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Jeremy Snape: 'The moon ball was all about mindgames'

Jeremy Snape invented the 'moon ball' PA Images/Getty

As the old saying goes, bowl a thousand offbreaks, and just one moon ball, you're not remembered as an offbreak bowler, you're remembered as Jeremy Snape.

Snape would be well within his rights to feel some irritation at his level of association with the loopy 40mph (64kph) delivery. After all, his playing CV lists over a dozen England appearances and seven domestic white-ball trophies across a 14-year career - and the moon ball was merely a small part of the armoury that took Leicestershire to T20 glory in 2004 and, under his captaincy, in 2006.

On the other hand, it is of little surprise, if not entirely fitting, that the player who completed a Masters in Sports Psychology during his career and who is now the host of the successful Inside the Mind of Champions podcast as well as founder of Sporting Edge, a high-performance consultancy that aims to give their clients a psychological advantage against their opponents, would be the one who managed to invent a delivery that was in isolation bad but, through sheer force of will, was in its entirety, good.

"I guess it's easy to say 'he bowled those really slow deliveries'," Snape tells ESPNcricinfo. "But it was part of a system really that was designed to be deceptive. It's not that I just ran up every ball like a bad club cricketer and lobbed balls up, it was meant to be unpredictable and to be unpredictable you need a range of differences."

For Snape, who has the ninth-best economy rate in Blast history (minimum 100 overs) with 6.83 an over, contrast was the key. Priming a batter so all their muscle memory told them one thing, only for the result to be entirely different.

"The closest equivalent I guess is the slower-ball bouncer, because what that does is it sets you up with all the triggers. The ball hits the deck short and every ball you've faced that looks like that in the past comes up at your head, quickly.

"So you get ready to duck or hook it, but then everything that happens after is the opposite. It's slower and further away from you than you think. So as soon as you lose your hitting rhythm, you can hit it, but you can't hit it as powerfully as you wanted."

And Snape was playing that same game. His run-up for the moon ball was faster, so too his action and his follow-through. And in the lead-up to the ball he'd even try accidentally on purpose to be spotted by the batter adjusting his field for a quicker delivery. And then, after all the sleights of hand, a white ball would be released high into the sky with no real intention of ever coming down.

"If you can get into their mind and change the way they're thinking and change that premeditation period that they've got, you reduce the commitment they've got to their shot - and we all know that someone is more likely to execute something if they're 100% committed - and I was trying to chip away at that by creating doubt."

It was an invention of both new- and old-school thinking. New, in its outside-the-box, untraditional methods. But old, in being rooted in testing the ticker of the bloke at the other end.

"Everyone looks at the highlights," Snape says, explaining another of the tricks he had up his sleeve, ensuring he always walked backwards to his mark so that he could watch the batter on strike, "but I'm fascinated by the lowlights: the time between balls because the batter is usually out of breath, panicking, under pressure, which means they don't play with a poker face.

"So if I saw someone look out to deep midwicket, I'd go 'Stevo [Darren Stevens], he's coming to you, just go to your left a little bit.' Which makes the batter think, 'Ah, I can't do that now', so then I start to run into bowl and he's confused about the thing that he was going to do. It was all about building up my clarity and commitment and reducing theirs."

Snape revelled in gaining tangible advantages out of the intangibles of the sport. Call it sophisticated mental disintegration. Where Steve Waugh would look to get in your head by calling you a ****, or for the sake of variety, a ******* ****, Snape would do so with subtlety, quietly noting that he's seen you're one notch looser on your belt this year. Everything alright at home?

"I think sometimes," Snape says, in defence of his dark arts, "they were so annoyed at me getting in their heads they often succumbed to a delivery that wasn't that special in terms of what it did off the pitch. And that was the mindgames part of it that I loved, and had to rely on actually, to stop myself from getting hit so often."

But despite Snape's success, the moon ball remains associated solely with him and hasn't gone on to become a regular tool within T20. Snape isn't too surprised by this and it's a fact he puts down to the "incredible skills" of a lot of spinners, meaning they simply don't need it. Furthermore, he has long described the moon ball delivery as playing cricketing Russian Roulette, except that now, with shorter boundaries and increased levels of power hitting in the modern game, there are three bullets in the chamber rather than one.

"I don't know if it's a good or a bad thing," Snape concludes on whether he's pleased to be synonymous with the delivery. "But it had a time and a place. It wasn't this mystical delivery that everyone fell for and it did end up down the street a fair few times, but it played on their ego as much as their technical skill.

"We teach people how to bowl a particular delivery or how to play a particular shot. But we don't necessarily give them the wisdom of when to play that shot or when to bowl that delivery."

Snape's mantra as a T20 bowler was that of "let me give you one, so you don't take six". Traditional coaching, he explains, isn't in the business of teaching bowlers how to give up easy runs. But in a format where one-a-ball is a win for the bowler, it becomes an art form in itself.

If an opponent was strong down the ground, Snape would indulge that strength by bowling fast half-volleys that could easily be punched to fielders at long-on or long-off. On other occasions, he'd move midwicket to short mid-on to leave an enormous gap in the leg-side before deliberately bowling a ball on leg stump that could be easily hit into the gap for a single. Here, have one. No, no, really, I insist.

"We talk about what a good ball is, sometimes a low full toss on leg stump could be the best ball you bowl, but you're never taught that in the coaching manuals. That ability to read the game and think, 'okay I've just bowled two dots at this guy, how do I get him down to the other end so I've bowled one off three balls', and then I can bowl a moon ball at the other guy and try and close the over out again. It was that whole situation of working out who's on strike, who are the most destructive hitters, when to do it and how to do it.

"[And] it's that cat and mouse between the batter and bowler that I find so fascinating about cricket."