Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stiff Arms and Stiff Upper Lips, or, Why Do they throw the Ball That Way?

OK, before I get any further into this post, allow me to get one thing out of the way. Despite the sub-title of this piece, in cricket the bowler does NOT throw the ball; s/he bowls it. Saying that a bowler throws a ball is actually a criticism of the bowler’s skill, a questioning of the legality of the bowler’s action and a bit of an insult as well.
Not that we have that out of the way, this post will be discussing how one bowls the ball in cricket. This will be a very basic (repeat with me, OCD rules-mongers with spirit levels and tape measures in your pockets: BASIC) explanation. In softball/baseball, the pitcher stands on the pitcher’s mound and throws the ball toward home plate.

Pretty simple. Sure, I know there are some rules to follow as far as keeping one’s foot on the pitching rubber, which way the pitcher goes with the front leg and how much one can or cannot pause once the windup preceding the delivery has started.

In cricket, the act of delivering the ball to the batter is called bowling. OK, OK—let me stop you right there, before the questions rolling around inside your head jingle out through your mouth and onto the ground. I know that cricket bowling looks nothing like what Americans call bowling. But it used to.

Way back in the mists of time, when cricket was first developed, the bowlers did bowl underarm, and the bats looked more like Happy Gilmore’s ginormous putter than today’s cricket bats. If you’ve no idea who Happy Gilmore is and have no desire to go anywhere near an Adam Sandler movie, then think of old cricket bats as being similar to field hockey sticks.

The art of bowling involves the arm and the legs and feet—again similar to baseball. First, let’s look at the arm.

Over the years, bowlers slowly raised their actions-bowling first round arm then over arm. Today, when a bowler bowls the cricket ball, she must her arm straight. Basically, that’s it. Whether you are a fast bowler, running in form the boundary to build up speed and add to your bowling velocity, or you are a spin bowler trotting in from about 10 or 20 feet away, that’s it. Keep your arm straight.

OK, to be exact and rules-mongerish, the international bowler is allowed to straighten the elbow joint 15 degrees. Here’s the exact wording from the International Cricket Council’s rulebook: “Definition of fair delivery - the arm. A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.” (You can refer to the graphics here for what I'm talking about:

I also mentioned the legs and feet. Placement of the foot is as important as baseball. In baseball, if you don’t get it right the pitcher is called for a “balk,” and the batter gets to go to first base. In cricket, something similar applies, except it’s tougher to keep those feet in line when you’re running up like a long jumper and you can’t let your planted foot go beyond a certain point. And the umpire calls a “no ball” and the bowler has to do it again. Again, to quote from the ICC: “5. Fair delivery - the feet. For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride (a) the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his stated mode of delivery. (b) the bowler’s front foot must land with some part of the foot, whether grounded or raised (i) on the same side of the imaginary line joining the two middle stumps as the return crease described in (a) above and (ii) behind the popping crease. If the bowler’s end umpire is not satisfied that all of these three conditions have been met, he shall call and signal No ball.”

To see the laws relating to “throwing,” check here:,50,AR.html.


  1. there's also an interesting scientific study of Murali's alleged "chucking". apparently his arms aren't able to fully straighten which makes him appear to be throwing the ball.

  2. Do you own a copy of Bob Woolmer's "Art and Science of Cricket"? Highly recommended text.