The ‘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.
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.
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.”
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 Director.
“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.
“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.