Those of you who have been following the Jack Leach controversy will be disappointed to learn that the Somerset spinner – by far the best young tweaker on the county circuit – has been left out of the 1st Lions ‘test’ because he’s struggling with his remodelled action. He bowled 14 wicketless overs against the Sri Lankan President’s XI whereas Olly Rayner took 3-55.
This is disappointing news because there had previously been reports that Leach was quite comfortable with his new action. But now he’s actually in a match situation, the pressure is apparently getting to him.
Although George Dobell has speculated that Leach’s struggles on tour could be due to immaturity – people always highlight Chris Rogers’ suggestion that Leach lacks emotional maturity whilst ignoring the times Rogers has actually endorsed his international credentials – I’d like to put forward a contrasting theory: as soon as you start messing around with someone’s action the consequences are rarely good.
When all is said and done, the way people bowl is unique to them. It comes naturally. As soon as a bowler starts thinking about what his arms and body are doing, the game is essentially up. It might be possible to tweak the odd thing here and there – coaches get paid for a reason – but it’s incredibly difficult to remodel a bowlers natural action significantly.
In Leach’s case, he’s had to change something pretty fundamental to his action. I feel for the guy, I really do, as there didn’t seem to be (to the naked eye) anything wrong with his action in the first place. Had he burst onto the scene twenty years ago, he might have taken 100+ test wickets without anyone as much as raising an eyebrow. However now he’s under scrutiny, and having to think hard about how he naturally delivers the ball, I wonder whether he’ll ever be the same bowler again. This might seem overdramatic but it’s a possibility.
Unfortunately England don’t seem to have a good track record when it comes to remodelling actions. Indeed, the two most recent high-profile cases pretty much ended in disaster.
First there was Jimmy Anderson, who lost two years of his career because the coaches tried to change him. Although he was already a highly promising young bowler who had enjoyed international success, Troy Cooley didn’t like the way he bowed his head and looked at the ground (rather than the place he was aiming) when he released the ball. Unfortunately Cooley’s remedial work backfired and Anderson’s formed suffered as a result. In fact, Jimmy only rediscovered his magic when he decided to ignore all advice and go back to the way he bowled naturally.
The other high profile disaster was Steve Finn. When he first represented England Finn looked like a natural. He ran in hard and delivered the ball at 90mph effortlessly. But once he started colliding with the stumps, the coaches got involved, messed with his run up, and tweaked his action in the process. Now Finn’s action looks awkward, unnatural, and he only rotates his arm about 260 degrees rather than the full 360. The result? His career has gone down the toilet.
Although I’m not a biomechanical expert, I’m actually struggling to think of a single bowler who has significantly remodelled his action and come back stronger. For example, Saeed Ajmal is / was a shadow of the bowler he once was. One could argue that Sachithra Senanayake has made a decent fist of things but I wouldn’t necessarily says he’s a better bowler now than he was two or three years ago.
Of course, sometimes bowlers are forced to remodel their actions because of injury instead. And when they do so they sometimes enjoy success. Ian Bishop wasn’t quite as quick as he was pre-injury but he still enjoyed a successful career. And of course, Richard Hadlee arguably became a more cunning and skilful bowler when injuries forced him to shorten his run up and concentrate on out-foxing the batsmen.
However, I’d argue that changing one’s action due to injury is somewhat different from making technical alterations to comply with rules or simply to improve one’s game. In Ian Bishop’s case, he simply couldn’t go on bowling the way he was before. His body simply couldn’t do it anymore; therefore retraining his muscle memory wasn’t such an issue.
I admit that my argument above is just a working theory. And I’m quite happy to be convinced otherwise. Therefore I’m interested to know what everyone else thinks. Can you think of bowlers (particularly spinners) who have fundamentally changed their actions successfully? Or perhaps you think it’s possible to change the way one bowls, and retrain the body and mind, but it’s simply harder for spinners to make the transition than fast bowlers?
Let me know what you think. Perhaps there’s hope for Jack Leach yet.