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Club Cricket

Bowling Machines: Facing Cricket’s Finest Bola

by Wisden Staff

Vithushan Ehantharajah headed down to Bristol to try and lay a bat on the latest piece of BOLA brilliance.

All the pros love it.” That’s a giveaway right there. This isn’t meant for me. I know my average from last year. I know my own strengths (availability) and my weaknesses (how long have you got?). What good am I for this susser of techniques and honer of skills? At least, this was my thinking before facing one of the game’s most accurate and versatile bowlers.

But to Bristol I head, where I come face to face with the BOLA TrueMan Machine. It’s far less daunting unplugged: a gleaming white, shiny face, held up by sturdy, cream coloured metal joints.

The mono-LED screen bears the outline of a bowler – many of whom you’ll immediately recognise – who runs in to bowl, before releasing the ball at the spout, where a BOLA ball is fired out at the pace and trajectory – not forgetting the imparting of swing or seam – as requested. The image itself is a hand-drawn animation of a particular bowler, converted into a Bitmap file and the software is imported and playable on screen.

“I could take a picture of you bowling and you could end up facing yourself,” says Nye Williams, managing director of BOLA, as the notion that I am indeed my own worst enemy comes to the forefront of my mind.

BOLA have been at the forefront of bowling technology since 1985, when Surrey took it upon themselves to purchase a machine. Soon, England were all over it, and the developers worked tirelessly to refine the original design into an ever sleeker and more realistic final product.

What we have now is a machine that benefits from an electronic delivery mode, which can be accessed by your phone or tablet, has a sophisticated speed control system and, most importantly, is a safe, consistent product. As such, it’s no surprise that the ECB took a central purchasing decision to buy 18 of the BOLA TrueMan machines. There is also a great deal of interest from Cricket Australia.

Vish

So here I am, machine now with its lights on, emitting bleeps like David Warner as it begins to calibrate. I’m padded up and in runs a lefty with a steady approach, an angled bowling arm and whoosh…

I didn’t pick up the first delivery. Or the next one. Both beat my outside edge, creating a blood-curdling thud as they hit the tarpaulin behind me. “Is 65mph OK?” asks Nye. Yep. All good.

Eventually, it’s easier: watching the bowler’s arm as he runs in, before moving my eyes up to the spout and playing the ball. After five minutes, the value of the machine is apparent. Rather than your conventional bowling machine, what starts as the distraction of a figure running in soon becomes normal. Your trigger movements, however big or small, calibrate to the ‘bowler’ and the intensity is up that little bit more.

You can programme in an over, on a particular line or a variety of lengths and shapes, based on what you might face at the weekend or to iron out a weakness.

It’s an impressive piece of machinery and one Williams is, understandably, very proud of. His vision is big and ambitious. “Who knows, one day, it’ll be on a track and will be ‘running’ in,” he blue skies. “But we’re far away from that. There have been experiments, not by us, with mechanical arms. We’re never happy to stand still and it’s really all about seeing how much closer to the real action of bowling we can get. We are very proud of this product and are buoyed by the feedback from players and coaches who want it as part of their training routines.”

After more than two decades in production the BOLA can be found in a huge variety of cricketing environments. And as ever, they continue to break ground and lead the way for others. The TrueMan is another example of that.

***

The bowlers can’t be bothered, and even if they can, they can’t put it on the right spot. You want to practise your cover drive, your forward defence, or even just want to see how you’ll fare against some proper heat. There’s only one answer: the bowling machine. AOC picks out a few tidy ones for your club this summer.

BOLA

Synonymous with cricketers the world over and established for more than 30 years, BOLA has provided the cricketing world with the ground-breaking ‘Merlin’ machine alongside their long-established ‘Club’ and ‘Pro’ models, adding the ‘TrueMan’ to their stable from 2014. Manufactured from their workshop in Bristol and distributed worldwide to schools, clubs and professional organisations with the sole purpose of improving batting performance, all 18 ECB first-class counties are well-stocked with BOLA machines.

www.bola.co.uk, @BOLABallMachine 

LIL’ LORD LAUNCH-A-LOT

Lil’ Lord Launch-a-Lot has a quite staggering name, but is really rather cool. Brought out by a brand new company, WJP Sports, this one is aimed squarely (and pretty quickly and accurately, too) at the club cricket market. Thus, it’s reasonably priced, portable, simple to set up and easy to use. This is a genuine breakthrough in affordable, high performance ball-throwing technology.

How does it fling ‘em down then? Well, it’s capable of throwing lightweight AirFlow balls and realistic hard dimpled 4 oz balls (WJP also produce balls too) from 25 to 70mph, Lil’ Lord Launch-a-Lot affords full and easy adjustment of the speed, line, length and swing in either direction. Furthermore, the tripod is height adjustable to simulate bowlers of different heights.

Designed and manufactured entirely in the UK, Lil’ Lord Launch-a-Lot features a high power, 4000 RPM rated British-made DC motor, robust steel construction and a non-marking, maintenance-free, solid rubber tyre. A neat touch is the addition of rubber feet to the main cover; this enables the user to place the machine on level ground for fielding drills. If you like to wile away cold winter days on a hockey field, it can be used for practicing that too.

One thing we really like about the Lil’ Lord is that he can be completely cordless. Powered by a 12-volt leisure battery for up to three hours on a single charge, this negates the need for hazardous mains leads and allows for a system that is sufficiently portable and light enough – less than 20kg – to be used almost anywhere.

Priced at £899.99 (inc. VAT) including UK mainland delivery. Orders are now being taken for the 2015 season. Purchases directly through WJP Sports’ own website before May 31 2015 will include a FREE 12-volt leisure battery worth £79.99.

www.wjpsports.co.uk, @wjpsports, FB: wjpsports 

THE HEATER SLIDER

The Heater Slider looks pretty nifty, with its 12-ball spiral slide feeding into the shooter, which produces speeds of up to 60mph. It is very easy to assemble and adjust and extremely affordable. The Heater Slider requires mains power and has to be used with specialist Paceman Light Balls (one comes with the machine).

Available to order for £200 (RRP £240) from shop.lords.org

Have Your Say

Comment (1)

  1. Ella Ross 2 years ago (Edit)

    It is really helpful to learn more about your experience with a bowling machine. I have been thinking about getting one for my son, who is getting really serious with cricket. It is good to know that you can program the machine to bowl on certain lines or to make it faster. Since there are so many different machines, do you have advice on what is good as a first machine? It would be nice if we could try a few out to see which ones he liked! http://www.hawthorncricketcentre.com.au/bowling-machine-hire

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