England bowlers get into reverse swing of things
Wednesday 24 August 2005
Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, the legendary Pakistan pace duo, perfected the art in the Nineties, and it produced devastating results. On several occasions during Pakistan's 1992 tour of England, Graham Gooch's side looked to be heading towards a decent total - at Headingley they were reduced from 270 for 1 to 350 all out and at the Oval 182 for 3 suddenly became 207 all out - but time and time again they were blown away by a series of virtually unplayable inswinging yorkers.
Wasim and Waqar shared 43 wickets on the tour, and 60 per cent of their victims were either bowled or lbw. The pair completely changed the face of cricket because their bowling took the pitch out of the equation and toe-guards became as important an accessory as helmets. Facing fresh fast bowlers armed with a new ball was considered to be one of the most challenging jobs in cricket, but such was their ability to swing the old ball that batsmen started queuing up to open the innings. All they needed was a surface that scuffed the ball up sufficiently so that it would start misbehaving after 40 to 50 overs and they were in business.
But how views have changed in the last 13 years. When Pakistan were using reverse swing to win matches in England their methods were questioned, and allegations of ball-tampering were rife. Yet now, when England's bowlers are using the same skills to unsettle the Australians, it is looked upon as a wonderful concept being expertly used by our brave young warriors.
There is no reason at all to suspect Michael Vaughan's side are doing anything illegal to a cricket ball, but I have one thing to say about ball-tampering - it works. This is why the laws of cricket allow the fielding side to maintain the condition of a ball, but they do not permit them to increase its rate of deterioration.
The theory behind conventional swing bowling is relatively simple, even though it requires greater precision and is therefore rarer. The seam acts as a rudder and the shiny side of the ball moves through the air quicker than the side that has not been polished. Therefore if you let go of the ball with the seam pointing at first slip and with the shiny side on the right of the ball it should swing away from a right-handed batsman.
With reverse swing, however, the opposite is true. Once the shine and the hardness has disappeared from the new ball the fielding side will start working on the ball in an attempt to get it to reverse. They will keep one side of the ball as dry as they can whilst adding sweat and spit to the other.
Old Trafford provided bowlers with the ideal pitch on which to achieve this. It was hard, dry and abrasive, the type of surface that quickly scuffs up a ball. In circumstances like this fielders are told to keep their sweaty palms off the ball because it can flatten down and dampen the side you are attempting to keep rough.
The theory of reverse swing is that the flow of the air over the ball is disrupted by the disparity between the two surfaces and causes it to swing into the batsmen, in the opposite fashion to a newer ball. The ball will swing from left to right if released from the hand with the rough side on the left and the smooth side on the right.
Flintoff and Jones have been England's best exponents of the art. The pair have shared 29 wickets in the opening three Test matches of the series, and have caused the Australians countless problems.
"It's a great feeling when you hear some of the best batsmen in the world talking about you like they have," said Jones. "I first started trying it at the National Academy in Australia. I haven't mastered it yet. You never master anything, but I am working hard on it and beginning to get to grips with it."
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