Gibson delivers quick class on slow bowling

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There are few Americans around these parts, which is as well because the art of explaining cricket to them got harder yesterday. It worked like this: no sooner have England assembled a line-up of fast bowlers worthy of respect, if not yet universal admiration, than they start telling them to bowl slow.

In view of what happened in the opening match of the one-day series against Sri Lanka it makes perfect sense. In truth, if England's speed merchants do not adapt quickly, say by the second match today, and learn lessons in deceleration, this series will be disappearing quickly down the Rambada Falls.

The man charged with the urgent tutorials is the new temporary bowling coach, Ottis Gibson. He has an advantage which he touched on yesterday when asked who were the best exponents of the slower ball in England. "Apart from myself," he replied truthfully.

An incontrovertible case could actually be made for Gibson performing for England on these slow, low pitches in Sri Lanka. He may be 38 but he has just finished a season in England which bordered on the sensational.

Gibson took 80 first-class wickets for Durham including 10 in an innings against Hampshire. He is also one of the few level four coaches around, which means the likelihood is he can teach it as well as do it.

He said: "This is international cricket and you're seen as the best bowlers in the country and you have to learn things quite quickly. You haven't got six months. We're practising slower balls, making sure our toolbag has the necessary equipment to take out there."

Gibson said that all his seam bowlers – of whom James Anderson, Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad are expected to play – had learned something yesterday which they could use in the match today. It is to be hoped this is so, though Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, said that it took his bowlers four years to master the wiles that exposed England on Monday night.

Bowling slower balls is only the half of it. They need to bowl them at differing velocities and with their hand in the same position at delivery and their arm going over at the same speed.

England must also learn how to pick slower balls. It was not the bowlers who lost the first match, it was the batsmen. They were quite hapless against the alterations in pace and if they fail today they will be more culpable still.

"We've been looking at videos to see if we can spot any difference in action or where it's released," said Gibson. "They were bowling two, three slower balls an over." Part of the skill of top-level batting is the feel for it. If England's middle order are toppled again today their bowlers can deliver the ball at speeds from 10mph to 90mph and it will not matter a jot to Americans or anybody else.