Though placed in point of order second to Fielding, I must be allowed to qualify somewhat the observations before made upon the relative importance of the two.
In giving Fielding the first place, I looked at the game as it is, and not as it might be.
Of course if you will get bowlers so accurate that every ball should be straight to the wicket, and pitched directly in the manner most difficult to play, then the field might become a subordinate part; but even against bowling such as this a batsman with no fear of the field before his eyes might knock up a very pretty score before finally disposed of.
Moreover, very few men can go on bowling their best when chances from the bat are not taken, or when runs are thrown away through bad fielding.
Even the best bowlers must miss the wicket sometimes, and if the wicket-keeper is a muff, and long-stop incompetent, the runs from byes quickly assume formidable dimensions.
The bowling of the present day is of two kinds - Bound Arm and Underhand.
Of those two, the first is the only form tolerated by young players, and even by many of more experience, who ought to know better.
Doubtless, round-arm bowling, like that of a few of the leading 'cracks,' is ahead of underhand, but these are exceptional cases; Men with Special Gifts; And even with them the art was not acquired nor kept up with out an amount of patient practice, for which few can or ought to spare the time.
The case stands thus: round-arm bowling is chiefly valuable for the increased power over the velocity of the all, but this increase of power over the velocity of the ball, but this increase of power is only gained by delivering the ball from an unnatural position, and with an unnatural action - an action and position, in fact, purely artificial from beginning to end; and in consequence, except in extra-ordinary cases, as above noticed, as much or more is lost by way of accuracy as is gained in velocity.
Underhand bowling, on the contrary, requires no extraordinary exertions of the muscles, no swing of the body, the arm being allowed to swing in its natural line of motion, as a pendulum, and yet it allows of great precision, gives room for the development of bias in the ball, far more destructive than mere speed, is not incompatible with a very considerable degree of swiftness; and finally, but not least, is not by many degrees so fatiguing as round-arm delivery.
Should round-arm bowling then; be laid on one side in favor of the underhand?
Certainly not; if a young player has the talent and takes to round arm naturally, finds it not too fatiguing, and feels it an actual muscular pleasure to bowl in this way, he would only be thrown away as an underhand bowler.
But let each follow his own beat - his physical bent, I mean; and let there be no more forcing of round arm bowling, just because it is 'the thing.
Men are to be found, like Blondin or Leotard, who can perform the most extraordinary feats, and do with apparent ease what the vast majority of ordinary mortals could never do at all.
But we cannot be all Leotards or Blondins.
Ambition is all very well in its way, but we should remember there is such a thing as aspiring too high, and toppling over on the other side.
My advice to the beginner is, to make up his mind quickly as to what style he will adopt.
If round-arm bowling comes naturally and easily to him, and if he has time for the constant practice necessary for him to acquire the art and keep it up, let him not be content with underhand.
But if there be any failure in one of these items he had better abandon the idea of round-hand bowling for once and forever, and strive to attain what excellence he may be underhand. In the latter style, he may do something, even, perhaps, great things, while he is sure to do little or nothing in the former.
We will suppose that round-arm bowling has been found within the compass of the beginner's capabilities: how should he proceed in order to make the most of his powers?
First, then, to hold the ball.
The ball should be held in the fingers, not the palm of the right hand - if right-handed - the fingers being well wrapped round it - and should be lightly retained in its place by the thumb.
Many bowlers hold the ball in its place with the fingers of the other hand till the ball is swung back for delivery. In delivering the ball, the arm must be swung round in a semi-circle and stretched right out from the shoulder; the nearer the arm is to the horizontal the more bias will there be on the bowling, and the ball must be delivered as the chest and arm come square with the wicket. If the delivery be earlier than this the ball will have a tendency to go wild to leg, and if later to visit the slips.
The body must be held well upright, the chest projected, and great care must be taken to avoid stiffness of action; the play of all the joints should be quite free and unrestrained. It is well to acquire a fixed habit of delivery, to accustom oneself to a certain unvarying regularity as of a machine.
The slight variation necessary to change the pitch, etc., of the ball will in a very short time become a mere matter of volition. Even the number of steps in advancing to the wicket should be made a matter of custom to be rigidly adhered to. The ball should not be allowed to leave the fingers all at once like a stone from a sling, i.e. with no motion but a forward one, a ball thus delivered is a very simple and easy one for a batsman to deal with. The fingers must be unwrapped from the ball, as it were, singly, and its final impulse should come from their tips; this will impart to it the rotation on its axis or bias, in which lies all the life of good bowling.
A ball thus rotating will not rise from the ground after the pitch at the same angle, and in the same line of direction as before, it will take a new course altogether, more or less erratic according as its rotation was more or less rapid.
Exactly, after the manner, in fact, and upon precisely the same principle as a billiard ball with the 'screw' on it, or a bowl with a bias.
Then, the plainest bowling becomes dangerous, and deadly to all, but the most rigidly exact defense.
A lively bias super added, backed by sufficient judgment to direct it, and the finest batting in the world will make but little head against it.
The exact spot upon which to pitch the ball varies very much with the speed of the bowling.
The faster the bowling, the shorter must be the pitch, and vice versa.
From medium face bowling, and to a batsman of ordinary stature, the pitch may be from ten to eleven feet in front of the wicket. In mere practice it is a good plan to fasten a piece of white paper, or put a dab of whitewash, to mark the exact spot, and the bowler should then endeavor to pitch every ball as nearly upon it as possible.
A few half hours of sedulous practice in this way will, if the bowler has it in him, produce results that will surprise even himself.
But he must not be satisfied with an occasional drop upon the spot.
At least three balls out of every four should be within an inch or so of it - an amateur must not hope to attain perfect accuracy before he rests content.
And even then his 'rest and be thankful' should be only a rest preparatory to further and more sustained efforts.
I am thus particular upon this point because accuracy in it is the one essential without which all other qualities are simply thrown away.
And, moreover, it is only when a bowler has mastered all the mere mechanical details, that he can begin to use his head in bowling.
Then he can venture to try various lengths and curves upon the batsman; for it is no use discovering a weak point if there is not mechanical skill and precision enough to take advantage of it.
As I said before, for every batsman there is a special point on or about which the ball ought to pitch, so as to prove most troublesome to the batsman.
A ball pitched exactly upon this spot is called a 'length-ball' - all others are non-lengths.
If they fall nearer the batsman they are said to be over-pitched, if further away they are called short-pitches, or long-hops.
A ball that does not rise after it takes the ground but runs along it, is called a 'shooter,' and is one of the most difficult possible to play.
Length balls are thus the perfection of bowling, and it must be the bowler's first object to find out the exact length most puzzling to each individual batsman.
Only he should remember this, that the nearer he can pitch to the bat without being hit away, the more difficult will his bowling prove.
First class men, in the past generation, like Lilliewhite, Clarke, and their compeers, and a few in the present, will advance the pitch of the ball, inch by inch, to the extreme verge of safety, and having discovered the raw, cooly peg away at it until the batsman makes a mistake, which, as Artemus Ward says, must be eventually if not sooner, and then there is trouble among the wickets.
The rationale of this is, that with good bowling the ball can only be judged from the pitch; the least bias making its rise and subsequent flight out of all calculation.
The first pitch of the ball, therefore, only indicates the point of departure of the ball in its second and more important flight.
With downright fast bowling all the resources of the bowler are, by the very nature of things, confined to variation of time and pitch, both very useful in misleading a batsman, but still, against a good defense, not by any means so destructive as the more delicate weapons of finesse in the power of the bowler of more moderate type.
The swift bowler, in fact, trusts for success mostly to his mere swiftness, while the medium and slow bowler trusts to head work and delicate manipulation of the ball.
The one is pure brute force, very telling in the hand of peculiarly gifted men, especially on rough ground, while the other may be called The Chess of Cricket.
Fast Bowling, moreover, has one failing which is, in my opinion, except in cases like those above mentioned, a very great objection to it, unless it is very good it loses more in runs than it gains in wickets, however good may be the fielding.
The cause of this is, that the bowler is dependant upon the wicket-keeper and long-stop to save byes, a work of unparalleled difficulty with fast bowling, unless the ground be of the truest and the bowling of the straightest.
All these considerations lead me to advise the amateur not to attempt any great pace, unless it comes naturally, not to rest content with a medium and more manageable pace.
There is a style of bowling coming very much into favor of late years, about which I must say a few words. I mean Slows - though why called slows I cannot quite understand.
Some men undoubtedly do bowl most unmitigated slows; but the great masters of the art certainly do not bowl slows; but the great masters of the art certainly do not bowl slow.
It is a great puzzle to many people how bowling of this simple (looking) kind can prove so exceedingly formidable to the batsman.
I have heard it seriously maintained even by seasoned cricketers - victims themselves more than once to these 'deadly slows' - that the whole danger of them lies in the over-confidence bred in the batsman by their simplicity.
Being a bowler of this type myself, I have had to bear much contumely and neglect, to listen to numberless lectures, even from men whose wickets have paid penalty to my bowling, that is not cricket, and only fit for 'duffers. However, the fair conviction is gradually forcing its way that fair underhand bowling is better and more cricketer-like than poor round-arm; the only thing tolerated a few years back. And more and more every season is there to be found fast bowling at one end of the wickets, and slow at the other. The once-condemned art is now an object of envy to its possessor, and those who once despised it come to learn its elementary principles.
Since 'slows' are thus rising into importance, let us inquire into the art and philosophy of them. I must request by readers to remember, that in cricket, as in war, time is everything. All that a batsman wants is time to judge the ball; grant that, and the variest duffer in creation could keep his wickets up for ever.
But what the batsman wants is exactly what the bowler must not give him.
The bowler's first object, therefore, after securing tolerable accuracy of direction, is to give the batsman as Little Time as Possible in which to make up his mind; and he attains it in one of three ways:
Either by absolute pace of bowling, or by medium pace combined with fair bias, or, finally, by bias, variation of pitch, and curves of ball, with somewhat slackened speed.
Granting equal proficiency in the bowling, and the result is much the same.
But there is this to be remembered, that the fast and medium pace round-arm is altogether an artificial production, depending entirely upon an unnatural use of the muscles of the arm and shoulder, capable of being brought to perfection but by few.
The percentage decreasing rapidly as the pace is increasing.
Not that the slower bowling is easy or of simple acquirement.
It requires more head work and far greater accuracy than the other two, but then it does not require such unremitting practice to keep it up, nor is it so fatiguing as they are; it is therefore the style most fitted for the amateur.
It will be remembered that I observed above that the batsman could only safely judge the ball, so as finally to judge how to play it.
After the Pitch. This is generally true, but at the same time only partially so of very fast bowling.
In very fast bowling the ball moves only (so far as the batsman is concerned) in straight lines, straight from the bowler's hand to the pitch, and straight from the pitch to the wicket; it rises, too, very nearly at the same angle that it takes the ground, and is therein of course more easy to be judged than if there were any variation: and thus the batsman knows all about the ball barring accidents, almost as soon as it leaves the bowler's hand. Further, a swift ball must, of necessity, be pitched shorter and therefore farther from the batsman, than a slow ball. This of course, gives the batsman a longer sight of the ball, so that even in this, matters are pretty well equalized between the two extremes of bowling.
A swift ball pitches shorter, but comes in quicker; a slow ball pitches farther, but takes a longer time getting over the same distance.
But the real power of slow bowling lies, first, in the extraordinary bias or "screw" that can be imparted bias is able to produce, partly from having a longer time to bite on the turf, and partly from its almost vertical fall to the ground which gives a better hold than the mere glance on and off of the swift bowling.
Secondly, in the facility the bowler possesses of concealing any change of pitch from the batsman by the simple expedient of bowling a little higher if he means to pitch short, or a little lower if he means to pitch up.
To the spectator at the side this ruse will be at once detected - but the batsman, it must be remembered, sees the ball end on, and therefore has scarcely any data to guide him except the height of the ball in its first flight.
If this, therefore, be varied in inverse order to what would be the ordinary rule, it is not remarkable that he should be sometimes at fault.
Thirdly, slow bowling making no extra demand upon the muscles, enables the bowler to pay more attention to accuracy of pitch; and pitch, as I have said above, is everything.
The bowler that can bowl most length balls - straightness being understood - is the best bowler in the end whatever his pace.
And, finally, the batsman has to deal with curves instead of straight lines, and, what is more, if the bowler knows his business, with curved lines in endless variety.
This, then, is the stronghold of the slow bowler.
He can puzzle the batsman by varying curves and delivery, as to the exact spot on which each ball will pitch, and by eccentric bias, puzzling him still more afterwards, force him to meet the ball with a straight bat, and play well down every ball that cannot be fairly hit, under the penalty of giving a chance to the field.
A spinning ball has, unless the batsman be very careful a very uncomfortable habit of running up the bat and flying off at quite an unexpected angle into the ready hands of point or slip, the easiest catch possible - a circumstance, the mortification of which is not decreased by the accident being laid to the account of the bad batting instead of to the credit of the good bowler.
Advice to Young Bowlers. Having adopted your style - form it, if possible, upon the model of one of the leading bowlers of the day, fast, medium, or slow, as the case may be - be careful to bowl in as plain a manner as possible.
All mannerisms are either the result of affectation, and consequently simply detestable, or of mere unmeaning habit, and therefore unnecessary - away with them.
Bowl as upright as possible; every inch of height is an advantage, and moreover, the more upright you stand the better your command over your muscles.
Finally, keep the body as steady as you can, compatibly with free and easy movement of the muscles.
Remember, that in underhand bowling, especially, the shoulder is the fulcrum from which the power is obtained, and if that be unsteady, ow can the arm depending therefrom work truly?
A steady arm and hand, a ready wit, and a good eye, not to forget an even temper, with attention and practice are the making of a good bowler.
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