Monday, 13 July 2003
Flight and Drift
W.G. Karunasena

Flight is how long the ball hangs in the air. Drift is the trajectory it takes from fingers to pitch. Mastery of these two elements is what makes a great spin bowler. Everything else is frills.

The strategy for grappling with a spinner is to use your feet, get to the pitch of the ball and smother it before it deceives you. Good flight makes a ball appear closer than it is. Good drift makes a batsman commit to a shot he may not be able to play. Take away flight and drift and you’re just a slow bowler who turns the ball. Insert these ingredients and you become a magician.

In Zimbabwe in 1994, at the twilight of his career, having mastered flight, drift and when to use which, Mathew bowled an assortment of some of the most unusual deliveries ever invented. He was no-balled for a ball that flew some 20 feet skywards before bouncing on the wickets. The ball was deemed illegal for, as the umpire put it, “hanging in the air too long.”

For everything, of course, there is a time and place. When facing a belligerent West Indian and bowling into heavy winds, it is perhaps prudent to eliminate flight and drift and to simply dart the ball. To bowl flat or defensively.

In his early career, Mathew refused to bowl defensively and attracted the chagrin of every captain he served under. Against Viv Richards in the 1985 World Series, he suffered the figures of 0-94 and 0-105. Against New Zealand in 1984, Pradeep flighted the ball to Lance Cairns, who, aided by a bat called Excalibur, dispatched ball after ball into the stands.

Pradeep would not change his flight, demonstrating, not for the first time, his immaturity and inability to adapt his game. As well as his inability to listen to advice, when screamed at him by the Skipper and the future Captain.