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What Is a Googly in Cricket?

By CricketersChoice Editors

The googly in cricket is one of the most deceptive balls a batsman can face. It has caught out many of the most skilful, most disciplined and talented batsmen in professional cricket for over a century.

Due to its elusive nature, the googly is not a particularly common ball seen in cricket matches. Instead, the googly is a delivery the bowler keeps in their repertoire for the perfect moment to catch out an opponent, hence why it is called a ‘wrong un by Australian players.

A googly is bowled by a leg break, or leg-spin, bowler. The typical leg-break delivery spins the ball away from the batsman’s stumps after it has pitched. However, the beauty of the googly is in its disguise as the bowler will deliver an unsuspecting off-spinner during their over, where the ball pitches back into the right-handed batsman rather than away from them.

Much of the joy in cricket comes from the cat and mouse between bowler and batsman. Trying to out-wit an opponent is a key part of cricket, and the invention of the googly created another strategy that favoured the bowler.

In this article, we will explain where the unusual term came from, talk through how to bowl the perfect googly and highlight some of the best googly bowlers ever to play cricket.

Who Invented Googly Ball in Cricket?

Amateur cricket player Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet is widely credited with inventing the googly delivery in the late 19th century whilst studying at Oxford University. In its formative years, the bowling style was also referred to as a ‘Bosie’ in reference to Bosanquet.

In a famous article for popular cricket magazine Wisden, Bosanquet explained his story behind the googly, and it became a part of competitive cricket. In bizarre circumstances, Bosanquet coined the idea when playing a game called Twisti-Twosti, where players would stand at opposite ends of a table, bounce a ball on a tabletop and try to prevent their opponent from catching it.

Whilst playing this unusual game, Bosanquet soon realised that he could out-wit his opponent by bouncing two or three balls that went one way, followed by a misleading third or fourth thrown in the other direction.

Intrigued by his own tactical intuition, Bosanquet tested his theory with a soft cricket ball first, before taking it to the nets in 1899 whilst playing a match for Oxford University.

During the lunch break, Bosanquet tested out his new delivery in the nets on an unsuspecting batsman. As planned, he bowled three-leg break deliveries and bowled the fourth as an off-spinner, which bounced back towards the stumps, caught the batsman on the knee and led to mass amusement from Bosanquet’s teammates. Meanwhile, the batsman was left bamboozled by what had just happened.

Who Bowled the First Googly?

Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet’s version of the first googly ever bowled in 1899 is widely believed to be the first-ever delivery of its kind.

After playing with the idea of the googly in 1897, Bosanquet spent years practising and perfecting his new bowling technique. He is the first known person to bowl the googly in a competitive match for Middlesex in July 1900, when he out-witted Samuel Coe of Leicestershire, who was stumped on 98 following Bosanquet’s deceptive ball.

Why Is a Googly Called a Googly?

Given the delivery was referred to as the more sensical ‘Bosie’ when it was invented, it is unusual how the googly became more widely used in international cricket. However, the term took off in the early 20th century when the googly spread across the cricketing world.

The origin of the word googly is not universally known. Some comparisons have been made between how googly eyes roll around uncontrollably, which mirrors the reactions of bamboozled batsmen who face the googly. 

Alternative definitions of the word refer to a possible combination of noises made by an infant ‘goo’ and the adjective ‘guile’ to represent deception in the delivery. Another potential origin may come from an older word used in cricket, ‘googlier’, which described a teasing delivery from the bowler for a batsman to try and hit.

However, as there is no uniform understanding or story of where the term came from, none of the above conclusively show how the name googly came about.

How Do You Bowl a Googly Ball?

Perfecting the googly takes a lot of practice. It is a difficult physical skill to master and requires arm, hand and finger movements that feel unnatural to the natural leg-break bowler. 

A successful googly comes from timing and how well the ball is disguised upon released. The greatest googly bowlers hide their finger and wrist movements expertly. Below are the steps required to bowl an effective googly.

  1. Grip the ball as you would for regular leg-break delivery, with the thumb underneath the ball and the index and middle finger spaced out at the top of the ball.
  2. As you prepare to deliver the ball, the back of your hand must be showing to the batsman to disguise the finger movements on the ball, and the palm of your hand should face upwards.
  3. The wrist must be facing towards the ground, at a 180-degree angle, and the seam of the ball should be facing the direction of fine leg (roughly past the right-handed batsman’s left shoulder as you look at them).
  4. Upon release, the ball should bounce off the seam and into the batsman instead of away from the batsman. 

To bowl a googly, it helps to practice traditional leg-break deliveries first, then incorporate the googly over time. Like with any technical component of cricket, there is no better place to test new skills than in the nets in a zero-pressure environment. Expect a lot of googlies to go wrong at first, but persistence is key.

What Is the Difference Between Googly and Doosra?

The googly is an off-spin delivery bowled by a leg-break bowler, but the doosra is the opposite – a leg-spin ball delivered by an off-spinner.

Off spin deliveries typically pitch from left to right off the track and spins towards the right-handed batsman. However, the doosra sends the ball in the opposite direction away from the batsman when it bounces.

In contrast to the googly, the doosra was only invented 20 years ago by Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq. During Pakistan’s 1999/00 tour of Australia, Mushtaq’s teammate, Moin Khan, first used the term when he told Mushtaq to ‘bowl the doosra’ (meaning ‘the other one’) in Hindustani.

Can Off Spinners Bowl Googly Deliveries?

An off-spinner cannot bowl a googly. To bowl a googly, the bowler must naturally bowl leg-spin rather than off-spin so they can effectively surprise the batsman with a change of direction throughout their over.

Who Is the Best Googly Bowler?

While there have been many superb leg-spin bowlers in cricket’s history, that does not necessarily make them the greatest googly bowlers. The googly is considered a skill in its own right, one that takes time and patience to perfect on some of the biggest stages in world cricket. Below are some of the greatest googly bowlers to ever play the sport: 

  1. Anil Kumble (India): Kumble did not possess the pace to spin the ball at the same speed likes some of his fellow leg breakers. But, aware of shortcomings, Kumble developed his googly to devastating effect, and he was one of the most cunning leg-spin bowlers of his time. Kumble apparently had two googlies in his armoury: one the batsman could read and play, and another the batsman couldn’t read before it was delivered. The spinner famously said: “It’s all about creating doubts in the batsmen’s mind,” a philosophy that made him the third ever highest wicket-taker in the history of cricket. 
  2. Shane Warne (Australia): Perhaps the greatest all-around leg spinner to ever play the game, Warne was a master of wrist spin. The notorious Australian was so skilful with the ball he had various deliveries that could out-wit any of his opponents. One of them was the googly. Some players lose pace on their googly deliveries due to the challenging technique required. However, Warne was a player who could bowl traditional leg spinners and the googly at the same pace. This was particularly difficult to read and helped Warne take over 1000 international wickets in his career. 
  3. Abdul Qadir (Pakistan): A leg-spin bowler who could produce eye-catching googlies to raise any crowd to its feet. Like Anil Kumble, Qadir didn’t have the ripping speed to bomb down quick-paced leg spinners and googlies. So, he worked on deception instead. Qadir could also bowl two googlies: one from the back of the hand, which went straighter and finished more like a traditional googly, and one that used finger spin to move further across the batsman’s when it spun. As a result, Qadir had some of the best individual bowling figures in world cricket, including his famous 9 for 56 against England in the 1987/88 season. 
  4. Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan): Ahmed was renowned for bowling the googly with such regularity that some of his Somerset teammates called him an off-spinner. An all or nothing player, Ahmed was purely committed to attacking batsmen and luring them into a mistake with bowling variations, rather than bowling consistently and economically. However, after a conversation with Shane Warned in the early 90s, Ahmed learned the value of deceiving batsman with a combination of discipline and variation. Consequently, the famous Pakistan entertainer took 100 wickets in a season for Somerset, and bowled some of the longest, most threatening spells against some of the best batsmen on the international stage.

Conclusion

The googly is a term shrouded in mystery. So much so, that some believe it borders on cheating due to its level of deception.

There is an intrigue in the cricket world about how to bowl the perfect googly. But also a fascination about seeing it delivered in a match. Some of the best googlies have caught out both spectators and unsuspecting batsmen at the crease, expecting yet another ball to break to the leg side. Only the bowler truly knows when the elusive googly will be thrown down.