As fast bowlers, we should always be asking ourselves how we can improve our ability to bowl a consistent line and length. Being able to bowl controlled and accurate deliveries is arguably the most important skill a fast bowler can possess, and if you can teach yourself to be accurate then you’ll definitely be a dangerous bowler to bat against! Some of the most successful fast bowlers of all time weren’t actually that fast. Instead, it was their pinpoint accuracy that made them deadly! Guys like Glenn McGrath of Australia, and Shaun Pollock of South Africa are two that immediately spring to mind. Almost every ball they bowled would be in a dangerous area, testing the batsman’s judgement and always threatening the outside edge and the off stump. Being able to bowl perfect line and length allowed these two bowlers to combine for 1778 international wickets between them, which is insane!! In this post I’m going to give you a few tips that will hopefully help you follow their example…
So how can you improve your line and length? If I were you, I’d try to do the following things:
- Target Practice Drills
- Make Sure You’re Practicing Regularly
- Develop A Smooth & Repeatable Run Up
- Focus On An Area Of The Pitch As You Run In To Bowl
- Use Your Front Arm To Assist Your Aim
- Learn To Control Your Wrist Position
- Focus On Your Fitness
I’ll now dive into each of these tips in a lot more detail! But first, if you’re not 100% sure what ‘line and length’ actually means, check out one of my other posts by clicking here! It should tell you all you need to know!
Target Practice Drills
One of the best ways to improve your ability to bowl a consistent line and length is to do some target practice drills. These are so simple to set up, and you can do them at home or during your club practice sessions! There really is no excuse to not be doing these kinds of drills if you’re a fast bowler looking to improve your accuracy.
The things you will need for this drill are as follows:
- A cricket ball (you can also use a tennis ball or other cricket ball substitutes like a wind ball)
- Space to bowl! – You’ll need enough room to accommodate your entire bowling run up as well as the length of a cricket pitch (22 metres). The type of surface you are bowling on (such as grass or concrete) doesn’t really matter as long as you have the right amount of space available!
- A Target To Aim At – For this I will usually use a coin. The coin should be placed on an area of the pitch that you are trying to hit when you bowl. You could also use a bit of fabric like a handkerchief or any other small item!
- A Set Of Stumps – These are not essential but I like to use them during my target practice drills! It’s always useful to see where you’re bowling in relation to the batsman’s stumps! I bought myself a set of spring loaded stumps so that I could use them on a variety of different surfaces! They’re durable, easy to move around, can be used on any flat surface and don’t have to be inserted into the ground! If you’re interested you can check the price of them on Amazon here!
Once you have the equipment that I mentioned above, the drill is really simple. I would usually start by putting the coin on an off stump line, about 6-7 metres away from the stumps on a good length. This is an area all fast bowlers should be able to hit regularly! I would then bowl 30 balls, trying to hit the coin with each one. If I got close to the coin (within 10 centimetres of it), I would mark that as a successful delivery! If I was further away than this, I would mark it as unsuccessful. This is a great drill because it requires you to really focus on what you are trying to achieve and where you’re trying to put the ball. The minute you stop concentrating on hitting that spot on the pitch and start to zone out, you will find it harder to maintain your accuracy!
Also, you obviously don’t have to put the coin in the same place every time! Sometimes you could push it a little fuller and wider, and try to get some outswing on the ball to move it towards the coin. You could also put it where the batsman’s feet would be and try to perfect your yorker delivery! (Click here if you’d like to read my post that will teach you how to bowl the perfect yorker!).
If you can repeat these kinds of drills once or twice a week, or include them in all of your practice sessions, you should see your percentage of successful deliveries rise. This will make you a much more accurate bowler!
Make Sure You’re Practicing Regularly
This is the simplest, but most vital tip to improving your line and length as a fast bowler. You must make sure that you’re getting enough practice in. No one has ever improved their fast bowling skills by sitting still!
In my opinion, you want to make sure you’re practicing your bowling more than once a week. If you practice weekly with your cricket club, don’t let that be the one time per week that you pick up a cricket ball! Find a way to practice at home too!
Fast bowling is all about rhythm. The longer you leave between your bowling sessions, the more difficult it will be to get back into rhythm again! The more times we put our bodies through the process of fast bowling, the more natural it will feel to us. This is how improvements in your ability to bowl accurate line and length occur. The more times you can land the ball on that good length in practice, the easier it will be for you to replicate it during a game. Through practice, you begin to know exactly when you have to release the ball to get it to land where you want it to. Practicing more can almost never be a bad thing!
The one time practicing a lot more can be dangerous is if you are bowling so much that it leads to an injury! Because of the stress we put our bodies under, fast bowlers are very susceptible to injuries and bowling too much within a certain time period can increase the risk even more! Luckily, the ECB have come up with a little rule to provide some information on how much bowlers should be bowling. It is called the 7/4/2 rule and it is as follows:
‘In any 7 day period a fast bowler should not bowl more than 4 days in total during that period. They should also only bowl for a maximum of 2 days in a row’
Sticking to this guideline should help you make sure that you’re not bowling too much and putting your body through any unnecessary stresses!
Develop A Smooth & Repeatable Run Up
The fast bowlers run up is one of the most important parts of the bowling action. If the bowler is having problems with his/her run up, then this will inevitably impact their ability to bowl accurately and at high speed. One of your main goals as a fast bowler should be to make your run up as consistent as possible. If we can make sure that our approach to the crease doesn’t change from one ball to the next, then this is a good base on which we can build our accuracy. We know we will be getting our body into the same position every time!
There are a few simple principles I like to focus on when it comes to run ups, and I will outline those here:
- Make Sure Your Run Up Is Measured Out Effectively – In practice you should have worked out what is the exact right length run up for you. This is usually measured in strides from the popping crease, and the bowler will then lay a marker down or scratch a mark into the field to remind themselves where they should be beginning their run up from. This measurement is vital to ensure that we are starting our run up from the same point every time we bowl! Starting from the same point means we will land at the same point if our speed and stride length remain the same, which is a great start if you want to improve your accuracy.
- Approach The Crease At A Nice Even Pace – The run up is all about building the momentum that we need to get pace on to the ball, so you’ll want to build up a decent bit of speed as you’re running in. It’s not necessary to sprint towards the crease as that will burn too much energy, but you definitely don’t want to be moving too slowly either. My run up stays at a pretty consistent speed throughout, but some bowlers like to start off slower and build up a quicker pace as they get close to delivering the ball. Find a speed that works for you!
- Keep Your Stride Lengths The Same – I’ve already kind of mentioned this but once you have a run up length that works for you you’ll need to keep the lengths of your strides consistent as you approach the crease. Don’t have any random short strides or longer strides, as these can knock off the rhythm of your approach, and lead to you worrying about bowling a no ball etc. Having to worry about things like this can distract you from focusing on where you want to bowl!
- Build Momentum In The Direction Of Your Target – For fast bowlers, it’s important that we get all of our energy going towards our target. You don’t want to veer off to one side during your run up, or have your arms waving around from left to right. Approach the wicket in a straight line, with your arms and leg pumping up and down in a linear fashion.
- Don’t Overstretch During Your Delivery Stride – Stretching too much at as you deliver the ball can cause your deliveries to lose a lot of their accuracy. It will often mean that you bowl a totally different length than you intended to! To avoid over stretching, try to make sure your run up is measured correctly. Also, work on your stamina! Getting tired can lead to you overstretching and is one of the big reasons some bowlers lose their accuracy as they go through an innings
You should practice your run up a lot! This helps to make sure that it gets ingrained in your muscle memory through repetition. During a match, you don’t want to be thinking about where your front foot is landing as you deliver the ball, or other things like that. Instead, you want to be confident that the run up you’ve marked out will take you exactly where you need to be, and put you in no danger of bowling a no ball! If we’re thinking about where our foot will land as we approach the crease this can take our focus away from the ball we are trying to bowl, which is never a good thing for a fast bowler.
If you want more of my recommendations for run ups for fast bowlers, I’d recommend reading the post I have written on them by clicking here! In that post I take you through most of the common questions bowlers have when thinking about their run up, and try to give you some practical solutions.
Focus On An Area Of The Pitch As You Run In To Bowl
Some bowlers will stare at the area of the pitch that they want to hit as they run in to bowl. This was a technique that always worked for me, and helped me to be much more accurate. It makes sense to look at the target you’re aiming at! I would stare at that spot on the pitch from the beginning of my run up to the point where I released the ball. This helped me to focus much more on the ball I wanted to bowl.
Other bowlers have different habits. Some like to focus on the shot they want the batsman to play. For example, if the bowler runs in and visualises the batsman playing a cover drive, this helps them to pitch the ball in the area that would force the batsman to play that shot.
Personally, I would always recommend focusing on the part of the pitch where you want the ball to bounce. It really helped me and if you want to improve your accuracy I think it could help you out too!
Use Your Front Arm To Assist Your Aim
Another great technique that one of my coaches taught me was to use my front arm as a guide for where I wanted the ball to go. This technique doesn’t really help you get the length of your delivery right, but it definitely helps you to bowl the right line!
Basically, this technique relies on you making sure that as you’re about to deliver the ball, you point your front elbow in the direction that you want the ball to go. All fast bowlers should have a point in their action where they will raise their front arm up towards their head. The front arm is then pulled down forcefully just before the front foot lands on the crease and the bowling arm comes over to release the ball. If we get our front arm pointing towards the line we wish to bowl, the thinking is that the bowling arm will also follow the same path, delivering the ball on the line we desire!
Try it in practice and see if this makes an impact on your ability to bowl a consistent line! The first few times you try it you’ll really have to think about it because it may not feel natural. But if you stick to this technique and use it in your practice sessions at least a couple of times a week it will begin to feel more normal!
Learn To Control Your Wrist Position
Your wrist position also has an impact on your ability to bowl consistent lines and lengths. Learning how to control our wrist and be conscious of it is one of the key aspects of becoming a more accurate bowler.
My aim when I started bowling was to keep my wrist locked in a central position. If I allowed my wrist to relax, this would often lead to me losing this central position, causing me to bowl less accurately. When the wrist is in the central position, it is directly behind the ball. This leads to the ball coming out nice and straight, often with a good seam position. When the wrist is off centre, it is no longer fully behind the ball as we propel it towards the batsman, which may cause us to lose our line. The difference between a central position (on the left), and an off-centre position (on the right) of the wrist can be seen in the diagram below!
To make sure I kept my wrist locked centrally I would really focus on holding it in that position as I ran in to bowl. As I stood at the end of my run up, there would always be a point where I would get my wrist into this locked position, and I would make sure I didn’t release it throughout my entire run up until the ball left my hand.
It was also useful for me to imagine a metal rod being attached to both my elbow and the tip of my middle finger. Imagining this really helped me to keep my wrist and forearm nicely aligned.
Some bowlers find this locked wrist position really easy to adjust to. For me, it was a little harder, and I had to make sure I held it in place throughout my run up to ensure I would remember to keep it in that position as I released the ball.
If you think this might be a problem for you, why not get a coach or a family member/friend to record you from behind as you bowl. Then you can check what position you regularly get your wrist in and see if you want to make any changes!
Focus On Your Fitness
This is a general cricket tip but it definitely applies to your ability to bowl line and length consistently! As I mentioned briefly earlier, if you get tired very quickly then this can lead to you losing your shape during your run up and bowling action. This could cause you to overstretch during the delivery, fall away to the off-side slightly, or not approach the crease as fast as normal. All of these things can impact the line and length that we bowl!
To keep up your bowling fitness I’d recommend having two practice sessions per week in which you will bowl like you would during a match. There’s no better way to build bowling fitness than by actually bowling! For me, I always liked to bowl a minimum of 30 deliveries, on a minimum of 2 days per week. However, my ideal practice session would involve me bowling a full 10 over spell (60 deliveries), with a short break in the middle. In my opinion, you should always try to make your practice sessions harder than the games that you play in! Bowling 10 overs straight through with a short break in the middle is probably a more intense spell than you’re likely to get in most limited overs matches. In these matches, fast bowlers will often bowl 5 overs, then have a long break before returning to bowl a 3 over spell, followed by another break and their final 2 overs!
Aside from actually bowling to improve your fitness, you can do some standard cardiovascular workouts. I always found that running and cycling were great ways to keep my fitness up during the cricket off-season!
So, there are my tips that will help you improve your line and length! Let me know if any of these work for you, or if you feel there are some that I may have missed!
It really all comes down to practice at the end of the day. You’ve got to be bowling regularly to get better. The bowlers who just wait until game time to bowl are unlikely to make it to the top levels of cricket! Dedicate yourself to improving, put the effort in, and you will make improvements quickly!
One thing you shouldn’t forget is to practice bowling to both left and right handers! Because there are more right handed batsmen in the game of cricket, we can get used to bowling to them during practice sessions. Then, when faced with a left handed batsman, we may struggle to be as accurate because of the change in angle! Make sure you included bowling to left handers in your practice regime! You don’t want to be unprepared when you get to a game and there’s a skilled left hander on strike! The same is true for bowling around the wicket. There may be times in a match where you want to go around the wicket to give yourself an advantage, and this can cause a dramatic change in the angles we have to bowl! Make sure you practice this too!
Also, you should be practicing getting the line and length of your variations spot on! Modern fast bowlers need to be able to bowl accurate yorkers, slower balls and bouncers in order to keep the batsmen in check. I linked to my post about bowling the perfect yorker earlier, but in addition to that, I also wrote a post about all the different types of slower balls in the game of cricket! This post included all the information you’ll need about slower balls, as well as details of how you can bowl each one of them! Click here if you’d like to check it out!