Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Myth of the Speed Gun

I have been listening with interest over the past few days to the ABC radio discuss whether Brett Lee or Mitchell Johnson is the faster bowler. Largely, they are using the figures generated from the speed gun as a guide. Whilst velocity readings are very interesting, I don't think they come close to telling the whole story about how fast a bowler is. I admit that what I am going to say will probably confuse everyone but here goes; I don't think that the velocity of the ball is the same as the speed of the bowler.

What I mean by this is that some bowlers are perceived by the batsman to be faster than others, even though the measured velocity may be the same. A few years ago Glen McGrath was measured as being slower than Greg Blewett. However, if you asked opening batsman which one was faster, I assume all of them would pick McGrath.

My feeling is that batsman tend to find certain bowlers 'faster' than others on the basis of having to make a late adjustment when the ball is not quite where they expect it to be. When the ball is delivered, the batsman immediately starts moving into position to play the shot. With only half a second or so from the bowler letting it go until the batsman plays the ball, the batsman has to move on instinct into the correct position.

Brett Lee at 135kms/hr is far 'slower' than Clark at the same velocity, as Lee has a very flat and predictable trajectory. This means that the batsman is in position to play the shot earlier than against Clark, who tends to achieve extra bounce or movement off the seam that forces the batsman to readjust their shot from what they expected. This then makes the batsmen perceive the bowler as being faster than what a pure velocity reading would suggest.

Likewise, if a bowler has an unusual or strange action that prevents the batsman getting an early sighting of the ball, they will appear faster. The great South African Mike Proctor is an example of this, as his "wrong foot" action meant that batsmen were not picking the ball up early. Velocity tests showed that he was not as fast as other bowlers going around during the 70's, however, most batsman rated him as amongst the quickest.

I will concede that 160kms/hr is bloody fast no matter what!


David Barry said...

The radar gun's still a useful guide, of course. And I'm glad it exists for the fastest bowlers, because there is a remarkable coincidence in that the fastest ever recorded cricket ball is only marginally slower than the fastest ever recorded baseball pitch (Nolan Ryan, 100.9mph).

SixandOut said...


I think Lee just happens to "run" faster than the other bowlers.

Uncle J rod said...

I think height and the fact the ball goes down and the up mean the speed gun is largely of no real use. In baseball the ball travels in one direction straight at the speed gun. Which is nothing like what a bowler does and in cricket the distance factor must be taken into account as well.

Soulberry said...

The myth Stuart is not in the speed gun which simply measures the velocity. It is merely an instrument (not yet 100%a accurate though).It is in assuming that a particular measured speed is felt more lethal by the batsman.

As you have pointed out, a bowler may be difficult to play for many other reasons; the movement, angles (all relative to the sum of batsman's zone of comfort+blind spots+response times+habits and tendencies of movement+state of mind) are more determinant of "difficulty" factor.

A bowler, fast and straight, from just the right eye-level for the batsman, with little movement may be easy to play. The same may be difficult for another. Same with movement. Add a bit of bounce and it becomes different. Different bowlers extract different bounce due to their action, speed and height. A bouncer/short ball fro bowler A, even if faster than bowler B who is taller may not pose the same problems or may pose completely different problems.

The error lies in the presumption of spectators that speed is the only criterion of difficulty.

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Mitchell Johnson's fastest is around the 158-9km/h mark, but even in long spells he still manages to maintain speeds regularly over 150km/h, so by that justification, because he can maintain his speed, over after over, should he be considered the fastest bowler in the world?

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