Friday, August 26, 2011

Spin, Drift and Dip

Spin, Drift & Dip (Edit 001)

This is another section of the up-date of my other spin specific blog. I'm going to post it in here as I get it together, so in the short term this is an early edit.


Six years into my apprenticeship as a wrist spinner I’m now beginning to un-ravel the mysteries of spin, drift and dip. Part of the reason this journey has taken almost six years is that there is very little in the way of useful information on these key attributes on the Internet and even when it's covered in books, even the classic spin manuals, it does seem to be over-simplified. Add to this the much bemoaned fact that there are very few spin coaches at grass roots level and it's easy to see why Spin, Drift and Dip are probably an elusive combination that we as wrist spinners struggle to attain as part of our bowling. Whilst, at the same time as - slow bowlers, this magic combination is virtually essential if we're to rise beyond being seen as a risky, expensive and for the most part ineffectual as a strategic option within a game of cricket.

It may well be the case that some club spinners produce all three with a degree of ease which they don’t appreciate and therefore never go questioning – it just happens for them. Others (and I've seen very fine examples) might produce two of the attributes - generally Top Spin with Dip and do so exceptionally well, but for the most part if you ask them how and why, it’s likely that they won’t know or simply cannot articulate how and why? This goes some way to explain why wrist spin coaching is so poor in this country.

The books and Internet websites that are out there that explain Spin, Drift and Dip tend to follow the same pattern in that they simply tell you what spin, drift and dip are and if it extends much beyond that, the advice is to simply spin it hard with the inference that if you are able to spin the ball hard, the drift and spin will magically happen. There is indeed some validity in this over-simplified instruction, because if you do spin it hard and your bowling action is technically good you will potentially get all three.

I think it is even the case that in Philpotts, and Grimmetts books, there is an unsatisfactory explanation of how these are achieved and this where I step in. Again I have to highlight the caveat that this is empirical in its nature, these are my findings based on my own bowling and the observations made of a handful of other spinners and this may not work or make sense to everyone. But if you're a learner, there may be one or two small passages of text here which may lead you on your own road to discovery.

The dichotomy of fast slow bowling

So, there you are, you've taken the plunge, you've realised that you're of the temperament required to pursue the art of wrist spin bowling and you're on your journey. Then one day you reach the point where despite the fact that you're able to get the ball to turn off the pitch with a degree of turn, you realise that you're being hit for fours easily and you're being 'Given a rest' after only 3 overs of bowling whilst many of the quicks were given 5-7 overs despite not taking any wickets. On reflection, you might come to the conclusion that one of the obvious factors does seem to be that despite the turn off the wicket and perhaps relatively good accuracy, the batsman is able to play you too easily either hitting you on the
half volley or playing you off the back foot. The conclusion might be more speed? Watching international and first class cricketers on the TV you'll see that they are generally bowling 45mph - 60mph. But, you will already be aware that simply by bowling faster the trajectory of the ball becomes flatter and easy pickings for a batsman with even a modicum of skill. With your slow loopy bowling at least the ball would have been up above the all-essential eye-line causing problems from the outset.

What went wrong for me

Six years is a long time to be bowling Leg Breaks without dip and drift which were the attributes that alluded me. But the roots of my problem lay in the pursuit of the Wrong Un see Googly Syndrome for the full story. But, having fallen victim of the Googly Syndrome I had to adopt an unusual approach in order to over-come it and to get the ball spinning towards off again in a Leg Break manner. In short my manifestation of the Googly Syndrome meant that no matter how hard I tried bowling with a cocked wrist, the delivery produced an Off-Break turning off the pitch towards Leg. The way that I over-came this was to bowl with a rigid wrist totally discarding the cocking aspect of the action. The spin over a period of almost two years was gradually introduced by using what can only be described as a finger-centric technique. Over that period of time I faced a series of difficulties because of this approach, one of the key problems I found was that it needed a high level of dexterity in order to release the ball from the fingers at exactly the moment required to get the ball spinning. This requirement for such fine tuned dexterity as part of what is a complex bowling action caused no end of problems and frustrations. Getting the ball to come out of the fingers rotating at 90 degrees to its direction was nigh on impossible and most frustrating of all, was that the faster I bowled the more it impacted on my ability to be that precise with the release. The faster my arm speed, the less I was able to get the ball get the ball spinning with the seam pointed towards slips on release. The notion of being able to bowl the ball with the seam at 90 degrees to its trajectory was becoming increasingly obvious that it was probably impossible.My bowling had hit a brick wall and was going nowhere.

Despite all this because of my enthusiasm and knowledge on the subject I was given the role as mentor/coach to a lad at our cricket club - Frank, who's about 11 or 12 years old and bowls Leg Breaks. I started working with him earlier this year Jan/Feb and have kept an eye on what he does through the season, primarily just offering encouragement and advising him to
keep things simple. One of the first things I noticed about Frank was that his whole body action wasn't text book and there was room for improvement and initially I felt compelled to perhaps work on his bowling action, but then I remembered somewhere I'd read or picked up from someone that, if a young lad is getting the ball to spin and turn off the wicket and he's enjoying his wrist spinning don't mess with it. So, despite the feeling that I might be able to improve what he was doing, I erred on the side of caution and left him. The only thing I did introduce him to was the Stand Start Drill which we used when he was having trouble getting the ball to turn off the wicket.

But watching and encouraging Frank over the next few months made me ponder what it was that he was doing that was so radically different to my bowling, that allowed him to get the ball to spin and drift far better than me? The conclusion that I came to was his wrist action and the fact that it was cocked, nothing spectacular with any indication that he flicked or un-furled the wrist in any dramatic way, just a simple but obvious cocked wrist.

So since September 2009 when I'd decided that I was going to consign my Googly Syndrome to the bin, I hadn't bowled with a cocked wrist since. Fourteen months earlier the cocked wrist had produced beautifully spinning Wrong Uns, had I un-learned the action, had I bowled so many Leg Breaks now that I'd re-wired my brain so that my wrist would do the right thing and I would bowl out of the front of the hand with a cocked wrist? I could only but try. So a couple of months back I tried it and it worked, not only did it work, but in a matter of a few balls the difference was fundamental.


The premise of this blog is that I'm trying to put together the most comprehensive guide to the many aspects of Wrist Spinning, some of it gleaned from books other parts through empirical research (Trial and error in the field). So grips the first part of the Spin, Drift and Dip phenomenon.

Our (Wrist Spinners) grip undoubtedly seems to the be the most versatile and stable of the four that I know of. Versatile in that the basic form of the grip allows you to bowl the ball with 4 key spinning attributes - Legspin, offspin, topspin and backspin all produced with the same grip but with the rotation of the wrist to faciliate the four variations. Stability I touched on earlier in this section when I wrote about the need for finger dexterity with my old grip and style of bowling. The basic instruction for the leg-break *(Your stock ball) when you are learning is very straight forward and is readily available in video demos all over the internet. Warne and Jenner both illustrate the grip and say that it is as simple as two fingers up and two fingers down. Interestingly Richie Benaud has a slightly different take on it. But returning to the stability aspect quickly - I've found that because the ball sits in the hand and has more contact with the hand than any of the other deliveries/releases, it creates a far more stable and robust platform from which the ball is released. To my mind this is integral to the ability to impart more spin on the ball.

So, as you can see if you've viewed the links provided, Warne and Jenner are singing from the same Hymn book, advocating the two up two down approach. Warne the expands on that with a very important point that I would whole heartedly agree with and that's the idea of holding the ball fairly loosely.

"I think one of the most important things with your grip is that you have to feel comfortable with your grip. As long as you've got your basics right - not too far in your palm". He illustrates and explains that he feels that there needs to be a gap between the ball and the inside of the fingers. Remember though, when you're exploring these facets to the grip, his hands are known to be relatively big, so where he manages to grip the ball leaving that gap, it may not be the case that you can do the same. Remember too also that balls are different in size and this will affect the grip. He then explains that the gap enhances the leverage that you get on the ball enabling you to spin it more. "You need the gap, to get the levearge to spin the ball, that's important'. He then talks about the pressure of the grip and the tightness saying that many coaches and spinners will tell you to grip the ball really tight, telling you to spread your fingers in the way that an Off-Spinner does. Again he reiterates that these choices vary from individual to individual, but he goes on to say why he has a relatively loose grip..... Regarding the wide fingered tight approach "The reason I don't like that is because you're tense, when you come to the crease, your holding the ball tight and your tense and it just makes everything really hard. I like to feel relaxed, I feel relaxed when I'm bowling I'll be able to get the ball to do what I want down the other end". It's universally agreed that when you're bowling wrist spin you'll note that your best bowling is produced when you're relaxed and free of tension. Philpott in his book 'The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling" goes over this aspect again and again and goes so far to write an entire chapter on the subject entitled 'Mind and Body'.

Benaud on the grip

Benaud has a different take on it, he grips the ball with a different approach, the fingers splayed making contact with the seam with both the first finger and the conventional 3rd finger. Benaud though is recognised as being tall and therefore may have the attribute of having equally large hands allowing him to grip the ball in the way that he does illustrated here.

Benaud says "The first knuckle of the index finger is placed on the seam. The first and second knuckles of the third finger are also on the seam and the ball is held quite firmly and the thumb doesn't play any part at all, it can be up in the air or it can be on the ball, it makes no difference". The video from which these images are lifted can be found
here. Note too, that like Warne, he leaves a pretty substantial gap between the ball and the palm of the hand (See the image directly above). This aspect isn't mentioned and it may be due to his physique and the fact that he's a big bloke.

At this point I have to return to the idea of a solid base from which the ball is released. Benauds grip looks far more like a 'Fingery' grip with the ball not sitting in the palm at all, from what we can see here and without the use of high speed, high definition it looks as though the ball is released primarily as a fingery action?

Peter Philpott on grip

"You may like to experiment with the way you hold the ball – ‘The Grip’. I have seen so many leg-spinners grip the ball differently, yet still bowl it effectively, the most important factor is that the grip is comfortable and suits you.
Even so, it is always sensible to understand ‘the orthodox’ method. For ‘orthodox’ simply means the way that suits most people. Whether you eventually choose to use the orthodox method or not, you should understand it and experiment with it. Look closely at the illustration here. You will not that;

• A cup has been formed by the hand with the little finger and third finger bent up.
• Half the ball fits into the cup so made.
Try the orthodox and spin. Try your own way if it is different. The most important thing is that you find the grip which makes it easiest to spin the ball hard."

Peter Philpott;The Art of Wrist Spin Bowling ;Crowood Press; Marlborough; 2006

From a layman’s perspective my own experience has seen me go through different variations of the 2 up 2 down grip as advocated by Jenner and Warne. The subtle variation was in that the ball either sits higher in the hand or lower, sometimes I gripped the ball hard, sometimes loose. During all of these differing phases I was still able to spin the ball and in one season I took a sequence of 4 'four-fers' in consecutive matches using the high in the hand grip technique, which I’ve now totally rejected. My own Leg Break grip which has gone through many transistions over the years, I've never been happy with, it's worked and it produces some spin, better some days worse others, but fundamentally it has lacked some of the indicative characteristics that I've looked for to indicate that it was correct. For instance it rarely 'Fizzes' as it flies through the air. It hardly ever drifted and I never suffered from the spinners finger where the release off the third finger was so definite and localised that it caused the abrasion that many wrist spinners report when bowling.

Bob Woolmer On the grip.

“The grip for wrist spinning does not rely on the pressure point of the fingers as much as orthodox spinning, but relies on a very supple wrist. The grip starts with the first and third fingers running down the seam of the ball, with the second finger resting on top (1). Fold the hand down behind the ball until the thumb is running parallel to the seam (2 and 3)”.

Bob Woolmer; The Art and Science of Cricket; 2008; New Holland; London.

The closest version of this seems to be the Benaud version and again this description kind of sounds like it would require larger hands. Woolmer then goes on to describe the action in relation to the wrist…..

“Cock the wrist down and away from the body (1). As the arm swings over in the bowling action, the wrist flicks open as if you are opening a door anti-clockwise (2 and 3). It is important to keep the bowling arm very high when delivering the ball: This will create a natural in-drift and dip that can be enhanced even more when bowling into the wind. As the bowling arm comes over, the front leg should be braced. The back leg will pivot round it, turning the shoulder towards the batsman".

Bob Woolmer; The Art and Science of Cricket; 2008; New Holland; London.

Here at least Woolmer makes the connection with the fact that the release is integral to the introduction of drift and dip. Again in my opinion this is very simplistic explanation, but then maybe it only needs to be? To be so rigid as to suggest that there is only one way is obviously wrong. It's dependent on your own physique and the levels of flexibilty in the wrist and fingers

Sections that will be added......................

Philpott on Drift
Grimmett on Drift
Jenner on Drift
Woolmer on Drift
Others on Drift

To be continued

* Stock Ball - link to the Leg Break basic section