If you watch any form of cricket you will see bowlers with a variety of different styles and techniques. It is one of the things that keeps cricket so interesting, and turns it into a real “chess match”.
The very basic way of categorising the bowling is splitting the styles into “fast” and “slow” but this really doesn’t give you a full picture of all of the types of bowling in the sport.
It is useful to make the distinction, though, and to note the difference between a slow delivery with a short runup, and a quick delivery, pelted down towards the batter as quickly as humanly possible.
Both are impressive in their own ways. In this guide, we’re exploring some of the types of bowling that are on display in cricket and what the different types of delivery may look like. A skillful bowler will have multiple methods of bowling at their disposal.
Fast Bowling and Slow Bowling – The Basics
Before we get into some of the nuances of bowling techniques, let’s look at the basics of fast and slow bowling.
Fast bowling usually means ball speeds of between roughly 80 and 90 miles per hour (with a few exceptions and even faster bowlers out there). These bowlers use speed and seam (movement off the seam of the ball) to try to outfox the batters. It is a big test of reaction speeds.
Slow bowling is usually under 70 miles per hour, and in your village cricket team it is probably even less than this. Slow bowlers usually try to impart spin on the ball. This means that as the ball comes into contact with the surface it can deviate and change direction. It becomes a mind game with the batter. Some deliveries spin, some don’t, and some may hit a crack and go in a totally different direction.
Spin Bowling (Slow)
Spin bowling uses finger and hand techniques to get revolutions on the ball, allowing it to grip on the surface in some circumstances.
Spin bowling definitely works better on some surfaces than others. Dry pitches, for instance, might crack and this can further assist with spin bowling.
There are two main types of spin bowling, off spin and leg spin. Most slow bowlers specialise in one or the other, though a select few can bowl either.
Off spin bowling is when a right-handed bowler uses the fingers of their bowling hand to move the ball, usually from the off side towards the leg side for a right-handed batter.
Left-handed off spinners turn the ball using the same motion, using their first two fingers to impart some spin on the ball, but naturally the ball will go in the other direction, from off side toward leg for a right-handed batter.
This is referred to as an “off break” delivery. Performed correctly, it will hit the surface and turn in towards the batter. For the vast majority of off spin bowlers, this is the stock delivery.
There are many other methods of delivery though, and some that require a slightly different technique.
A bowler will try to spin the seam upwards by twisting their fingers when releasing the ball, which can provide loop and height on the delivery. This sort of ball doesn’t usually spin to the left or right and will continue straight on, so it can be a tool to perplex the batter.
Some bowlers can perform the doosra, which is a spinning delivery that might get the ball spinning in the other direction when compared to their stock delivery. Using a different grip between the index and ring finger, the ball may then grip and spin in the opposite direction to the standard off break. You can see how having a few different deliveries can leave the batters sweating.
This is when the bowler uses thumb and middle finger to flick the ball upon release, and this can cause an element of chaos. The ball can spin in a variety of different directions. It means less control, but it can also result in really extreme spin. Not great for the batter to face.
With the arm ball, the seam is kept upright and the bowler will roll the fingers downwards when they deliver the ball. This usually means no spin and the ball goes straight. The ball may swing and wobble around.
A lot of people consider this to be the hardest skill in all of cricket. A good leg spinner can be worth their weight in gold.
The flick of the wrist required when releasing the ball also leads to a lot of the bowlers using this technique to be called “wrist spinners” so remember that those terms are used interchangeably.
The ball is gripped between the high parts of the index and middle finger (usually) in this technique. The bowler makes a delivery by flicking their wrist and turning the ball (anti-clockwise for a right-hander).
Done right, this can cause a huge amount of turn, and with the variations (we’ll get to those shortly) there’s also the opportunity for bowlers to confuse the opposition.
Undeniably, some of the greatest ever dismissals have used this method including the so-called “ball of the century”.
Even as he walks off the field of play, Gatting has no idea what has happened, and how that delivery has turned so much.
As well as the leg break delivery, many wrist spinners can bowl some variations.
The Googly is one of the best-known variations from the stock ball that spinners can deliver. The Googly involves an extra flick with the fingers or an alternative wrist-movement to spin the ball in the other way.
This can be extremely useful in “setting up” a batter. A leg spinner may bowl a few of their stock deliveries before changing to the Googly in the hope of deceiving them.
A flicker is similar to the carrom ball in the off spinner’s arsenal. A grip between thumb and finger means that this is an unpredictable delivery that can spin and move in many directions, or not at all.
Not to be confused with the flicker. The flipper has a sort of “squeezing” motion out of the hand which can generate some backspin on the ball and make it hold up in the pitch.
A slider generates top spin. The bowler has to roll his or her fingers along the side of the ball as it leaves the hands, which serves to create a bit of either backspin or side spin. It tends to go straight on but can also pick up pace off the pitch.
Pace bowlers or “fast bowlers” use the speed they generate on the ball. Some quicker bowlers can get over 90 miles per hour on the ball, which can be intimidating and test the speed of a batter.
There is a chance that this action can get tiring and predictable, so quick bowlers might not be able to bowl long spells. A lot of the very best batters are good at facing speed, but if you are a village cricketer, you might not even see a delivery coming 90mph at you (fortunately, Roger from the pub can’t hit those speeds).
Pace alone is enough for some bowlers, but some others try to get the ball to either “swing” or “seam” to provide some movement and unpredictability.
Seam bowling is when the ball’s seam hits the pitch and moves around as a result, veering to the right or left to fool the batter.
Swing bowling relies on movement in the air, and certain conditions mean the ball is much more likely to swing from one side to the other. The best bowlers can control this, which is why the “king of swing” Jimmy Anderson has been an incredible bowler over his career.
Pace bowling deliveries include the following:
A yorker should pitch just underneath the bat, with a very full delivery. These can be tough to get away, which makes them popular in one day cricket formats.
The bouncer pitches short in the majority of situations. It often comes to the batter at around head height and may hit them if they don’t predict the delivery. The number of short deliveries allowed by the umpire is limited.
The bowler will use a leg spinner grip when they release the ball at pace, which can make the ball move around, specifically from leg side to off side for a right-handed batter. It won’t move in the same manner a spin delivery would, but the movement can deceive batters.
This is the same principle but using the off spinner grip, and running the fingers along the ball. It moves the ball from off to leg side.
Bowlers have different methods of slowing the ball down, meaning it arrives at a slower pace than the stock delivery. This can help to deceive the batter. One specific type of slower delivery is the knuckleball. The ball sits in the knuckles rather than the fingers. The arm moves at the same speed but the ball arrives slower, which can trick the batter into playing a bad shot.
Swing is often seen as one of the “dark arts” in cricket. Shining one side of the ball is said to aid swing, as is humidity and overcast conditions.
Inswing moves towards the stumps, but outswing moves away from the stumps, which can bring the edge into play.
Reverse swing usually sees the ball move in different ways to normal swing, and usually happens with older balls.
Reverse swing can be difficult to get right, but it is also unpredictable for batters.
If a bowler can get the ball to move off the pitch by using the seam, they may get some impressive results in their figures.
Seam is often unpredictable. The bowlers can ‘present’ the seam in their delivery but how it bounces is very much the luck of the draw, so only the best batters will be able to effectively react.
Many quick bowlers use a variety of different deliveries, swing, and seam, in order to try and vary their bowling. Variation can be particularly useful when it comes to one day formats and limited overs cricket.
Medium Pace Bowling
Medium pace deserves a mention. Medium pace bowlers are classified as delivering the ball at 75 miles per hour and lower, but not imparting spin on the ball (this would classify them as a slow or spin bowler).
In the world of village cricket, you will see a lot of medium pacers.
Make no mistake, this can still be very testing for batters to deal with, even at a lower level. Medium pace bowlers have also been known to get the odd wicket in professional cricket or test cricket.
A lot of “part time” bowlers are either spinners or medium pace bowlers, this is due to the physical exertion that fast bowling puts on a body.
Medium pacers taking wickets gives us the perfect excuse to share this example of Alastair Cook having a rare bowl and taking a wicket for England.
You probably won’t see a lot of dazzling pace at the village cricket level, but professionals can get the ball moving much more quickly than medium pace.
Is spin or fast bowling better?
There’s no simple answer to this one. Plenty of bowlers have a fantastic average using either a fast bowling or slow, spin bowling method.
Interestingly, if you look at the list of all-time top wicket-takers, very few of them have incredible pace. This could be due to the fact that it takes such a big toll on the body over the years.
Good bowling is good bowling, and it doesn’t matter if it is spin or quick bowling. Different batters may have their preferences and better averages against different bowling styles.
Do fast bowlers have to be tall?
Fast bowlers do not have to be tall, but it can help them to generate a lot of pace and power. Height can allow bowlers to generate more angles and speed, and is generally considered an advantage in quick bowling styles.
You won’t see every type of bowling on this list on a Saturday morning in your local village cricket team. You’ll probably see a lot of bowlers throwing down some medium pace deliveries.
In professional cricket, all types of bowling come into play, and there are a wide variety of different methods that can be used to try and get the upper hand on the batter.
Most teams are built in a way that includes multiple types of bowling styles, and don’t forget that there are a number of other factors including weather and the pitch, which will impact the results of different types of bowling. An overcast day might see swing bowlers licking their lips. A dry day with a sun-baked pitch may be better for spinners.