Q & A: The mysteries of swing . . . and of links golf courses

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Why are so many team games 11-a-side instead of the more natural-seeming 10 or 12?

On 15 May 1874 McGill University in Montreal travelled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to play Harvard at rugby. In those days American Football was a carbon copy of rugby and soccer at the same time with both teams fielding 15 players. However, four of the McGill players were ill and the Canadians could only field a team of 11. Harvard did likewise and American Football has been an 11-a-side game ever since. - Michael Williams, Crickhowell, Powys.

When did cricketers start wearing helmets while batting?

There are instances as far back as the last century of players swathing their heads in towels to avoid injury and in 1933 Patsy Hendren of Middlesex and England experimented with a form of skullcap under his ordinary cap, although the experiment was short lived and poorly received. In 1976 Mike Brearley took to batting in a cap incorporating pink plastic flaps that covered his temples which resulted in much public condemnation.

The first full helmet would appear to have been used by Dennis Amiss in the Kerry Packer World Series in 1977-78. Initially he used a motorcycle helmet but this was soon customised with the addition of air holes. The unrestricted use of short, fast bowling in this series led to several leading batsmen using an assortment of helmets. In the same series Bob Woolmer took to wearing Amiss's helmet whilst fielding at short leg, a move deplored by The Cricketer as indefensible.

The first instance in a proper Test would seem to be Graham Yallop for Australia in the West Indies in the spring of 1978. By the start of the 1978 season Amiss had designed and was marketing a white helmet and within a year the style had altered to the canvas- covered type that is so prevalent today. There were teething problems in the early days - in the first Test between England and Pakistan, Sadiq Mohammad, the Pakistani opener, batted with his helmet on back to front] - Martin Williamson, West Wimbledon.

With the exception of Patsy Hendren, who as far back as the Twenties used a crude form of protective headwear at odd times, Mike Brearley must be the modern-day instigator, having worn a solid skullcap-type device with temple covers over which he wore an England cap. Around this time, 1977-78, Dennis Amiss, whose career had almost been destroyed by fast short-pitched bowling, opted for a white motorcycle-type crash helmet with face grill. These two pioneers have created today's situation where one is shocked to see players coming out in anything but, and fast bowlers taking great offence at a non-helmeted batsman as a slur on their bowling power. It takes the fingers of a very small hand to name present-day Test players never to have worn a helmet: Richie Richardson and Viv Richards are but two. - N P Lovejoy, Shenley Brookend, Bucks.

Immediately fast bowlers started ignoring the stumps. - Harry Brussalis, Newport, Gwent.

What criteria must a links golf course fulfil? And where does the term 'links' come from?

I have no idea whether there is some 'official' criterion which must be fulfilled before a course is a links course, but the obvious one is that the course must be on links.

'Links' is the plural of link, a now mainly obsolete term deriving from the Old English 'hlinc': a bank or ridge. In Scots, links are the undulating land on the shore inland from the dunes proper. They are usually the remains of ancient dunes with a thin layer of topsoil and vegetation over sand. The word is still in use, as in Banff Links, which is the term for the shoreline of Banff Bay between that town and Whitehills, whereas the local golf course, Duff House Royal, is not a links course.

When the antecedents of golf were introduced to Scotland from the Low Countries, it came first to the east coast, as it had the closest links (no pun intended) with Continental Europe. In the east-coast towns, golf, when it wasn't being banned by act of parliament (James II 1457 and James III 1471), was played on marginal common ground, the links, along the shoreline.

The natural conditions of links - sandy hollows where the vegetation and topsoil has been eroded, occasional water obstacles, undulating ground, a mixture of short, rabbit-nibbled grass and tufts and tussocks of rank grass and gorse - has influenced the design of courses wherever they are. - James Dempster, Elgin, Moray.

What makes a cricket ball swing?

The flight of any ball is affected by its having to penetrate air. The air resists this passage and exerts a drag force. Bowlers use this air resistance to swing the ball. Torpedo kicks in rugby, swinging corner kicks in football and the hacker's slice into the rough all stem from the same phenomenon although in these latter cases the ball is spun, as in the arm ball in cricket.

The surface of a new cricket ball is polished with the seam protruding from this smooth surface. The effect of the seam is to produce an air flow which is different on the two sides of the ball and such an asymmetrical flow will produce a sideways force causing the ball to swing. So, with the seam pointing towards fine leg throughout its flight, the air on the left side of the ball flows over a smooth surface but on the other side the seam produces turbulence, resulting in the required asymmetrical flow of air. The result is an in-swinger. Maintaining the shine on one side whilst allowing the other to become roughened will increase the asymmetry.

Cricket writers and commentators talk a good deal of twaddle about the effects of humidity, as though there were a sort of 'treacle effect' with humid air being much denser than dry air. On a warm summer's day, when the air is capable of taking up large amounts of vapour, the difference in density between air which is perfectly dry and air which is completely saturated amounts to only about one per cent. In the Oval Test the ball swung appreciably under a clear blue sky, but on cloudy Friday the English moved it hardly at all.

If there is a humidity effect it is more likely to be caused by moist air raising the seam as it absorbs water and swells. So facing Wasim and Waqar in the nets at a Turkish Baths wouldn't be the nightmare scenario as painted by the cricket reporters if the seam were kept lacquered and waterproof. - Geoffrey Brew, Cambridge.

Glenn Miller. - Martin D Jones, Wimbledon.

Pakistani fast bowlers. - Edward Farnan, Ballycastle, Co Antrim.

Why are Stockport County so called when there is no such county as Stockport?

Stockport County were formed in 1883 as Heaton Norris Rovers and amalgamated with their local rivals Heaton Norris in 1885.

In 1889 they moved grounds and in celebration of Stockport being awarded County borough status in the then system of local government changed their name to Stockport County. Newport County followed a similar process in their early years.

Notts County, however, decided on their secondary title due to the gentlemanly nature of their members and their close ties with County cricket, evident in their early ground sharing with cricket clubs. - Michael Cochrane, Lymm, Cheshire.

Who was the first British-born player to play professional baseball?

It is difficult to be precise about this since there was a period before professional players were officially recognised, when payment for playing was common but often secret. Harold Seymour (Baseball: the Early Years; Oxford University Press, 1960) argues that Harry Wright, born in Sheffield, was the first professional player-manager, appointed to the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1867. Prior to this he had been player and coach for the Union Cricket Club in Cincinnati from 1865. His pay for both clubs was dollars 1,200 per year. He had also played baseball as an amateur with the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York from 1858.

Incidentally, cricket had been a much more popular game in the United States, certainly until the late 1850s. According to Seymour there was a 24,000 crowd at the 1859 United States vs England match. - Don Blackburn, Hull.

ANSWERS PLEASE

What is the origin of the phrase 'blue riband'? - Matthew Pike, London N1.

Has football inspired any feature films other than The Arsenal Stadium Mystery and Escape to Victory? - John Loxley, Oldham.

Does anyone in English cricket practise reverse swing? And are they any good at it? - Cindy Lyall, Notting Hill.

Footballers are supposed to go off and run pubs when they retire. But can anyone tell me of any ex-players who have? - Bernard John, Bearsted, Kent.

As you watch professional sport, it's clear that the players consider some types of cheating all right, while others are out of order. Is there any yardstick or rule of thumb to say which is which? - Oliver Goss, Sunningdale.

How much is a complete set of Wisdens worth? - Chris Bolton, Haywards Heath.

Why do Aston Villa have a Spanish name, and Sporting Gijon an English one? Or, for that matter, how come Newell's Old Boys of Buenos Aires and Young Boys of Berne? - Graham Fisk, Alicante, Spain.

Can anyone explain why in sprint hurdles women race over 100 metres, and men over 110 metres? - Alfredo Gentilella, Edgbaston, Birmingham.

I appreciate that cricket requires one umpire square of the wicket, but why does it matter which side they stand? - Alice Boyle, Warrington.

(Photograph omitted)

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