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Scientists dismiss humidity as aid for swing bowling

Published May 30, 2012 03:02pm


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James Anderson is among the proponents of swing bowling in present-day cricket. – File photo by AP
James Anderson is among the proponents of swing bowling in present-day cricket. – File photo by AP

WELLINGTON: The widely-held belief that moisture in the air during humid conditions helps make a cricket ball swing has been clean bowled in a scientific study.

Swing bowling – when a delivery curves sideways in mid-air – has long been regarded as one of the game’s dark arts, not only deceiving hapless batsmen but also puzzling cricket-loving scientists.

Researchers from Britain’s Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Auckland in New Zealand reviewed scientific literature on the subject and conducted their own tests to try to get to the bottom of the mystery.

From the earliest studies of the phenomenon in the 1950s to the “seminal review of sports ball dynamics” by NASA scientist Rabindra Mehta in 1985, they found humidity was consistently cited as a crucial factor in achieving swing.

The researchers tested the theory using 3D laser scanners in an atmospheric chamber to measure the effect different humidity levels had on deliveries using balls which had been “aged” to simulate match conditions.

While altitude and the age of the ball both increased swing, the scientists did not discover any link between moisture levels in the air and sideways movement of the ball.

“This study shows that there is no direct or indirect manner in which humidity can significantly affect the ability of the bowler to make the ball swing,” they concluded in research published in the online journal Procedia Engineering this week.

“It is therefore logical to conclude that humidity may not have the significant influence on swing bowling that is widely assumed.”

Instead, the researchers put forward their own theory that cloud cover provided the ideal environment for swing bowling because it reduced turbulence in the air caused by heating from sunlight.

They said such still conditions meant the air surrounding the ball during the delivery was less likely to be disturbed, making it easier to produce the “asymmetrical” flight needed for swing bowling.

“What is clear is that the scientific community should turn their attention away from the question of humidity and focus their efforts to test the cloud cover hypothesis,” they said.


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Comments (4) Closed

Jawwad May 30, 2012 06:00pm
LOL. Just what clouds are in Pakistan where Akram, Imran, Waqar continued to bowl swing bowling. I have played cricket and swing bowling is the combination of your action, grip and age of the ball.
Hasanalirana May 31, 2012 09:12am
if clouds stop sun light and reduce the local turbulence around the ball then apply same assumption at night time as well, as humidity level might be the same but there is no sunlight. !!! or contact sirfraz nawaz and imran khan !!!!
Cares May 31, 2012 09:22am
it is mainly 1) Grip 2) Action 3)Wrist Age of the Ball does not matter much. as one would notice Pakistanis swinging the bowl better when it is older, as far as Humidity is concern it also has great affects, as while i myself played number of times near sea shore grounds & humid cold or hot weather, the ball swings at high abnormality if you only know a little about how to ball, it some times even makes a bowler very difficult to control the bowl itself,,, Scientist would know if they practise & play the game by themselves,,,
waqas May 31, 2012 10:33am
Hi. I am a fast bowler turn leg spinner. My ball used to be massively reverse swing in my school days in sialkot cant school, during waqar and wasim time. I did not know the ball which is so normal to me infact has adestructive swinging power. Its mainly 1) Ball grip. 2) Wrist position 3) and speed of ball 4) other factors like drag, air temperature, pressure, ball shape etc Now i am 30, and a leg spinner, with 2 years of county experience in u.k. I am an engineer, so have alsoo studied fluid mechanics of reverse swing. Its, one side of the ball must be shiny while other side of the ball should b rough, with higher coefficient of friction or drag. Air temperature, humidity, moistureand pressure also plays part. I am a pakistani so believe me its a fun doing reverse swing. Sir Fazal Mahmood, Sarfaraz nawaz, waqar younis, Wasim Akram, the great Imran Khan were all revrse swing masters.