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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
England await Merlyn's heir
By Pranav Soneji

Terry Jenner and Shane Warne at Lord's
Like making love to a statue

Coach Terry Jenner on Merlyn

Merlyn, the leg-spinning bowling machine, may live in a barn in Wales and have to be transported around in a horse box, but it has become an intrinsic part of England's coaching set-up.

Created in Henry Pryor's shed following 15 years of hard labour, the revolutionary invention has made a big impact on the cricketing world.

The likes of Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss admitted as much after England had wrested the Ashes from a Shane Warne-inspired Australia last summer.

But deep in the grounds of Loughborough University at the Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, the finishing touches are being put to Merlyn's successor.

Dubbed "Virtual Warney" by more astute members of the Australian press, the mystery machine will be even better than the ground-breaking original.

That's because it will hopefully do what Merlyn failed to do - generate a visual representation of the moment a bowler releases the ball.

The new machine is not quite ready just yet.

According to research student Laura Justham, there is still some work to do to turn it into the finished article.

But she was only too happy to explain to BBC Sport how it will operate once it becomes fully operational.

According to Justham, the machine will stand behind a screen on to which a bowler's action is projected.

At the top of the screen, which is roughly two-and-a-half metres high, there is a hole, from which the ball is propelled the moment the image of the bowler reaches the top of his action.

It will allow bowlers to develop without the risk of injuries or the risk of overbowling

Laura Justham

"However, this is the area we are working on at the moment," says Justham. "We are not quite there yet."

The aim is to recreate the behaviour of a bona fide bowler, including the movement of the ball in the air and off the pitch.

And the new machine will have all the tricks in the book, including googlies, flippers, sliders and doosras.

It will also be able to generate inswing, outswing and reverse swing, the favourite conversation topic in the pubs up and down England in 2005.

"If you have some video footage of the bowling delivery, you can work out what happens to the ball," adds Justham.

"How it leaves the bowler's hand, the angle of the seam and the spin rate they are putting on the ball."

The machine incorporates technology such as Hawk-eye, the software used to predict lbw decisions, and can be programmed to mimic the idiosyncrasies of individual bowlers.

So everything from Muttiah Muralitharan's "doosra" to Warne's "zooter" will be on its radar.

It also has the potential to reach Brett Lee speeds of up to 100mph.

Andrew Flintoff in the nets against Merlyn
Flintoff faces the bag of tricks that is Merlyn

Justham also thinks the machine will benefit more than just the batsmen.

"Bowlers will be able to concentrate on their game rather than provide stock deliveries for batsmen in the nets," she says.

"It will also allow bowlers to develop without the risk of injuries or the risk of overbowling. It can also help them to experiment."

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is helping to fund the project.

But although the prototype has been tested at the National Academy in Loughborough, no batsman has yet to face the new machine.

The long-term aim is to produce it on a mass scale at an affordable price.

All that's missing is a catchy name.

If the ECB is looking to continue the Arthurian theme, how about Lancelot, Galahad or Guinevere?

Whatever it is called, its unveiling cannot come soon enough judging by the way England struggled against Muralitharan at Trent Bridge on Monday.

Magical Merlyn
08 Sep 05 |  England


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