Gough honing reverse arts

No sooner had England finished their first net session in Pakistan yesterday than two of the bowlers on whom the tour and the team's state of mind could depend told it like it was. "If the ball doesn't reverse swing it will be a long winter," said Darren Gough. Alongside, his fellow Yorkshireman Craig White, a man of fewer words, nodded sagely.

No sooner had England finished their first net session in Pakistan yesterday than two of the bowlers on whom the tour and the team's state of mind could depend told it like it was. "If the ball doesn't reverse swing it will be a long winter," said Darren Gough. Alongside, his fellow Yorkshireman Craig White, a man of fewer words, nodded sagely.

Gough and White are two of the few English players who have learned the art of reverse swinging the ball. When the team last came to this country 13 years ago it was unknown, at least to anybody outside the subcontinent.

Now, it is a key weapon in the armoury. Without it, England have as much chance of bowling out Pakistan twice in a Test match, or restricting them to a manageable score in the one-dayers, as they have of finding a green seamer somewhere in this country. Which is no chance at all.

At its simplest, reverse swing is the ability to persuade an old ball to move through the air, preferably late in its flight, in the opposite direction to what the traditional position of the shiny side would imply.

Gough, by watching Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and White, by repeated experimentation, have become proficient, if not quite masterful at the craft.

"This winter is about the new ball and whoever bowls with the old ball," Gough said. "With the new ball for 12 or 15 overs you've always got a chance, and then the older ball for reverse swing."

The pair also have a conundrum over the white ball which will be used in the one-day matches during the first part of the tour. Traditionally, they have managed to reverse swing this when it is 35 overs old.

However, batsmen, almost by coincidence, have started regularly to ask for a change of ball at that stage in the proceedings, claiming they cannot see the scuffed white spheroid before them.

If the exchange is granted by the umpires it is invariably for a younger, less dirty ball which does not reverse swing. "I don't blame the batsmen," Gough said. "It's a good tactic."

Gough and White are probably the two fastest men in the England side. White said: "I have a low, slingy action like Waqar, and I think that probably helps the reverse. We're going to need it because the pitches here haven't any grass."

There will be some rivalry between the two Yorkshireman for who bowls the quickest. Gough, while refuting the suggestion that he had a constant fascination with the speedometer, pointed out that he had bowled the first to 10th-fastest balls in England last year. "I'd rather Craig bowl quicker than me than anybody else," he said. "If he bowled one at 95mph nobody would be happier than me."

They were both taken with the facilities at the Karachi Gymkhana Ground. The nets were slightly more moist than the dry, hard pitches in the middle but let nobody think it is third-world stuff. "They're better than most nets in England," Gough said. "Actually, they're better than most English pitches."

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