Mohammad Abbas — genius wrapped in simplicity

A closer look at factors behind the fast bowlers’ recent success

Mohammad Abbas — genius wrapped in simplicity PHOTO: AFP

Since making his debut against West Indies in Jamaica during Pakistan’s tour of the Caribbean in 2017, Mohammad Abbas has quickly established himself in the side despite his inexperience.

Although Pakistani bowlers are historically well-known for their high intensity fast-bowling, Abbas is different; he relies on accurate line and length complemented by his ability to consistently generate seam movement, and all this combined makes him one tough cookie to handle. 

Abbas might not get much assistance from the wickets in United Arab Emirates (UAE) against Australia but his ability to consistently bowl the right areas will come in handy despite the dry conditions.

Near-perfect bowling action

A proper action, especially for a fast bowler, is as important as the process of fermentation in wine-making.

A smooth and rhythmic bowling action has a major bearing on how the end product — when the ball is actually delivered — comes out and also provides a remedy against injuries.

A close look at Abbas’ bowling action reveals a lot of positives and sheds light on why he has tasted success.

Watch how (in figure 1) Abbas runs towards the bowling crease with arms close to his body and a stable head position. The simple repeatable action allows him to focus on the target.  

Figure 1 (YouTube Screengrab)

In figure two, notice how Abbas’s head is not falling away towards the off-side and is in line with a high front arm with the ball close to the chin just before delivering.

What this does is allow him to be consistently accurate because he has his eyes set on the target.

Figure 2 (YouTube Screengrab)

Just when he is about to release the ball (in figure 3) watch how Abbas’ body is upright, back leg is stable which enables him to land properly and front leg little higher and pointing towards the batsman.

The positining of his body at the bowling crease helps him land properly with little stress on the legs while also keeping his radar correct at most times. This is why he consistentkly bowls the right channel and rarely strays towards the leg-side.

Another important bit about his action is how he aligns his shoulders and hips when he delivers the ball, which is extremley helpful if you are looking to avoid constant back injuries.

Figure 3 (YouTube screengrab)

The work of the bowler is not finish as soon as he has released the ball because it is important to finish off the action with a proper follow-through.

For a right-hand bowler in an ideal case scenario, it is preferable that the bowling arm ends up towards the outside of the left thigh after the ball is released. Also he must gradually end his follow through rather than immediately stopping.

Interestingly Abbas does both these things exceedingly well while also adopting a linear path in a follow through which helps reduce the pressure on his upper and lower body.

Accurate line and length

Having excelled at the first pre-requisite, Abbas can now focus on putting the ball in the right areas without having to worry about his action.

The 28-year-old bowler keeps things simple by penetrating on a precise line and length making it difficult to score runs off him freely.

Abbas consistently hits the nagging fourth stump line which keeps the batsman guessing and unsure whether to play those deliveries or not. He does not have express pace nor does he swing the ball audaciously, however, his real strength lies in using the seam to great effect.

For instance the seamer exploited the Lord’s pitch— venue for the first Test between England and Pakistan in May 2017 — to his advantage which perfectly suited his style of bowling. The overcast overhead conditions coupled with a slight bit of movement were the perfect ingredients to add more venom to his bowling.

Mohammad Abbas found 0.758° of seam, the most in the attack; during the first innings according to CricViz. His average speed was recorded the slowest amongst the Pakistani attack during the first innings, but a consistent line and length along with seam movement made him tough to handle.

Figure 4 and 5 — from the first Test at Lord’s — below indicate Abbas’ length during the first and second innings respectively. The pitch map clearly shows how the majority of the deliveries, the area circled in red, are bowled at a good length and are on or around the off-stump. This is an ideal ploy as it keeps the batsmen unsure about whether to go on the front foot or back.

According to another stat by CricViz, 84% of his deliveries were on a good length, the highest figure for any seamer in the match, showing his instinctive feel for the right area to bowl.

Figure 4 (ESPNcricinfo Hawk-eye)

Figure 5 (ESPNcricinfo Hawk-eye)

Setting up the batsman

From what we have learned over the course of his brief career, Abbas is a thinking bowler who knows how to outfox the batsmen with his set of skills.

The dynamics of modern day cricket are such that, more often than not, the game is skewed in favour of the batsman which makes life difficult as a bowler. This stresses on the importance of bowling with a comprehensive plan in mind which avoids the risk of being easily found out.

Let’s take a look at few occasions when Abbas impressed with the way he set up the batsman before eventually getting their number.

Mark Stoneman - first innings of Lord’s Test

In the first innings of the Lord’s Test, Abbas skilfully laid a trap for English opening batsman Mark Stoneman.

In the over the fast bowler got his wicket, he angled the first five deliveries of the over away from the batsman, heading towards the slip direction. On the sixth ball, he more or less bowls a similar length but this time the ball nips back in and goes through Stoneman’s bat and pad.

CricViz analysis indicated that Abbas managed to swing the ball 1.6° away from the England opener, then seamed it 1.7° back in. To add to this, two balls earlier Abbas seamed the ball 1.4° away. Fine margins yet so effective.

Tasty, right?

Figure 6 below shows a visual representation of the over. The ball with which he picked up the wicket is circled in red.

Figure 6 (ESPNcricinfo Hawk-eye)

Jos Buttler - second innings of Lord’s Test

It is relatively difficult to dismiss a batsman who is well set and has spent time out there in the middle but Abbas showed us with his dismissal of Buttler, who had went past the half-century mark, that a slight variation in length can be useful in outsmarting a batsman.

According to CricViz the ball to dismiss Jos Buttler was almost 3 metres fuller than Mohammad Abbas' previous delivery, seaming 1.5° compared to the previous ball's 0.6°.

Looking forward

Former Australian bowler Glenn McGrath once said in an interview, with ESPNcricinfo, which gives us a glimpse of his approach towards bowling.

“It is all about control. Bowling the ball in the right area, hitting the deck, top of off-stump, where the batsman is not sure whether to come forward or go back. A lot of people call it the corridor of uncertainty,” said McGrath.

Abbas considers the legendary fast bowler as his role model and his career thus far has shown that he follows McGrath’s philosophy very closely.

Although it’s too early to say Abbas will follow McGrath’s legacy but he certainly has the raw materials to shape an illustrious career.