ECB spin consultant Chris Brown on how to coach the key facets of bowling off-spin.
You could put a million revs on the ball but if it doesn’t hit the seam it isn’t going to spin. We found that Monty Panesar’s deliveries only had 1,700 revolutions per minute on them – other less successful spinners have been recorded at 2,400 revs – and yet his seam presentation when he was in his pomp was excellent, which allowed him to spin the ball prodigiously. Good seam presentation also helps you get drift, similarly to how it helps you get swing.
Get them hooking
Quite often I’ll see spinners at the start of their mark just flicking the ball from underneath to prepare themselves. But to get that seam presentation you need to have your spinning finger right over the top of the ball like a fish hook. You can sit on the couch watching the box and practise what you’re going to replicate when you bowl.
Being side-on allows for full 180-degree rotation – you want your bowling shoulder to finish off facing the target. It’s OK for your legs to be slightly crossed but you shouldn’t be open. It’s symptomatic of spinners who throw that their feet are open. To get side-on in delivery, you want your back foot to land square or just off it. Nathan Lyon’s back foot, when he started in Test cricket, used to land at about 45 degrees. Now he has a big exaggerated lift of his back leg, so he can get it to land more square.
The importance of strength
It’s not just fast bowlers who should be spending time in the gym – spinners need to be strong as well. We spent a lot of time with Danny Briggs [the Sussex off-spinner] at under 19 level trying to get him more side-on, but it was actually down to a lack of strength – he couldn’t hold his own body weight up in position. You can judge how strong a player is by getting them to hold themselves in position in their delivery stride and see how stable they are.
You want, in general, the bowling arm to come up pretty straight, close to 12 o’clock. That helps get bounce and flight. If you’ve got someone with a low bowling arm, the thing to work on is the front side. If my left arm goes straight up, the right arm can’t go anywhere else – that’s just biomechanics. I hear coaches say, ‘Get your bowling arm up!’, but they should be focusing on the other arm.
Perfecting the run-up
You don’t want to come in too close to the stumps, as you won’t be able to come round through the full 180 degrees and stay pointing towards the target. You can put cones or a small carpet down in front of the stumps and say, ‘Your feet aren’t allowed to touch that’. You can also put in small hurdles to make sure each step in their approach to the crease comes in the right place, and that the bowler is lifting their feet and coming in with enough energy.
Isolate the shoulders
Get the bowler to kneel a quarter of the way down the pitch and bowl just using their arms. I don’t want them to bowl at full pace, all I want is their shoulders to be sideways on, spinning it quite hard and making sure their finger is coming over the top of the ball. This helps you get a feel for how your shoulders should be in your action and for the upright seam presentation, and really strengthens up the muscles in the shoulders.
Chris Brown’s Spinning It Up workshop featured at the 2017 ECB Coaches Association National Conference. For more information on ECB Coach Education and ECB Coaches Association, visit the coaching section of the ECB website.