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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tim Wig­more

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.”

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