, since the ball is usually turning in towards them. The leg spinner's standard
ball spins away, and is much more likely to catch the outside edge of the bat and produce a catch for the wicket-keeper
or a slip fielder. The googly is a dangerous variation ball, since if the batsman does not pick it, he will play with
his bat outside the line of the ball, and the ball can travel between bat and pad to hit the wicket, or can hit the pads
for an LBW.
- Leg Break: The basic leg spin delivery, which spins from leg to off.
- Googly: The bowler holds the ball the same way, but turns his hand around so the
back of the hand faces the batsman at release. The same spinning action causes the ball to rotate in the opposite
direction to a leg break, meaning it spins from off to leg.
- Top Spinner: This is essentially midway between a leg break and a googly,
with the thumb held towards the batsman on release. The ball spins forwards as it travels. When it bounces, it goes
straight on, but bounces higher than normal.
- Flipper: This is bowled with the hand in roughly the same position as a top
spinner, but the ball is released by squeezing it out between thumb and forefinger, rather than rolling it over the back
of the wrist. This gives the ball backward spin. When it bounces, it skids on the pitch, staying lower and shooting
forwards faster than other types of delivery.
- Zooter: This is a ball with almost no spin on it, that basically does nothing
special when it bounces. Given the impressive arsenal of other deliveries a leg spinner can produce, this can be a
devastating ball to a batsman expecting the ball to spin or bounce differently.
A left-handed bowler who uses the leg spin action naturally bowls the ball so it spins in the opposite direction to a
right-handed leg spinner. Such a bowler is not called a leg spinner, but a
left-arm unorthodox spinner. Such spinners are also sometimes colloquially
called Chinamen, since the first notable practitioner was of a Chinese background.
The leg spin action itself is often called wrist spin, since most of the spin is
imparted by the wrist. Both leg spinners and left-arm unorthodox spinners are wrist spinners.
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Last updated: Saturday, 17 February, 2007; 15:18:10 PST.
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