Why England's bouncer fixation has rebounded on them
Saturday 08 January 2005
England's tactics in the Test series against South Africa are doing little to help Stephen Harmison recapture the form which made him the most feared fast bowler in the world. During the first three Test matches Harmison has been encouraged by his captain to bowl short. Michael Vaughan has asked his spearhead to do this in the hope that the opposition will fend the ball off to short leg or get bored of ducking and take on the hook shot.
The hook is a high risk stroke because it is difficult to control a ball that is travelling towards your head at 90mph, and this is why Vaughan consistently puts two fielders on the leg side boundary. The tactic has brought limited success and it is having a detrimental affect on the fast bowlers.
When a bowler bowls a bouncer it is a completely different sensation to any other delivery. The bouncer is a dangerous delivery, but one that does not require a great deal of skill to bowl. All the bowler is trying to do is whistle the ball past a batsman's head and to do this he just hurls it into the pitch as hard as he can. If a bowler gets his aim right it can be devastating - as the West Indies proved in the Eighties - but most fly harmlessly over the batsman's head.
But the bouncer is not the problem. It is the next delivery which causes consternation. Bowling is a sensation and through practice bowlers attempt to train their bodies to work like a machine. Philip Tufnell, the former England spinner, felt that bowling was all about fingertip control. And it is. Bowlers get used to releasing the ball at a certain stage and the more often they repeat this, the easier it is to pitch the ball where you want.
But when you are constantly doing something which breaks this feeling, the rhythm you had, along with your consistency, disappears.
And this is a large part of Harmison's problem. When he was bowling well and taking wickets he bowled a fuller and more consistent length. Harmison's biggest asset is his ability to get the ball to bounce steeply from a length that a batsman feels he should be moving forward to and England are wasting this by asking him to bowl as he is.
In Johannesburg Vaughan should bring deep square leg up and encourage Harmison to bowl a fuller length.
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