Why the ‘wobble’ may give England edge in third Test
Pace bowlers work on a new delivery perfected by Anderson Asif showed off technique during the summer of 2010
While on the sidelines of England’s Test side this summer, Mark Wood has focused on acquiring a new delivery. “I’m trying to work on some wobble seams at the moment,” Wood said last week.
Wood’s choice is revealing. The wobble-seam delivery is in vogue among England’s seamers. James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been deploying it for a decade, and it has been crucial in Chris Woakes advancing to the next level in the past year.
“The wobble seam is a very popular ball,” said England head coach Chris Silverwood on Wednesday, noting that it was successfully deployed in the series victory in South Africa last winter. “It’s something the guys work hard on.”
The wobble seam is bowled through one or both of two ways – with the bowlers holding their fingers wider around the seam, or holding the ball with a slightly looser grip – explained Ian Pont, a fast-bowling consultant and head coach of the National Fast Bowling Academy. Because the wrist position is very similar to a conventional delivery, batsmen are denied clues that a wobble seam is coming. Rather than swing, the delivery then wobbles through the air before moving off the seam – and the movement is random, unknown by bowler and batsman alike.
“When that ball hits the ground, it can either go back into you or it leaves you off the seam. So you’re always in play,” said Allan Donald, the former South Africa Test bowler and now head coach of the Knights franchise in South Africa. With bowlers who attack the stumps, batsmen “know that you’re almost going to play every ball, testing your defence, you’re always in the game. So that makes it so, so hard.”
The delivery is also supremely versatile. When the new ball is swinging, delivering an occasional wobble seam – which does not swing – can be an effective surprise tool, similar to a spinner bowling a ball that does not turn. The wobble seam is particularly valuable when an older ball is not swinging, deployed as a way of generating unpredictable movement.
Unlike many variations, Pont believes the wobble seam is best suited to the longer format. “It’s a very precise delivery – you’re bowling it to get an lbw, caught behind or bowled. You wouldn’t bowl a wobble seam in a T20 with everyone out on the fence.”
Donald remembers using the delivery in the mid-1990s and discussing it with Curtly Ambrose. “It was always there, but it wasn’t really as much shared round as it is now,” Donald said. The wobble seam is thought to have been used in the county game for decades before. Unintentionally, club cricketers who do not have a natural upright seam position will bowl it naturally, Pont said. “By default on a Saturday afternoon club cricketers probably have a seam that’s wobbling when it goes down,” he said. But the modern tale of England and the wobble seam has a clear start date: the summer of 2010, when England hosted Pakistan. Before Mohammad Asif ’s summer ended in disgrace for his part in the spot-fixing scandal, he had shown his rich array of skills in England. One of Asif ’s tricks was the wobble seam.
“The seam was just wobbling in the air a bit, but it was moving either way off the seam when it pitched,” Anderson later told
Cricket Monthly. “I went in the nets with David Saker [then England’s bowling coach] and just tried to figure out with my grip how to get the ball to do what he was doing.”
A few months later, Anderson’s 24 wickets in Australia helped England to an emphatic Ashes victory. “I’d sort of learnt how to wobble the ball, so I could nip it off the seam rather than just rely on swing.”
England may well use the ball more than any other nation, reflecting its effectiveness in English conditions and an attack who have focused more on subtlety than raw speed. Pakistan’s Mohammad Abbas is also among the very best in the world at using the delivery.
For all its use at home, England’s real hope is that the wobble seam can be part of a toolkit that gives their seamers the best prospect of thriving away from home. While the Dukes ball’s larger seam makes it particularly conducive to English conditions, Donald suggested that even turning subcontinental tracks can be well-suited to the wobble seam. “You see a lot more variation in the bite you get because of the spinning conditions. That’ll work there – absolutely,” he said.
“Gone are the days when you put your fingers straight down the seam. These deliveries are something that every youngster is talking about – the wobble seam and different types of leg cutters, off cutters.”