Benny Howell’s emergence as a fine white ball cricketer has been one part of a wider story of Gloucestershire’s re-emergence as a strong limited overs side.
With his progression, an aspect of the allrounder’s game that has been getting a lot of attention is his “knuckle ball”. The change-up delivery, slower than his stock ball, which wobbles down to the batsman, often deceiving them through the air, is served without any discernible change to Howell’s right-arm action. It helped him take 26 wickets in last season’s NatWest T20 Blast. No other bowler took more.
“Well, I’m not the fastest of bowlers,” explains Howell. “I had to figure out how I’m going to make an impact as a normal medium pace bowler.
“I tried to use my love of baseball and bring the ‘knuckle ball’ into cricket. Not many pitchers throw it, but I decided to create my own version.”
Howell tried a few versions of the knuckle ball to see which worked best in a match. After a few attempts, he was able to not only get the right shape on the ball but also develop consistency. “The main key is keeping it accurate," he explains. "I’m still developing it.
“The main bit of the flight is that there is no rotation on the ball, so it all depends on conditions. I don’t know what it’s going to do. One variation is that I might keep my thumb on the ball for longer before I release it, which makes it grip or dip a bit more.”
Howell’s aim is to, eventually, master the flight of the ball so that he can predict what each variant will do. So aside from the knuckle ball, does he have any other tricks up his sleeve?
“I do have a couple of other balls," he said. "They’re not quite as developed as the knuckle ball but I’m keeping them to myself for now!
“In white ball cricket, bowlers really have to think ahead just to keep up with how quickly batting is developing. It’s all about making things as difficult for them as possible.”
Howell will hope his concoctions will help Gloucestershire chase T20 Blast glory.
Last year they fell at the quarter-final stage against Durham, despite Jack Taylor’s outrageous 80 in the chase, which almost saw Gloucestershire home single-handedly. It was a bitter disappointment for all involved. One they are looking to rectify in 2017.
“We were very disappointed not to get to Finals Day. That being said, to get to the most points and top our group was an amazing achievement.
“This year, if we do get to the quarter-finals, it’s time to perform in the high-pressure game and make it to Finals Day.”