Two years ago, I wrote a piece entitled One Ball from Lauren Bell. The thesis of that piece, which if anything has been reinforced over the past couple of years, is that although there are a lot of fast bowlers around, Bell is the most exciting because she has the ability to ball that “One Ball” which absolutely no one else can. Combining the pace of Lea Tahuhu, the inch-perfect line of Megan Schutt, and the swing of Anya Shrubsole, it is totally unplayable, as Rachel Priest discovered on that day in 2019.
Two years later, as they say in the movies, Trent Rockets are chasing 133 to beat Southern Brave. They are 75-2 – needing 59 from 37 balls. It sounds like a bit of an ask in traditional women’s domestic T20, but in this shorter format, with Nat Sciver at the crease, the game is starting to feel like the Rockets to lose. The Brave need a wicket, which is why captain Anya Shrubsole has brought back not herself, but Lauren Bell, into the attack – looking for a strike from the strike bowler.
Sciver, meanwhile, is looking to go on the attack, coming down the pitch and using the pace off the ball to hit out. After getting a single off the first ball of the over, and two off the third, Sciver targets the fourth. Looking to thump it over mid on, she opens up her front leg and swings through the ball…
Or rather, she swings through where the ball would have been if it had been a “normal” 70mph delivery from Bell. But this is another ball entirely – rolled off the fingers, it dies off the pitch, leaving Sciver swinging at thin air as the zing bails explode over her stumps.
It was such a different ball to that one from 2019, but it had exactly the same result – one of the best batters in the world was left looking like a chump.
The slower ball is becoming something of an art-form among fast bowlers – it isn’t just about bowling it slower, but keeping everything else about the action the same, so it comes out of nowhere. As the Monty Python boys might have said: Nobody expects the slower ball!
Bell does this by rolling the ball off her fingers – a bit like an orthodox spin delivery – but there’s another way too: out of the back of the hand, like a leg-spinner. You may have seen Katherine Brunt do this, but the master of this art is Freya Davies, as Shafali Verma discovered this weekend. Davies delivers a googly out of the back of the hand, which as well as dying on the batter can also turn into the right-hander off the pitch.
The ball from Davies floats through the air like it has hitched a ride on a hot air balloon, but it is a sucker punch for Shafali, who like Nat Sciver is left swinging in the breeze as her stumps fall apart behind her.
You’ll hear a lot during The Hundred about who the fastest bowlers are – the ones who are pushing 80mph, and targeting numbers beyond that even.
But perhaps… just perhaps… speed isn’t everything.