Prolific Middlesex and England seam bowler Toby Roland-Jones on his wicket-taking method and how he adjusts when things don’t go to plan.
There are obviously lots of different ways to go about taking wickets but for me personally, as someone who is more of a seam bowler than an out-and-out swing bowler, it’s about consistency: hitting a dangerous area, repeating my best ball as much as possible and looking to bowl in a corridor around fourth stump. I want to be regularly asking questions of the batsman and testing the outside edge.
At my best I’m bowling a ball that leaves the right-hander, with a little bit of swing, nipping away, trying to bring the slips into play as much as possible, and then occasionally using angles on the crease or a bit of natural variation to threaten the stumps as well.
If you can be in and around that corridor long enough, then you will really pose a lot of problems to batsmen.
Something that’s often not talked about much is using the angles that the crease has to offer you, particularly when conditions aren’t necessarily in your favour as a bowler.
Subtly changing your angle in and around the crease if the ball’s not doing much can give you a natural change and give the batsman something to think about. The batsman wants to try and line you up in a consistent way and if the same ball delivered from the same angle is coming down every time then that becomes easier.
You might also want to change the field to allow yourself to bowl a bit straighter by giving yourself a bit more protection on the leg-side.
And think about changing your lengths too. Effective use of the short ball stops a batsman getting too settled.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Sometimes simplicity is the key. I’m not someone who would necessarily look to swing three away and then swing one back in. By bowling consistently in that fourth-stump channel I’m hoping to force the batsman to play the ball, because if it comes back a fraction then the off stump would be under threat.
It’s also knowing that if the ball does hold its line straight or comes back in a fraction, there’s also a chance of bringing in lbw or bowled.
It’s all about adopting a consistent approach which threatens both edges.
Target hitting is an obvious one but it’s something that can be really useful for bowlers at all levels.
At Middlesex we’ve got foam pads which go on top of the off stump and are then pushed out a little bit which give you a target for the area you’re consistently trying to hit. To hit the target you’ll need to be bowling a good length too.
Alternatively, you can put a target on the wicket itself, in that channel that you’re trying to operate in. Then you can add in additional targets, such as for a bouncer or yorker. It can be useful to practise switching between bowling at right- and left-handers too. Put a target down for each and change every delivery or every six balls. This will help you hone a more consistent approach.
PLAN IN ACTION
Reverse-swing isn’t something that is going to be particularly attainable in club cricket – it mainly comes from playing on an attritional square with an abrasive surface, and professionals also have the advantage of boundary boards which help keep moisture off the ball and maintain its condition – but over the last few years it has contributed to some of my most pleasing dismissals, particularly while touring Sri Lanka with England Lions.
Setting the batsman up by getting the ball to leave him and then trapping him lbw with the one that reverses back in is always a pleasing one on tracks that don’t offer you much and where it feels it’s going to be tough to bring the outside edge into play.
I don’t think you have to be particularly highly skilled to bowl reverse-swing but you definitely have to know what’s going on and to understand the art. And you need the conditions in your favour.