To Remodel Or Not To Remodel?

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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.

James Morgan

39 Comments

  1. Interesting because with the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Finn clearly not. I remember reading about Bob Willis having his action remodelled as his was unorthodox. The first ball he bowled went into the adjoining net!
    However didn’t Brett Lee have his action remodelled? Also Ian Pont is a fast bowling specialist who remodels bowling actions. I guess he might think differently.

    • Bob Willis more remodeled his run-up than his action I think. He in from close to mid-off until the winter of 1976/77 when he ran in much straighter. There’s plenty of Youtube footage where the change can be compared (for example his old style can be seen in the 4th Test against West Indies in 1976).

      Imran changed his delivery stride to add that magnificent leap – I’m not sure exactly when it was but I think it was around the end of the 1970s.

  2. I can think of one bowler who did successfully remodel his action but the example probably only adds to the strength of your arguments. I’m thinking of Tony Lock who had to remodel because his quicker ball was almost definitely thrown. In fact, as I understand it, his problems were initially caused because he was a bowler of great natural flight who struggled bowling in Alf Gover’s indoor school because his natural trajectory often was too high for the cramped conditions. The story goes that when he flattened the trajectory he seemed able to get great turn and bounce and who could have resisted those results?

    Why I say that I think this perhaps reinforces your view is that all he had to do (and perhaps the use of “all” is over-simplifying somewhat) was to revert to his natural action. In the case of others what is always being attempted is to convert them away from the natural action.

    There seem to me to be two sorts of bowlers who are caught in the remodelling dilemma (assuming they are not deliberate chuckers). First is the bowler whom the coaches try to remodel because they think that he can become more effective. As you say, this often seems to be disastrous and it was only on Anderson reverting effectively to what was natural to him that he became the fine bowler that he is now. In Finn’s case one despairs. The second variety is the bowler who has unusual physical attributes and one thinks perhaps of Harold Rhodes, James Kirtley and of course Muralitharan. In their cases I do not see how remodelling is ever going to work. They bowl with the physique they have and the game either accepts that or it doesn’t.

    I feel sorry for Leach. It would appear that he is being asked to abandon his natural action and, if you are right as I think you are, that is a very tall order.

  3. Giles Falconer on

    Kent supporters will tell you that Adam Riley was, about 3 or 4 years ago, one of the most promising spin bowlers in the country, out bowling the (then) England one day bowler, James Tredwell and keeping him out of the team. Then, in 2014 (I think) he was involved with the England squad ‘to gain experience’. Did their coaches get hold of him? Whatever the cause his action seemed to chnage, his confidence fell and his bowling figures have never been the same again.

    For Kent – and perhaps England one day- we all hope Adam will regain the early success he showed and fulfill his promise. I’ve not seen Jack Leach bowl ‘live’ so can’t comment on his action, but wish him well. Spin bowling is one area we really need more players who can force their way into Test contention.

    PS Is it only me, or does Leach appear to be the most ‘mature’ looking young player ever?

    • Adam Riley is a very interesting case. He was billed as the next big thing but has fallen away badly. I didn’t realise his dip in form coincided with England training / coaching. In the bad old days guys like Shaun Udal (with lovely tall actions) used to go to away and then come back bowling darts. I think Peter Such was a good bowler who bowled a nice off stump line so I’m hoping he coaches a similar approach.

  4. Madaboutcricket on

    Maybe the game is employing the wrong people as Coaches ??? No one ever says that maybe the ecb quals are crap and meaningless…..

  5. Alan Hill in his 2008 book on Lock highlights the bowler’s performances in 1st Class cricket (where seasons are more comparable and sample size greater). Lock’s pre 1952 avg. was 22.95, His 1952-57 seasons – the suspect years his avg. was 14.78 and the 1958/9 – post remodeling – avg. was 23.19.

    Some issues: the effectiveness of a spin bowler is determined above most other factors by the amount of revs the spinner gets on the ball. Revs (and variation of revs) produces combinations of drift, dip and turn.

    Try turning a door handle with a straight arm and then try doing it with a bent arm. How do you get the lid off the new jam jar? So you can actually increase your revs by bowling with a bent arm which you keep bent ( a fair delivery under present codes). It is also the best way of strengthening the wrist. You can maximize revs within the code by starting with 15 degrees and straightening and then flexing (beyond the 15 degrees after the ball leaves the hand). These are the pathways that a bowler striving for revs may take.

    Lock who bowled before the more recent codes was in competition with Laker and it is easy to imagine his determination to get more and more revs – until ‘foul’ was called. The quicker ball was obviously a bit startling when you first encountered it. But the real focus is revs and what they can deliver in terms of variable flight: increased bounce (from greater dip), drift and turn and speed of turn.

    In the modern era the bent arm permits the doosra, an added complication. Try to bowl a doosra without a bent and rapidly straightening arm. Your revs will fall to almost none and the speed through the air wouldn’t be enough to give anyone any problems even if you could get a few revs.

    So remodeling a suspect action may give someone the yips and/or it may just take away the revs and variations that had previously caused the batsmen problems.

    If Mr Leach’s action was ‘fair’ when he was 16 it may just be possible to rediscover the old muscle memories. If it were ‘unfair’ then, he’s in difficulties. One thing is for sure he needs to be accompanied and helped by the person who knew him then – not someone with a theory of the ‘perfect’ action.

    Around about 2006 there was a revolution in the coaching of spin bowling – when ideas from the sub-continent were finding their way to England. Running in straight. More chest on. Where was Leach? When did they reach him? Who from? Introducing those ideas to the 12 – 15 year were a revelation (in terms of increased revs).

    [He also seems to be mentioning bowling behind his back. For the left-armer bowling at one o’clock (viewed from behind) negates in-drift (to the right hander) so the drift and the turn operate in the same direction – so if the remodeling has resulted in that it’s a problem, which may also explain the reduction in wicket taking balls. ]

    So, you may be asking, if there was that step change in coaching at county level starting around 2006, where are todays 23-25 year olds who benefited?

    Such is the quandary – if you crossworders get the drift?

    • The “bowling behind the back” was meant to prevent the kink, I believe. He should be able to do it while putting his feet in the right places to get the in-drift. Curiously, he never looked, to the naked eye, like someone who was in the Ajmal camp. I hope the remodelling settles in and gives him the freedom to bowl normally. But if, under ultra-slow motion bio-mechanical inspection, it was shown he really was bowling darts, this will be hard.

  6. Trouble is for Finn he had to remodel as he couldn’t have carried on regularly hitting the stumps on run up and if Leach was throwing then he has to have work done too so cannot really moan at the ECB here. Fair enough in other cases such as Jimmy and Riley the coaches should have left well alone.

    • Yep not complaining that Leach had the work done. If he was bowling illegally then remedial action was necessary.

      Re: Finn I always wondered why they didn’t just make him bowl wider on the crease?!!!

      • Not sure it’s that easy. Going wider means you naturally pitch wider if all else remains equal, which will be easier for the batsman. So you need to make an adjustment in order to bowl your stock ball, which is akin to adjusting your action.

      • James, when did Finn start kicking the stumps? Was that the result of some earlier tinkering, perhaps?

        The trouble with bowling wider at the crease is this reduces out-swing.

        There is an enormous amount of psycho-geography in bowling – the visual cues are peripheral – like an experienced movie star hitting his/her mark. Tinkering necessarily upsets that virtually unconscious and ingrained location finder.

        Going back and finding an earlier action means reactivating those former location cues. The best way to do it is to remove as many visual cues as possible eg wickets and lines – even where a coach stands.

        It’s crickets version of derive https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%A9rive

        You don’t get that on a Level 4 course !!!

        • I was being a little facetious as Finn’s knee did seem to bend outwards more than other bowlers (from memory). However I dont think a slight adjustment would’ve prevented him from bowling outswing. The wrist position is important too.

          I’m a little unsympathetic because I personally always found bowling relatively easy and could land the ball where I wanted as a kid. Injury eventually got the better of me, and I lost the pace I once had, but I never really had to think about my bowling action. It just felt natural and I never understood the fuss others made. Bowling a bit wider wouldn’t have affected me at all, as the coaches always encouraged us to vary our position on the crease anyway to make things less predictable for the batsman.

    • Finn’s problem was that he did not internally rotate his back foot between BFC and FFC, hence the knee going sideways.

      This is something that some bowlers do, some bowlers don’t. Its marginally better if you do, but its not like its impossible to bowl 90mph if you don’t, as Finn proved.

      This is the kind of extremely minor problem that I wouldn’t even intervene in a teenage bowler in case it just made things worse. The fact that some coaches are so arrogant and unprofessional to attempt to mess with professional bowlers’ actions is really mindblowing.

      He could easily have just bowled 6 inches wider on the crease but kept the same target.

  7. Your example of Jimmy Anderson is especially interesting because he managed to return to his old action. This is not as easy as it sounds as any action involves an element of muscle memory, which is replaced by the new action. I have some knowledge of this, having been coached at Edgbaston by Alan Oakman as a 15 year old seamer. He insisted on changing my action from a semi wrong foot/chest on delivery to classical side on. The result was I lost substantial pace, but when I tried to return to my old action I could not restore it. So I would be especially careful in any attempt to remodel an action for any reason other than to cure illegality.

    I ended up having to focus on my batting after being good enough to bowl at county age group level. Good job it did not come to that with Jimmy Anderson!

  8. You’re right it’s almost always a disaster James. What I can’t understand with Leach is what the hell was wrong with his action in the first place. I’d seen virtually nothing of him before this fuss (can’t imagine why, given how much cricket there is on the telly….) but have since watched him from various angles on YouTube and really can’t see anything wrong. A classic example of how the technology that’s nowadays available can be over-used to find problems that aren’t really there. As with most things in this area, it’s all the fault of how the Murali situation was mis-handled. I reckon Leach is stuffed.

    • Madaboutcricket on

      So, I’m a purist by nature but I’ve actually come to think that a bit of a bent elbow for spinners would actually help the game as it would make spinners more potent. However, fast bowlers should never be allowed to chuck and if a spinner delivers a ‘quicker ball’ that should be called. Personally, the only part of a chuck that is hard is the fact you simply read it late. Allowing some flex to spin the ball imo now, should be encouraged.

      So, the latest example would be ajmal.. he could turn the same ball both ways and tore teams apart but didn’t use a quicker ball.

      • They are allowed a bit – a lot really. Remember it is not the ‘bentness’, it is the change in flexion – also you can do what you like after the ball has been released (which is not irrelevant and which is pertinent but is not covered by the latest code).

    • I don’t understand how Leach was over the limit to be honest (although it would be wrong of me to doubt that he was). After all the limit is set at 15 degrees because apparently this is when chucking becomes visible to the naked eye. Yet nobody could tell Leach was chucking. It was only the technology that unexpectedly picked it up. That doesn’t quite add up does it?! I’d like someone to explain why Leach appears to be a unique case.

      • James, think you will find that 15 degrees was chosen because anything less than 15 would have caught out virtually every quick in the game. There is no ‘calling’ in actual games. Umpires can register concern. But they do not make on-field decisions.

        As TM wrote in Jan 2012: “In 2004 Rene Ferdinands and Uwe Kersting published Elbow Angle Extension and implications for the legality of the bowling action in Cricket.

        “For their research sixty-nine bowlers were selected and grouped into fast, med-fast, medium, slow, and finger-spin categories. 40% of these were first class or test cricketers. 8 bowlers in their sample were observed as possibly having a “throwing-type” or “jerky” action.

        “Ferdinands and Kersting quickly confirmed that the elbow angle extension operations of none of their 69 could meet the provisions of the 2000 code. Further, although 100% of the medium bowlers met the ICC’s constraints, only 86.7% of the fast, 87.5% of the fast/medium, 35.7% of the slow and 60% of the spin bowlers satisfied the 10, 7 and 5% limits respectively.”

  9. Legalise throwing – problem solved. The law is half-way there already. And modern equipment protects batsmen from injury as never before. There will always be occasional freak accidents, of course – that is in the nature of any sport.

  10. James Morgan is spot on – the ECB will leave no stone unturned in its attempts to justify its decisions. Ruining England’s best spinner – no problem.

  11. Another England bowler about who there’s been talk of remodeling, Mark Wood, has been sent home from the Lions’ tour of SL which sounds grim.

  12. Legalising throwing entirely is by no means a simple or minor rule change.

    Firstly, baseball pitchers can often throw 95-100 mph; with a run-up, a hybrid throwing-bowling action could probably hit 110mph – this is simply unplayable, you couldn’t allow it for safety reasons. The normal speed in amateur matches would rise significantly as many, many more people can throw hard as can bowl fast.

    Secondly, the moment you legalised throwing, no new player would ever bother to learn to bowl the old-fashioned way again. Within 20 years, straight arm bowling would have gone the way of underarm bowling.

  13. The issue is KNOWING what to coach and HOW to coach it.

    If you intervene, you need to have two things:

    1. A deep understanding of the fact that changes will improve the bowler
    2. A tacit agreement from the player they wish to change

    In batting we ‘tinker’ with technique all the time, Alistair Cook being a prime example under the Gooch/Palmer coaching era.

    In bowling it’s not called coaching a bowler but “changing” a bowler, and here’s lies the problem.

    The ECB (or any of the other coaching systems based on the old MCC coaching manual) does not understand where speed in a fast bowler comes from or that there is a bowling model (structure) that is ideal for control, speed, accuracy and avoiding stresses as much as possible. Their answer is to go into the gym, get stronger and employ S&C coaches. And that’s fine and makes for ‘fit’ bowlers, but also explains why we haven’t reduced incidences of back injuries in bowlers (or young quicks) by just restricting their overs.

    Structure (which the fast bowling skeleton) differs completely from Style (which is a bowler’s unique way of delivering his skill). You can coach structure as it remains common to us all – like running, swimming, cycling throwing etc – but style is unique to each of us.

    Coaches and commentators confuse the two thus misunderstanding what it is possible to achieve by saying “we are all different” and “leave what’s natural alone”.

    Fast bowling is the only sport so retarded as to be completely backward in the development of speed. No other sport since 1930 (when the body line series allegedly had Larwood bowling at 90 mph plus) has failed to increase speed and accuracy. ALL other sports are unrecognisable in those 80 years.

    A few other coaches are starting to work with the right technical aspects of coaching speed (The Four Tent Pegs) and in time, we will see changes to how we develop our young talent for the best. But for now, it remains entrenched in old views just dressed up in new packaging.

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