From Procter to Malinga: A celebration of weird bowling actions
As a teenager I fancied myself as a crafty spin bowler. This was partly because it involved much less physical effort to trot in off a four-step run-up, and partly because we played on pitches that were so rough and uneven that you could get tremendous turn if you could just tweak it a little.
However, my bowling action did not please the PE teacher who reckoned he knew about cricket. He described it as having ‘a lazy left arm’. As I’m one of the weirdos who bats right-handed but bowls left-handed, for a while he insisted I was bowling with the wrong arm. Given that my right hand was useless for pretty much anything other than self abuse, I knew he was wrong.
When I bowled I did so with a loose, almost floppy arm, rolling my wrist over the ball so it left my hand with the palm facing behind me in an attempt to get a bit of whip and spin on the ball. It drove the teacher mad. He wanted me to bowl like Derek Underwood: a liquid smooth rolling action. But I knew that you could be a good bowler with an unusual action.
There is something absolutely compulsive about watching a bowler who seems to be doing it all wrong. Someone who appears to be tying themselves into some kind of human knot before all but throwing the ball at the stumps whilst having some sort of fit. Maybe it’s because it gives us all hope that our own action could also be perfected into a devastating wicket-taking mechanism. That was certainly what I clung to.
I first got fascinated by this sub-genre of weird bowlers in the early 1970s largely because of Mike Procter. One of my all-time favourite players, Proc was a South African who played for Gloucestershire and was possibly the most thrilling all-rounder of his generation, as likely to score a ton before lunchtime as take five wickets. The only man to ever take two LBW hat-tricks, he would run in at speed, chest on, do an odd little hop into the air and deliver the ball at speed with stiff arm almost clockwork over-the-shoulder action.
I maintain that he didn’t always bowl this way – and that I saw him early in his career bowl more conventionally – but can find no hard evidence of this fact. However, no-one can have coached him to bowl in this manner, he must’ve come up with it all on this own and it remains awkward to watch, but was devastating to face. Likewise, West Indian Colin Croft was another fast bowler who delivered the ball after a skip and with an open chest to the batter. Aussie Max Walker too. Pakistan’s Sohail Tanvir is a more recent Procter-style off-the-wrong-foot merchant.
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However, there are bowlers who make those fellas look positively conventional
There are several contenders for a “what on earth is he doing?” award. How about Paul Adams? Mike Gatting described the South African’s action as a ‘frog in a blender’ and that’s just about right. At at least two points in his delivery, it would appear first his elbow and then wrist become dislocated or are made of rubber. Add in a weird little twitch of the neck and you’ve got possibly the weirdest ever way in which bowl a cricket ball. It’s utterly bizarre and car-crash compulsive watching.
However, if Adams appeared to tie himself in a tight little knot, Lasith Malinga was the exact opposite, delivering the ball as though he had actually lost control of his limbs, I think many of us assumed his action wasn’t even legal. Surely he was what we always called “a chucker” his right arm stuck out sideways, apparently randomly hoying the ball towards the stumps. His run up just as odd, watch as he accelerates into a fast little soft shoe shuffle before slinging it. Weirdsville.
But maybe the downright freakish of all time is Shivil Kaushik. There are no words that can quite do justice to his awkward rubbery bendy-toy action. Watch it in slow-motion and it gets even more weird as it becomes clear that he can’t even see the batter as he delivers a ball which seems to come out the back of a twisted hand, launched from behind his own head.
Look at the state of that! You can hardly believe your eyes. Respect is due for creating an action that actually makes bowling look really much, much more difficult than it needs to be.
Just because you’re weird, freakish and unconventional, doesn’t mean that you’re no good. Whichever way gets the job done best, is the best way to get the job done, as all of these men have proven so well.
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