Sunday, 26 December 2010

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball

Cricket goes through periods of coining new, unusual and meaningless phrases and terms that seem designed to baffle casual spectators and act as an affront to users of the English language.

The phrase 'very adjacent became very fashionable in the late 90s, invariably used to describe an LBW that looked plumb. However, instead of describing a ball hitting a pad in line with the stumps as 'very close' on something similarly descriptive, the term 'very adjacent'.

This always struck me as an unnecessarily roundabout and fairly meaningless way of saying 'it looks out'.

To be fair, Channel 4 seemed to do their best to combat this with the excellent jargon buster segments - but Sky seems to be doing its level best to introduce a whole new series of baffling terms, including the currently popular 'tennis-ball bounce' and 'bowling a heavy ball'.

The latter has been around for some time, and I remember Kenny Benjamin being described as bowling a 'heavy ball', though I've never heard a description of what this is supposed to mean, beyond the similarly bemusing term 'hits the bat hard'.

Bowling a heavy ball seems to be a term applied, mainly, to fat bowlers. Jacques Kallis, Freddie Flintoff, Mitchell Johnson, Darren Gough, Ravi Bopara, Ryan Harris and Tim Bresnan have all been described as bowlers of the heavy ball. Most could be described as a bit porky. Perhaps it's a kind of cricketing euphemism.

Bowls a heavy ball=fat?

At its most basic, bowling a heavy ball must mean that the bowler has some decent speed behind them, but I don't remember genuine out-and-out quicks like Brett Lee, Steve Harmison or Shoaib Akhtar every having the 'heavy ball' moniker directed at them.

So what is a heavy ball? A ball that isn't actually that quick but feels harder when it hits the bat or body? How does that work? A ball that has more power behind it but not necessarily speed? Does that work within the laws of physics? A ball that's simply back of a length and therefore likely to hit the top of the bat? Or, most basically, a ball that's quicker than you expect?

The only thing I can think that the heavy ball means - when commentators refer to it - is that it's delivered by a skiddier bowler, who may lack the pace of a Lee or Akhtar but will skid the ball off the pitch, meaning the ball doesn't drop as much of its initial speed as a delivery speared in from a height, at an acute angle, and losing more of its initial pace.

The fact that cricket followers are bemused by exactly what a 'heavy ball' is supposed to mean strikes me as particularly absurd, and something of a lazy shorthand for commentators. Type 'bowls a heavy ball' and you get 3,200 results, probably referring to just about every international bowler imaginable.

Asking some of the cricketers from Sefton returned the following explanations:

'a ball that thumps into the bat, as opposed to a fast one being easy to slice away'

'one that seems to pick up pace off the pitch, rather than from the hand... traditionally back of a length and hitting the splice of the bat, thus hard to get away'

'a ball that looks faster than it is and hits the bat harder than expected'

'one that rushes on to you after pitching'

All of which seem like rather differing and somewhat vague explanations as to what the heavy ball actually is.

So, what of the tennis ball bounce? This one seems a little more obvious to me, being applied to pitches rather than bowlers. Presumably it refers to a pitch that's springy, rather than hard, that saps the pace of a ball but may provide unexpected, steepling bounce.

The WACA Test pitch, we were told, had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. The MCG, by comparison, hasn't had a lot of tennis-ball bounce. I imagine the likes of Broad, Finn and particularly Tremlett should be able to get 'tennis-ball bounce', as they're all pretty tall (probably thin) chaps.

Tennis-ball bounce and bowling a heavy ball should, therefore, be pretty much opposites. And so are the bowlers who deliver them. Heavy ball=fat. Tennis ball bounce=thin. Simple as that.


  1. (In my opinion..!) A Heavy ball is a genuine phenomenom with a simple enough explanation. Basically, a physically stronger bowler is more likely to deliver one than a weaker one. How to explain...erm....stand behind a door twice, pushed by two differently strengthed people but at the speed. Despite the velocity being the same the force of the door hitting you is likely to be different. Similar ting with a cricket ball. The weight (mass) may be constant, the speed (velocity) may be constant but the stength behind it (force) may vary. There's some physics in there somewhere. As such the bowler is likely to get a different reaction from the pitch/ball. Classis examples are likely (not having faced them) to be Jacques Kallis/Shane Watson (when angry), Bresnan or most certainly Flintoff. They are likely to hit the pitch that little bit harder, get slightly more bounce and the most tell tale sign is the number of balls you find hitting the splice of the bat (ie slightly higher up due to more bounce). This obviously vibrates the bat, causing discomfort, hence the terminology of 'Heavy Ball' - it genuinely feels like it is hitting the bat harder.

    Just my thoughts. But I think they are right! Fella!

  2. I thought about that. But I'm not convinced, fella!


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