If the MCC were searching for the ideal template for The Thinking Bowler for the next edition of their coaching manual, the likelihood is Nathan Bracken would be quickly overlooked. With long, shaggy, blond hair, and a definite air of insouciance bordering on dappiness, the Australian left-armer is hardly a vision of cognition. Better suited to waxing his board by the beach, perhaps.
The man himself cemented the image, when admitting that he struggled to formulate a plan to combat the dusty conditions which confronted the Australian and Pakistani players during their recent series in the UAE. "I have been told by several people you should try to keep your mouth shut," he said. "But sometimes it doesn't quite work that way." Yet it seems appearances can be extremely deceptive, judging by his contributions to the technological revolution which has been ushered in by Twenty20 cricket's boom.
As cricket's broadcasters seek to get the viewer ever closer to the action, international players are often miked-up and quizzed by the commentators while playing in the game's abbreviated format. Bracken has been a willing guinea pig, and his efforts at commentating while bowling have conveyed a remarkable ability to think clearly under pressure. When Australia played South Africa in a 20-over game in Melbourne recently, Bracken talked his way through an over against the free-wheeling Proteas batsman, Herschelle Gibbs, often conversing with the commentary team while running in to bowl.
Bearing in mind Matthew Hoggard, the English seamer who has 248 Test wickets to his name, claims his method is "close my eyes and wang it down", it was captivating stuff. "I had the commentators saying to me, 'So what are you trying to bowl here?' Half the time I was thinking, I don't know what I am bowling," confessed the 31-year-old Penrith-born bowler. "It is a bit of fun. I spoke to a lot of people after who were absolutely shocked at how much thought we actually put in to each ball.
"When I was bowling to Gibbs, at the same time I had Mark Taylor in my ear asking, 'What are you going to bowl here?' "I said: 'I'm going to bowl a slower ball, but I have to keep it straight'. He asked why, and so I explained my thinking. "He came up to me after the game and said, 'You actually go into thinking about each ball that much?' You have to. Certain players are strong at hitting in certain areas, but not others. You have to take that away from them."
Bracken was for a long while ranked as the best limited-overs bowler in the world, and he added: "To be able to do it you have to know what you are going to do in your head anyway. Instead of thinking it, you are voicing it. "I spoke to one of the commentators after the game and he said, 'I was amazed with how well you executed it - but what happens if you didn't do it?' I'd say he moved so I decided to bowl a different ball. Then I can't lose!"
As keen as he is to embrace the technological age, Bracken will be hoping the commentators give him a break during this month's World Twenty20. "In Sydney, I was running in to bowl and I could hear them talking about the fact I had bowled eight dot balls in a row. "They were debating what the longest run of dot balls was, and I could hear this as I was trying to bowl the ball. "I turned round and said: 'You guys could do me a favour, any chance of keeping it down a bit when I run in to bowl?'
"It gives everyone a chance to see the personalities people have got. We do look serious out there, but sometimes we laugh and joke." firstname.lastname@example.org Nathan Bracken will be writing a column for The National during the World Twenty20. His first piece will appear in tomorrow's edition