Today I’m going to try to clear up any confusion that some of you may have about the phrase ‘back of a length’. This is another one of those pieces of cricketing language that may have an unclear meaning to those of you who are new to the sport! But trust me, it’s actually really simple to understand! Firstly, you should know that the word ‘length’ is used in order to describe how much distance the ball travels down the pitch before it bounces. ‘Full length’ deliveries pitch closer to the batsman, whereas ‘shorter length’ deliveries pitch quite a distance away from the batsman, causing them to bounce higher.
The term ‘back of a length’ is used to refer to a delivery that pitches 7-8 metres away from the batsman’s stumps. This means that a back of a length delivery will be around waist height when it reaches the batsman! Cricketers use the phrase ‘back of a length’ because these types of deliveries pitch just a tiny bit further back than what is considered to be the ideal length for a fast bowler. The ideal length is around 6 metres away from the stumps, and will pass the batsman at around knee height or just above the knee. The diagram below illustrates the differences in length between these deliveries! The red zone shows the depth at which back of a length deliveries are bowled, and the yellow zone shows the ideal length for a fast bowler.
There are also a few other phrases that are used to refer to back of a length deliveries, including ‘short of a length’ or ‘short of a good length’. Watch out for these, and if you hear either of them, don’t be confused! They all mean the same thing!
Which Bowlers Bowl Back Of A Length Deliveries?
Any bowler can bowl a back of a length delivery, but some of them will be more effective than others when they choose to do so! This type of delivery is particularly deadly when bowled by a taller/quicker bowler. This is because their biggest weapon is often the bounce that they can extract from the pitch! They can intimidate batsmen by making the ball bounce incredibly high when they bowl a back of a length delivery. Bowlers I can think of that were extremely good at this were Steve Harmison and Morne Morkel. The back of the length ball was their most dangerous one because of the natural physical talent that both of them had. They were also more likely to bowl this length because neither of these them could really get the ball to swing. They relied more on pace, hostility and intimidation than getting the ball to move in the air! Bowlers who want to swing the ball will bowl fuller lengths in order to give the ball a chance to move! You will rarely see a bowler like Jimmy Anderson adopt the back of a length delivery as his most commonly bowled ball!
Many bowlers have a ‘natural length’. This means that they will find it easier to hit certain areas of the pitch than others, and will have to put more effort in when they decide to bowl other lengths. It is common that taller, quicker bowlers like Morkel will bowl more back of a length deliveries due to the fact that it just feels more normal to them! Bowlers who are a bit slower than this and not as tall may find it easier to hit lengths that are closer to the batsmen!
What Shots Can Batsmen Play To Back Of A Length Deliveries?
If you’re a batsman looking for ways to combat the back of a length ball, then I have good news for you! There are plenty of different shots you can play against it. I’ll go through some of them briefly here…
Your first option is to play no shot at all! You can always choose to leave the ball alone if it is not threatening the stumps. Back of a length deliveries will usually pass over the top of the stumps, so you should be ok to leave the ball based on the length alone. You will have to quickly decipher the line of the ball to judge whether you need to duck or sway out of the way of the delivery. Remember that when choosing to leave the ball you should always make sure that your hands/bat are well out of the way of the ball! You don’t want to take any chances!
Back Foot Defence
The back foot defence can be played to back of a length deliveries that are on the line of the body. It is a relatively simple shot, and requires the batsman to stand tall on the back foot and deflect the ball towards the ground with a vertical bat. The main aim of this shot is to keep the ball from being caught by the fielders, so make sure get your hands over the top of the ball, and angle the bat forwards slightly to push the ball towards the ground.
Back Foot Drive
The back foot drive is a difficult but effective option that you can use. To play this shot the batsman must rock on to the back foot, stand tall and bring the bat vertically through the line of the ball with a nice follow through. Try to keep your front elbow nice and high as you go through the motion of the shot to ensure you bring the bat through straight! The bounce generated by the back of the length delivery allows us to play these back foot shots! The straighter you can play this drive, the better! If the line of the ball is on your body, or just a fraction outside the off stump, then this delivery is a perfect candidate for the back foot drive! The further outside the off stump the ball is, the more difficult the shot becomes!
You should look to use the square cut against those back of a length deliveries that are bowled wide of the off stump. The square cut relies on there being a decent bit of room between your body and the line of the ball, allowing you the space needed to flourish the bat horizontally! To play this shot you should rock on to the back foot, before extending the arms out towards the ball and striking it with a horizontal bat. This shot can be played anywhere square of the wicket on the off side!
The Pull Shot
The pull shot is very useful against back of a length deliveries! Any ball that rises up to and above waist height of the batsman is perfect to be struck by the pull shot. It is especially useful against back of the length balls that are on the line of the body, even though it can still be played to deliveries slightly outside the line of off stump! To play this shot, you must rock on to the back foot and begin to swivel your body towards the leg side. As you initiate this movement, bring the bat through horizontally and strike the ball into the leg side. This shot can be used to target many areas on the leg side of the field; anywhere from fine leg right round to slightly in front of square. If you want to get the ball to go more towards fine leg, then you should look to make contact with the ball a bit later, and allow it to simply glance off the face of the bat. If you are looking to pull the ball square of the wicket, you should be aiming to strike the ball earlier and more powerfully!
Back Foot Leg Glance
This shot can be played to back of the length deliveries that are either on the line of our body, or drifting down the leg side. To play this shot, you must rock on to the back foot and stand as tall as possible. The taller you stand at the crease, the easier it will be for you to get your hands ‘on top’ of the ball in order to play the shot along the ground! Once you are in this position, bring the bat vertically towards the ball and angle the face of the bat towards the leg side. Allow the ball to glance off the face of the bat and try to avoid the fielders! This shot is very similar to the pull shot in that you should look to play it later and with less power if you’re aiming to get the ball to go fine on the leg side, and if you want it to go squarer, make contact earlier and with slightly more force.
This was only a brief introduction to the shots you can play to back of a length deliveries! If you want to read a much more in depth guide on all the shots you’re likely to see in the game of cricket, as well as how and when to play them, then click here!