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Do you know what type of fast bowler your body wants to be?

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Brett Lee at Back Foot Landing. Image credit sportsandarchitectureblog

Reflecting on all my years of analysing bowling actions and working with fast bowlers, I have been pondering the simple to master basics for young developing fast bowlers. And I reckon this is a great start for fast bowlers, and their coaches, to reduce their risks of injury and maximise their potential.

From a bowling action perspective, a key foundation for reducing risk of injury and maximizing your talent, is this one simple, and somewhat odd feature about the way YOU bowl. Not your team-mate, not your idol, but YOU!

You maybe surprised by this, but its your dominant foot!

What I mean by this is, if you are a right-hand bowler, it is your right foot, if you are a left-hand bowler, it is your left foot. Its how this foot lands at the beginning of the delivery stride that should form the foundation for the rest of your bowling action, your run-up and even your fitness program (more on that in another blog)!

Its called back foot contact or back foot impact or back foot landing, often abbreviated to BFC or BFI or BFL. They are all essentially referring to the same thing, and its critical to know how your back foot lands, as this commences your delivery stride, and should guide the rest of your action. Its your body’s way of selecting its most efficient and effective way to solve the complex movement challenge of bowling a cricket ball, at pace.

If your back foot lands parallel to the bowling crease – that is perpendicular to the direction of the pitch – you are essentially a Side-on bowler. In this case you should ensure your hips and shoulders are side-on or near to side-on at the same time. See the picture of Darren Gough below.

Darren Gough bowling
The English fast bowler Darren Gough demonstrating the classic side-on bowling action with back foot parallel to crease. His hips and shoulders are also in a side-on position. His body is working in harmony, one of the great side-on bowling actions in modern times. Image source Alamy.

If your back-foot lands in a more angled position, such as pointing at mid-wicket or even square leg, your natural bowling action is to be more of a Semi-open type bowling action. So, when you land at back foot landing, your hips and shoulders should be also in a semi open position. That is, also facing mid-wicket or square leg. See the picture of Glenn McGrath below. His back foot and hips are similarly aligned in a semi-open position and his shoulders are also well aligned, a little more closed, heading towards a side-on position, but not dangerously so. He was a model of efficiency and ruthless precision.

Glenn McGrath Semi-Open bowling action
Glenn McGrath, one of the great semi-open fast bowlers. Note his back foot is more angled towards square leg at back foot landing.

You can probably guess the third and final position here!? If your back foot points straight down the wicket, your body is telling you that you are a Front-on bowler. So, as the logic goes, your hips and chest should also be facing straight down the wicket. With this one its critical you stay front-on right through to ball release. This is quite difficult to do, but the research clearly shows it is absolutely critical to stay front-on through the complete delivery stride to reduce the chance of back injuries, lumbar stress fractures in particular. More on this in another blog, as there is a bit to discuss here, and it often gets misunderstood. The picture below shows Courtney Walsh using a front-on bowling action.

Courtney Walsh, a great front-on bowler. Note his back foot pointing straight down the pitch.

There are always exceptions to the rule, no science, or art, is perfect. Take a look at Jeff Thomson below, his foot goes beyond the side-on position, he was an exception to the rule, but a pretty useful one. One of the great bowling actions of all time!

Jeff Thomson at BFL showing his ultra-side on positioning of his back foot, hips and shoulders.

If you know where that back foot of yours, or your bowlers that you coach, is pointing as it lands, you are on the journey to listening to what your body is telling you about how it wants to bowl fast. Ignore it at your own peril!

If you do not know, and chances are many young fast bowlers don’t, ask your coach or a teammate to watch or video you bowl for an over in the nets and show you how your foot lands each time. You will find it is remarkably consistent. Its a little gift from the fast bowling gods, but its so often ignored.

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