Posted by: nestaquin | January 17, 2009

Nathan Bracken: A Tweaker Trapped in a Seamer’s Body

bracksWhile enjoying the cracking first ODI in Melbourne this evening it struck me that perhaps Australia could use Nathan Bracken instead of a spinner when the team begins the return Test series in South Africa next month.

I’m not suggesting that Nathan slow his delivery or shorten his run-up, what I am suggesting is that he be utilised in the spinner’s role be it as an attacking or defensive option.

He is a canny bowler that can bowl long accurate spells and if given the job I think it reasonable that he would be more penetrative than and as economical as his New South Wales team-mate Nathan Hauritz. Imagine a perfectly manicured Derek Underwood with beautiful hair and a diamond earring.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that Nathan Bracken is in the same class as the man they affectionately call Deadly but I think he could do a similar job for his team.

Underwood often bowled his spinners at a clip which were near unplayable on a damp surface but his greatest weapon was an inswinging arm ball that bent and dipped late. In today’s vernacular his arm ball would be identified as reverse swing but the ’70s were simpler times when everything that moved in an arc through the air was identified as swing no matter where the shiny side was facing.

Bracken’s stock ball has become a cutter and while I’d never expect him to move the ball off the pitch like Underwood, he does bowl a consistent line and length, varies his pace continuously, gets some movement even from the deadest surfaces and can bowl seam up when required. Most importantly he can apply pressure from one end allowing the captain the luxury of attacking at the other, an essential element if a team is to consistently take 20 wickets per match.

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of watching the Sheffield Shield match between Tasmania and New South Wales at Bellerive and although on the losing team Bracken’s contribution and control were outstanding.

His match figures of 42-18-69-8 failed to win the match but his efforts certainly impressed the parochial Tasmanian crowd. The conversations after a tight and incredibly tense finish didn’t focus on the fighting match-winning partnership between Dan Marsh and Tim Paine but on the exceptional performance of Nathan Bracken.

I understand that the conservatism of the Australian selection panel would prevent any such thoughts being aired during their meetings but I do consider it a worthy suggestion and I would be grateful knowing our readers’ views on Australia using Nathan Bracken not as a spinner but in the place of a traditional Test match slow bowler.

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Responses

  1. I am amazed that Bracken’s ability and, especially, knowledge have been discarded by Aus selectors. Hubris is the word I think.

    I’m always surprised that medium paced cutters are not bowled more often. Having said that, Matthew Hoggard had an excellent cutter and he was dropped, still inexplicably.

  2. The consensus seems to have become that medium/slow seam bowlers are vulnerable to being battered out of the attack.

    I think the theory is that in a Test match a spinner will get some footmarks to work with on days 4/5 which elevate him beyond the qualities of a medium/slow seamer.

    I don’t know that I subscribe to this theory, but it seems few Test captains are comfortable bowling the medium/slow seamer these days.

  3. Metatone – Jacob Oram bowls a lot of seamers and cutters and seems almost unhittable these days. Vaas is handy too.

  4. Metatone,
    a spinner will get some footmarks to work with on days 4/5…
    Not sure I subscribe either. How often has this happened? OK, now take Warne and Murali out of the equation, and how often has it?
    Slow/medium’s have probably had more impact in the last decade than spinners (except those two).

    Having said that, I’ve been wondering about Krezja, was he so bad in Perth that he needed to be dropped? The ball with which he dismissed Amla was superb, and he deserved another game for that ball alone. And dropped for Hauritz?
    I agree it’s odd Bracken hasn’t been given a Test run (and I read a pointed interview with him in the SMH where he thought it was odd too), but it would still be nice to have a spinner in the side, not sure if Bracken could hold up an end on his own for extended periods.

  5. I hope that there is further evolution in naming different types of swing bowling, along the lines of this article by Rabi Mehta.

    Bracken for Hauritz… it is probably worth a try.

    Bracken raised the possibility of turning himself into a spinner earlier this season, though apparently his skipper didn’t want him to try it in NSW games.

  6. I’ve just seen highlights of the Saffers’ win.

    Tait’s fielding, non-batting and up and down bowling is too high a price to pay for the odd 150kmh yorker isn’t it?

    Hilfenhaus looked like Stuart Broad a couple of years ago, but more scared, though whether of Albie or Ricky, I wasn’t sure.

  7. Toots, I didn’t think that Stuart Broad could grow that much facial hair today, let alone a couple of years ago.

    As for Tait…. I don’t mind him in the side. Not being fit enough to bowl a spell longer than 2 overs is terrible, but if he can keep taking a couple of wickets a game, then I’m happy for him to keep playing. 2/50-like figures are good enough I think.

    I’m a bit concerned about our fifth bowler. The selectors have decided that we should bat down to 8 and use Hussey/Clarke as the fifth bowler. Those 10 overs worry me, especially if one of the front-line bowlers has a bad day and the part-timers have to bowl a few extra overs. I’d rather see Hauritz come in for White, Haddin goes up to 6 and Hopes to 7.

  8. Thanks for that link David, it was an interesting article and I’m heading up the nets shortly with a box of balls to see if I can bowl all three types of swing.

    Toots, highlights by their very nature lack context and while entertaining they rarely tell the whole story.

    Both Bracken and Hilfenhaus were let down by their captain last night who in the final powerplay (overs 45-49) changed the field every second ball.

    Basically, Ponting was at a loss tactically and admitted as much straight after the match. Although, he added that he’d be sitting down with the bowlers before the next match to work a strategy to use going forward.

    I know he is a busy fellow but it would have been helpful if he did that before the series began and not after. Still a great match that ebbed and flowed where once again JP Duminy was excellent without once breaching the boundary.

  9. Good point about the highlights Nesta.

    Good point about the facial hair Dave – bursting with testosterone!

    Re Punter, did he not work out a strategy because he didn’t know what team he would be given? I ask because it’s the sort of thing that happens to England captains all the time and Aus is beginning to look a bit like England these days!

  10. Not sure about the team make-up excuse but Ponting said he hadn’t played under the new rule and was still to fully understand its implications.

    Fair enough I suppose, as he also said that there are 80 odd ODIs to the next World Cup and everything and everyone will be tried so that when it comes around the team will be fully prepared to defend their title.

    Basically, every match is an experiment two years out and the strategy of not worrying too much about seemingly unimportant matches has worked very successfully in the past.

    Therefore, I assume, if a player will not be around in 2011 then their chances of selection are very thin as Noffke and Hodge have discovered recently.

    As for the Test team, Jaques is looking a risk as he couldn’t get through training let alone three gruelling Tests in three weeks.

    My personal opinion is that fit and proven players should be picked for South Africa and that means Brad Hodge and Chris Rogers should be in the squad regardless of their age. Obviously, choose Phillip Hughes as a backup but there is no need to throw the kid to the wolves. Hayden debuted too young in South Africa in 1993, and it set his development back more than a few years.

  11. Being interviewed after the game, Bracken was asked if he was surprised SA took the powerplay so late, he replied not at all, happens all the time in state games. Ponting was asked the same question and said yes he was surprised and needed to develop a strategy to counter it. Seems Bracken has more experience than Ponting in this. Another way Aus is becoming a bit like England, with national players perhaps missing out on state game experience.
    Its true Nesta, you learn alot from losing too, and Aus is clearly in an experimental phase.

  12. Put me down as another one who’d give Bracken a run in the Aus Test side. Although I’d advertise him more as a stock bowler than a replacement spinner.

    btw: I think the comparison you’re looking for is less Underwood than another England bowler of the past Bob Appleyard:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Appleyard

    Appleyard started as a medium-quick but leant to bowl leg and off cutters as well as off-spin, all at a brisk pace.

    His biography, No Coward Soul, is as good a cricket book as you’ll ever read.

  13. Too right Fred. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.

    With Australia confused and England, well, being England, it looks as though neither team can be truly confident at the moment about the Ashes in July.

    However, if the team can somehow win the key moments in South Africa and sweep all before them at the T20 World Champs all may be well by then. A lot can change in six months and for now, at least, I am optimistic.

  14. After reading his entry at wikipedia Len, I’ll definitely be reading his book. If only Bracken was as tough as Appleyard instead of a nancy boy he’d be a regular in the BaggyGreen for sure.

    Thanks mate I wasn’t aware of him and it’s always a good day when you learn something new.

    Perhaps Toots, who writes an excellent book review, might read ‘No Coward Soul’ (if he hasn’t already) and write a few paragraphs to promote his memory and book which, if wikipedia is correct, has all profits donated to youth cricket in Bradford.

  15. Len – that’s a great story re Bob Appleyard, with such tragedy woven into such achievement and pleasure (in seeing through Maxwell and defeating the old monster). If Nesta doesn’t review the book himself, I’ll hope to do so here during the Ashes summer.

    The older I get, the more convinced than ever I am that most of the problems one faces can be cured with careful application of imagination (allied to a little money / talent / luck / health etc). Appleyard’s style of bowler is often said to be obsolete in the age of uncovered wickets, but why is that so? A generation back, Test quality wrist spinners appeared to be a dying breed, as does the specialist keeper now (save the sublime Prasanna Jayawardene, and he doesn’t play every game).

    In the same way that Ajantha Mendis has re-discovered some deliveries, might not Hoggy or Bracken or even someone like Dwayne Bravo or Jacob Oram attempt to bowl cutters and swingers at genuine medium pace (eg 120kmh)? With keeper standing up, off a shortish run to hurry the batsmen, I can see them being a handful in ODI cricket. After all, NZ’s Chris Harris (about the only such bowler I can think of in recent years) played 250 ODIs and delivered an economy rate of 4.28. If someone could regularly post figures of 10-1-42-1 in the middle overs of an ODI, they would be on the winning side more often than not. And surely Bracken, Hoggy, Bravo and Oram have ten times the bowling talent of Harris?

  16. As I have a Yorkshire cricket blog, I should probably get round to getting a review on site too.

    btw: You might be interested in this video:

    http://www.yorkshireccc.com/wrtv/media/1094129517/index.html

    It has excerpts from interviews with various ‘Yorkshire greats’. The first three minutes features Appleyard explaining how he stumbled, almost by accident, upon the strange mixture of deliveries he bowled.

  17. That’s a fascinating clip Len, rather underlining my point about imagination. These old boys (even the Yorkie ones!) make it sound much easier than it is of course, but great to see him holding the ball and explaining why he did what he did. I hope Hoggy has seen it.

    Nesta – you might want to post that clip of SK Warne explaining his deliveries at the MCG. Every cricket fan should watch that every season!

    Nesta – this is Len’s site: http://lastofthesummerwhine.wordpress.com/. Perhaps one for the blogroll?

    Len – I hope to return your contributions at 99.94 with some comments of my own over at your site – I can’t promise that they will be as illuminating as yours here though.

  18. Toots, I’m a step ahead of you, Last of the Summer Whine, which is highly recommended, has been proudly displayed on the Blogroll for a few days now. I’m anticipating Len’s next musing keenly.

    If Australia continue to lose direction as they have of late it won’t be only Warne masterclasses I’ll be presenting. A month long retrospective on Australian cricket 1987-2007 might be in order to keep the mind unfettered and the blues at bay!

  19. Nesta – I should have read the blogroll more carefully! That’s what comes of working on a Saturday afternoon!

    Re Aus, it’s more than just the retirement of greats isn’t it? There does appear to be a leadership / planning problem. The groundswell here in the UK for SKW to take charge for The Ashes will just keep growing until we see the Baggy Greens on the field at Cardiff with him not amongst them. We feel its his right, because he really should have been captain at some point, he’s obviously the best spin option and it just doesn’t seem right for the Aussies to be here without him, even for the likes of me who remember the ’89 tourists (I’ll refrain from mentioning the ’85 and ’81 groups and the late seventies was a strange period.)

  20. Nestaquin & TTT: To be honest, 99.94% of LotSW is devoted to Yorkshire CCC, so may not be of massive interest to you – although it seems to have developed a following amongst other county fans who bemoan the lack of a similar blog about their own club. Having said that, I do occasionally muse about lesser teams (mostly England).

    The most interesting part of that video is when Appleyard shows his grip, it reminded me of an article I found once about the Iverson-Gleeson bent middle finger grip:

    http://planetnz.com/palmheads/myhacks.php?pg=bent_finger

    You need to scroll past the Linux hacks at the top of the page to get at the article.

    It makes you wonder, now that Mendis has had such an impact on his introduction to international cricket, if we’ll see imitators. I know that Azeem Rafiq, a young player on Yorkshire’s books and currently touring SA with the England U19 side, has experimented with the Mendis ‘carrom ball’. I believe he’s at the stage of being confident enough to bowl it in matches, although I think he said he’s yet to take a wicket with it.

    Btw, TTT: Appleyard is still active with Yorkshire, being President in 2007. So I would imagine he’s had conversations to Hoggard about bowling.

    Appleyard may not be well known to the general cricket fan, but in Yorkshire he’s well known and respected. But for injury and illness he would have broken many more records, and that despite not playing fist-class cricket until he was 26.

  21. Shane looks very comfortable in retirement and although he is the best spinner in the country he doesn’t want to play. I don’t blame him. He had the fairytale finish and I know he is very satisfied with life.

    So we must continue without him.

    As for the malaise. It IS more than experienced players retiring. Ricky is struggling with the captaincy and soon that pressure and worry will affect his batting. Something the team can ill afford.

    I think the whole team needs further shaking up but unfortunately that won’t happen unless they fail to retain The Urn.

    I think the selectors have twigged that an era has ended and the statements about building towards a long term goal like the 2011 World Cup are encouraging. It’s a relief to know they are planning after doing bugger all for most of this century but they need reminding that a wrist spinner is far more important than mythical allrounders.

    The Test team played very well at times but couldn’t sustain the excellence for long enough periods and although not the team of the past they are competitive and the nations that have beaten them of late, India and South Africa, have played exceptionally.

    So, all is not rosy for the national team but they are still far from easybeats even with their best bowler displaying his skills in the commentary box on not and the paddock.

    I think the team and selectors are on the right track and like every exciting journey or story there’ll be some obstacles and errors made along the way.

    On another subject – It’s been very dry in Hobart and a score of 300 may not be enough tomorrow. Pity the bowlers especially the seamers who I suspect will be punished without mercy.

  22. Young Warner will aiming to get a few in the sea won’t he?

    11.30pm start here, so I’ll miss most of it. Should be a fine match. I hope Duminy plays well and that Hilfenhaus has better luck and support from the field on home ground.

  23. Warner was done in by a nice ball from steyn. it swung and seamed a bit and he nicked it back to boucher.

    Ponting was again dropped by mckenzie. i don’t think i have seen ponting score a hundred without giving half a dozen chances. and atleast two dropped catches. luck doesn’t even begin to describe this run of lives.

  24. Ponting dropped again by Ntini , this time. .. incredible, really.

    I know you are in this crowded sell out at Bellerive, Nesta.. is there any more beautiful background to cricket?? on a par with the one in Sri Lanka perhaps?

    I’m with you on Nathan.. underneath that Alice band is a head full of cricket guile…

  25. funny how i made my comment when ponting was 12 and now he is proving me right!

  26. @pepp – only the most beautiful cricket ground in the world…adelaide oval.

  27. That was a really enjoyable game of ODI cricket. The fortunes changed throughout the match and it seemed like the appreciative crowd had a great time. And they got to see the two Tasmanians play important roles in the game. That’s been 2 excellent tight ODI games in a row.

  28. Thanks for those incredible links, Len. Enjoyed them thoroughly. There is much I’d like to write about them but I am far too tired after an emotionally exhausting day’s cricket at Bellerive. Perhaps another time.

    And spot on, Pete, and Pepp too. A great day’s cricket.

  29. I saw some of the Aus innings. Excellent tight cricket with some good bowling by the Saffers to drag their way back into the game. (I missed Marsh and Punter).

  30. Hey while your on the topic of bracken here’s a clip a friend and i shot with the great man.
    http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=NUQp3QV3QxM&feature=channel


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