Knuckleball in cricket is an extremely difficult, strategic delivery, but it’s not impossible to master. There are several bowlers in the cricketing world who use the knuckle ball as a potent ploy, and we are going to explore how do they do it.
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What is a Knuckleball in Cricket?
A knuckleball is a slower delivery bowled by a faster bowler. When sending down a knuckleball, the ball is gripped in such a way that it comes out much slower than the bowler’s normal delivery.
The issue for the batsman is the subtle change in grip that makes a knuckle ball very difficult to spot so, when delivered correctly, it can be a deceptive delivery.
How to Bowl a Knuckleball
The concept is borrowed from baseball where pitchers have been sending down knuckleballs with a view to deceiving batsmen for many years.
The grip is key to bowling a successful knuckleball:
1. Rest the ball on top of the knuckles of the index and the middle finger.
The cricket ball is, therefore, gripped by the two remaining fingers.
England international limited overs bowler Pat Brown goes into greater detail. Speaking to Wisden he explained that he brings those two fingers back and points them down towards the thumb. Look to bend the tops of those fingers and sit the ball just underneath the nails.
It does help if you have bigger hands here as this is a difficult ball to grip and control.
2. Use your regular run up and speed through the crease.
This is important because you do not want the batsman to think that anything other than a stock delivery is about to be sent down.
The same principle applies when the ball leaves the hand.
3. The arm should come over at the same trajectory.
The ball is simply slowed down by that unconventional grip. When delivered correctly, the batter will notice no difference in the grip and they will expect the ball to arrive at its usual speed.
Who Invented the Knuckleball?
The credit for developing the knuckleball is given to Jeetan Sareen. Very little is known about him other than the fact that he was an Indian bowler who played no professional cricket.
Sareen developed the technique but many have taken it further by using the knuckle ball effectively in First Class and List A games.
Masters of the Knuckleball
In the wider cricketing world, the first time that the knuckleball was seen in a match situation came at the 2011 World Cup. India’s Zaheer Khan was the man to break the mould and he paved the way for many other expert exponents of the knuckleball.
Many seamers look to bowl a knuckleball, especially in the shorter formats where the slower deliveries are such a strong weapon.
In my opinion, the best bowler of a knuckleball in world cricket is Australia’s A.J. Tye. It was a skill that helped him to get into Australia’s national team while earning an IPL contract and deals from T20 franchises around the world.
The practise seems to have originated in India and it’s no surprise that many of the country’s seam bowlers are adept at this type of delivery. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is another top fast bowler who has played for the Indian national team in all forms of the game.
Kumar is strong with the knuckle ball and he has been an important player for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League.
Not many bowlers of extreme pace can deliver the knuckle ball effectively but England’s Jofra Archer is a notable exception. This is a man who, when he is fit, is regularly capable at sending the ball down at speeds in excess of 90mph.
With that kind of pace, the knuckleball can be a highly effective weapon and Archer puts it to good use. The most memorable occasion came in the semi final of the ODI World Cup in 2019 when a knuckleball from Jofra Archer claimed the vital wicket of Australia’s Glenn Maxwell.
Pat Brown gave that demonstration to Wisden and he is another seam bowler to have struggled with injuries. If he can stay fit, cricket fans from around the world will get a chance to see just how effective his knuckleball can be.
Other excellent exponents of this type of slower delivery include Siddarth Kaul, Deepak Chahar and Mohit Sharma. It’s an incredibly difficult skill to master and that’s why the list of best knuckleball bowlers is a relatively short one.