Cricket: Bowlers just love swinging at the WACA

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The Independent Online
OF ALL the places in Australia, Perth is the one for swingers, and most of Australia's finest honed their art in the world's remotest city. Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman, Bob Massie, Graham McKenzie and Bruce Reid all learnt to hoop the ball at their home ground, the WACA, skills that gave sterling service to their country.

Like most things here, the prevailing wind shaped their destiny and swing came by necessity rather than invention. Of the four, Massie and Alderman were the specialists - easily recognisable by the permanent grimaces and high foreheads from bowling into the Doctor - while Lillee and Reid, their extra pace an added weapon, dabbled downwind.

Massie had that purple day at Lord's in 1972, where he took 16 wickets against England in a peerless display of swing bowling. If he petered out after that, his successor Alderman proved a constant during his career, twice taking 40 wickets or more in Test series against England.

Swing is an elusive skill and the minutest change in technique can sometimes cause it to disappear. It can be a frustrating occupation with the ball moving in can-opening curves one moment, then failing to move off the straight the next.

Considering that Dominic Cork and Damien Fleming are both reputable swing bowlers, there has been little movement to date. Perth may change that and it will be interesting to see which one of them conjures up the most threat while bowling into the breeze in the second Test, which started here early today.

In keeping with most artisans who tend to blame their tools the Kookaburra balls have been cited as the main culprit. This is the latest lack-of- swing conspiracy currently doing the rounds.

For once, there may something in this. Unlike their English counterparts, the seam on a Kookaburra ball is machine stitched rather than sewn by hand. For that reason it sits almost flush with the surface of the ball. Certainly there is negligible prominence after 25 overs, which is why Angus Fraser was dropped in favour of those leaning towards pace or swing.

Theories abound over what makes a ball curve in the air. Some say humidity helps, others that one side needs to be polished. If we are talking conventional rather than reverse swing, the seam, particularly its stability and angle in flight, is the vital ingredient.

For starters, it trips the boundary layer of air that passes over the ball in flight and creates drag. If prominent enough it also acts as a rudder which stabilises the ball. This is why the new Kookaburra, its seam still proud, tends to swing more than the old ball.

Perth may yet prove the theory wrong but swing bowlers really need to take the new ball in order to give themselves the best chance of making the batsmen look a charlie. If the "Doctor" is about and Cork and Fleming find their rhythm, the swingers could be as important as the fast men in testing the batsmen's mettle.