‘Merlyn by BOLA’ spin bowling machine – a development
project by Stuart & Williams (BOLA) for the England and Wales Cricket
Board – has been greeted with praise and enthusiasm by professional
players and coaches alike.
“What an awesome piece of kit,” enthused Andy Hurry, Somerset
CCC Head Coach. “The boys have loved it and in only a few days their
game against spin has improved noticeably.”
Geoff Cook, Head Coach of Durham described the Merlyn as a, “fantastic
addition to the Bowling Machine range,” and Kent Captain Robert
Key said, “this machine will have a huge effect on English cricket
and the way we play spin.”
Merlyn by BOLA’ is a state-of-the-art machine that delivers programmable,
spinning balls, of every imaginable variety. It really has had everyone
in a spin!
The ‘Merlyn by BOLA’ project was conceived at the request
of the ECB who were searching for a means to extend the experience of
first-class players against top class spin bowling. After receiving a
design proposal and viewing a mechanical prototype of the concept the
ECB ordered twenty of the new machines but insisted on a very specific
set of performance criteria.
The mechanical principle of the machine is relatively simple and is fundamentally
derived from a BOLA development project of more than a decade ago. The
development was not pursued at the time because of the questionable viability
of a machine that would only bowl spin.
machine will have a huge effect on English cricket
and the way we play spin'
- Kent Captain Robert Key
In 2005, after more than 15 years of development work, engineer Henry
Pryor successfully aided the historic England 2005 Ashes victory with
his innovative and complex bowling machine called Merlyn.
Pryor’s original machine proved too complex to be financially viable
but it had convinced international players and coaches, at the highest
level, that a machine could bowl realistic and challenging spin.
Henry Pryor realised that it would be necessary to simplify his mechanism
and following a design discussion with BOLA manufacturer Nye Williams
the ‘Merlyn by BOLA’ project was born. The ECB’s involvement
provided the financial catalyst that had been required to develop the
concept and finally a fully automated Spin Bowling Machine was produced.
It took nearly two years of intensive research and development by Stuart
& Williams (BOLA manufacturers) to produce the new spin machines and
one has now been delivered to each of the first-class Counties and two
by the ECB National Cricket Performance Centre at Loughborough.
The knowledge and experience gained from 25 years of making ball throwing
machines of all types has enabled Stuart & Williams to produce an
extremely user friendly and useable spin machine. The accuracy of the
machine and the sophisticated electronic control package combine in a
unique way to give the coach complete control of the spinning delivery.
All BOLA Bowling Machines can produce spinning deliveries but the axis
of rotation of the head of a standard BOLA limits the spin options. ‘Merlyn
by BOLA’ provides the coach with the flexibility to deliver any
combination of leg-breaks, off-breaks, top spinners and arm balls that
he or she requires. The ‘easy to use’ switch panel allows
complete control of line, speed, flight and the amount of top spin and
side spin imparted to each ball.
“The spin variations on the new BOLA are very, very good. They are
subtle and keep the batter on his toes. Because the variations are so
subtle they help you hone your ability to predict the length of a
spinning ball,” said Rob Key. “I have learnt some new attacking
options against spin from playing against the machine.”
“Traditionally we haven’t been great at playing spin in England,”
said Geoff Cook. “The new machine provides players with a realistic
testing workout. It allows us to produce repetitive spinning conditions
indoors. It can turn the ball much sharper than a human bowler.”
The laser sight for machine positioning relative to the stumps and the
simplicity of the Control Panel allows the operator to set-up quickly
and navigate through the menu driven software (the menu design is very
similar to a mobile phone and simple to use).
"The Machine can get the ball to spin more than a spinner so we can
overload the training which means batsmen will face tougher conditions
than they would face in a match," said David Parsons, the ECB's Performance
“Human bowlers struggle to turn the ball especially on indoor surfaces.
The BOLA is a much greater challenge,” said Rob Key. “I had
to have the amount spin turned down because it was turning square!”
Merlyn by BOLA’ can deliver any type of ball of the right size but
is especially effective when using leather cricket balls.
“It’s great that you can put cricket balls through the Merlyn.
Watching the revolutions of the seam is how the batter gets his first
‘tell’ on what the ball is doing,” commented Rob Key.
Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire CCC’s Director of Cricket, agreed with
Rob he said, “The batters don’t get any clues from the wrist
or fingers of the spinner when they play against the Merlyn. It makes
them look really closely at the revolutions on the ball.”
“The essence of playing spin is to be very precise. The accuracy
and the sharp turn produced by this machine accentuates the need for players
to be precise. It will definitely improve the play of English batters
against spin,” added Geoff Cook.
The ‘Merlyn by BOLA’ incorporates a 28 ball Auto Feeder and
traffic light ball release indication. The machines were supplied complete
with Machine Stands which allows them to be easily moved/stored as well
as providing the operator with a safe and stable platform.
All the various spin functions are programmed in the factory but the ‘Merlyn
by BOLA’ also has a USB interface. In the near future coaches will
be able to input different bowling programmes from a laptop computer.
It is also expected that the machine will be programmable to mimic specific
overs or even spells.
Rob Key summed up the benefits of Merlyn by BOLA to English cricket: “Playing
against spin bowling indoors can be very dull and gets the batter into
so many bad habits. English bowlers can’t really turn it indoors
and batters get used to hammering skiddy lifeless bowling but, of course,
it’s a different matter when you get outdoors and the ball turns.”
“The first decent leg-spinner I ever played against was Shane Warne
when I was nineteen or twenty years old. It was a complete mystery! But
now young players will have the opportunity of getting some experience
against top class spin bowling before they have to face it.”
ECB have posted an interview with Leicestershire’s James Taylor
and featuring Merlyn on ECB
Simon Willis (left) and Robert Key (right) in the Kent CCC indoor school
County's Merlyn by BOLA.
see Merlyn by BOLA on Cricinfo please click