Tait, Johnson, Malinga and The Slinging Arm Bowling Action

Otto SaaymanContributor IFebruary 2, 2009

It seems that the definition of a "correct" bowling action is being pushed to its limits these days. Change and progress are good things. Keeping the game interesting is something the ICC has to do. They have strict guidelines about acceptable play but where do coaches and selectors draw the line?

When I was taught how to play cricket in Primary School we had some good coaches. These teachers and volunteers sacrificed a lot of their time sharing their love of the game with us. We were taught the most basic skills of the game and the reasons behind each "best practise" were explained to us in detail.

One thing that has caught my attention recently is the bowling action of players like Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Lasith Malinga.

My early cricket tutoring dictated: "When bowling your arm has to be straight, your elbow locked and your hand should travel over your shoulder and then down following the line you want the ball to travel. This line should be such that you have the maximum chance of dismissing a batsmen. The ball should bounce between the stumps in order to dismiss a batsman leg-before-wicket, or just outside off stump getting the batsman in two minds: Should I play, or can I leave the ball?

By bringing the hand holding the ball over your shoulder you increase your chances of bowling a proper line and length." This makes sense to me. If your hand does not travel over your shoulder it becomes critical to release the ball at the correct moment. If you get it wrong you bowl a wide. A wide which your wicket keeper might not be able to stop from going over the boundary ropes.

If your hand travels over your shoulder and you do release the ball to early, or a bit too late, the ball has a better chance of still being delivered within the range of a legal delivery.

I have noted that these three men whom I mention above do sometimes bowl some wayward deliveries and are often guilty of bowling the ball for five wides.

My question then is this: Who taught these guys how to bowl?

Shaun Tait started playing cricket at age seven after being encouraged to do so by his father. He was born in Adelaide in 1983. In 2003/ 04 he was named the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year. His eight wickets for 43 in a game against Tasmania also earned him the ING Cup's Best New Talent Prize in the same year. Bowling the ball at or just under 160 km/h he earned a spot in the 2007 World Cup squad and took 23 wickets at an average of 20.3 in the competition.

Mitchell Johnson was born in Queensland in 1981. He represented Australia at under 19 level after being discovered by Dennis Lille at a Pace Australia camp aged 17. Lillee described him as "a once in a generation bowler." Although he took a long time to adjust to cricket at the highest level he has cemented his place in the test and ODI squads.

Lasith Malinga was born in Galle in 1983. He was a surprise selection on a tour to Australia in 2004 after building a formidable reputation in domestic competition. On this tour he took 6 for 90 in his first match against a Northern Territory Chief Minister's XI. He established himself as a regular in the playing XI after an impressive World Cup in 2007, with 18 wickets at 15.77 from eight matches as Sri Lanka made it to the final. One of the moments of the tournament was Malinga's four in four against South Africa—the first time a bowler had taken four wickets off successive deliveries in international cricket.

The two Australians have had extensive injury lay-offs and problems with their backs, legs and arms. Malinga fell out of favour after poor performances against England and Australia in the latter part of his career.

Just to spark some more conversation here are some more questions for you to comment on:

  • I am only 28 and due to our local public broadcaster I have only watched teams outside SA play since 2003 when I got satellite TV. Are there any other successful players who bowl like this? Were there any in years gone by? I don't know of any others.
  • Do you think these three would have been as successfull if their coaches had "forced" them to change their bowling action? I say probably not.
  • Could they have performed better? I say they would have had longer careers and more consistent performances, maybe at a lower level.
  • Would Tait and Johnson have had less injuries? I say yes.
  • Do you think coaches should change a player's bowling action if it is within ICC regulations, but not within the "norm"? I say yes. We see it all the time: People who perform well at international level are those who do the basics well.

What do you guys think?