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Taking the reverse out of swing

Published Jul 12, 2012 04:27pm


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Though reverse swing still lives on and always will, the way we saw it move in the air during the early 1990’s we may never see again, unless the laws are changed.

Few things in this world are serene, yet have the ability to get the adrenaline pumping; aesthetically artistic, yet capable of causing mayhem and destruction. There are a million ways to describe the first morning of a Test match but none do it greater justice than the sight of a man running in furiously from 25 metres and hurling down a shiny red cherry, swinging in the air and seaming off the turf. To complete this picture add some grass, four slips, a gully and a cloud cover making it a tad bit more exciting. While this was the case somewhat on the first day of the drawn third Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan in Kandy, it did not last long.

There were no ‘spitting cobras’ from the slower bowlers either on the fifth day, and Pakistan’s inability to run through the Lankan batting line up brought memories of the great era when, the pitch was largely a non-issue for our fast bowlers’ pursuit of victory. Perhaps the secret ingredient is now missing?

Rewind to the summer of 1979. Australia were 305-3 chasing down a historic 381 in the fourth innings on the fifth afternoon at the MCG. That day, the old cherry in Sarfraz Nawaz’s hand did not need clouds, grass or men in catching positions to take his next seven wickets for one run. What it needed was pace, accuracy, a certain skill set and most importantly, leather that was reconditioned for swing. History was indeed made that afternoon but for reasons that were only to be known, practiced and fully understood over a decade later.

Sarfraz had figured that if one side of a cricket ball was roughed up and the other side was kept newer, the results could be unplayable. The greater the disparity in the condition between the two sides of the cork, the greater the disagreement of the speed they want to travel at, resulting in exaggerated movement leaning towards the shiny glossier side as it cuts through the air faster. He shared this enigma with his then good friend and bowling partner Imran Khan.

Whether the duo initially understood the complete science behind it or not did not matter, they knew they were changing the very fabric of fast bowling.

The Pakistani dressing room managed to keep this secret voodoo close to their heart until one fine summer in England it appeared on the front page of tabloids across the Island. Bewildered by the fast, late swing they accused the second generation of lethal, reverse-swinging duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis of ball tampering and cheating with video evidence; the cat was now out of the bag.

Through the first half of the 1990’s, the two W’s ran through several batting line ups and it was virtually impossible to play their famous toe-crushers. Interestingly, they often did this on dead dry surfaces which in fact aid the ball to get roughed up faster. Many a bowler’s graveyard had now turned into a hunting ground for these fast men.

Was this the beginning of an era where reverse swing was going to rule the roost or was it the supreme most display of it that might never be witnessed again?

The entire team worked on the ball to induce it into a state where it would reverse. The keeper rolled the ball on the pitch back to the spinner(s), out fielders used the dry practice pitch, throwing the ball on the bounce back to the keeper. Hair cream and sun-block became essential cricket gear. The Pakistani team, being the best exponents of the dark art, remained in the centre of such allegations, which weren’t entirely false.

It can, however, safely be said that ball tampering has been a part of the game since its inception; it had never received any serious media coverage before 1992. Perhaps the utility of it was never this high and neither was its use this frequent or extensive, tampering was now more than just picking the seam. Michael Atherton tried dirt, Rahul Dravid used candy and Sachin Tendulkar acted on the ball, all of them were monetarily reprimanded by the ICC, while Waqar Younis became the first man in history to be handed a match ban for the offence in 2000.

Michael Holding said that any pace bowler who says he has never tampered with the ball is a liar while the late Bob Woolmer said, "Every single bowler I know from the time I played in 1968 to 1984 was guilty of some sort of ball tampering". When a South African fast bowler was photographed lifting the seam, Mike Procter retorted that 100 similar photographs could be taken during any match.

Is shining the ball with sun-block mixed sweat classified as tampering? Did Marcus Trescothick influence the Ashes 2005 win through his Murray Mints? Was Vivian Richard’s chewing gum a foreign substance? Is it cheating every time mud is removed from the ball without the supervision of the umpire? The crux of this quagmire might be rooted in the vague LAW 42.3which was termed as an “ass” by Woolmer.

Legendary fast men like Allan Donald and Sir Richard Hadlee have been in favour of changing the law where some form of alteration should be allowed to work in the bowler’s favour. Imran Khan, who admitted to have used a bottle top to scuff the ball in a county game, also feels some form of tampering should be made legal until the umpires feel the ball is in playable condition. Woolmer went one step further and said “I'd allow bowlers to use anything that naturally appears on the cricket field… they could rub the ball on the ground, pick the seam, and scratch it with their nail.” Manicure, anyone?

In today’s game, Lasith Malinga’s slinging action exaggerates late swing while other practitioners include the Aussie quadrant and glimpses are seen in teams with Zaheer Khan and Dale Steyn. James Anderson and Stuart Broad display good skill but when the ball went under English spikes, Michael Vaughan said “they were wrong to behave in the manner they did and I've no doubt that if a player from another country did the same we'd have said they were cheating” and Nasser Hussain questioned, “What would we have said if it was Pakistan?”. No official complaint was lodged against their pre-partition rulers.

Umar Gul is the only true exponent of reverse swing in the country of its birth. Mohammad Sami has the pace but is more in the Malcolm Marshall mould where his ball skids and hits the bat hard but seldom does he reverse it. Perhaps, if he was half the bowler Marshall was, he would not need to. The likes of Sohail Tanvir, Junaid Khan, and Aizaz Cheema also show little signs of reverse. Surprisingly it is Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan who swings the old ball further than his mates. Wahab Riaz has the right ingredients with his pace and round arm action but hasn’t done justice to his resources either, not yet.

Tragically for Pakistan, none of its current fast men truly became flag bearers of its iconic past in the trade. Waqar, who arguably was its greatest exponent and until recently their bowling coach, also made little headway.

Laws like free hit, restricted bouncers and two new balls have further shifted the balance of power in the batsmen’s favour. The growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket and grass less pitches have also contributed towards the decline of genuine fast bowling. While everyone enjoys runs in boundaries, the ardent followers would insist that there is nothing more enthralling than a tight fisted contest between bat and ball.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has provided enough Yin to the game and perhaps it is time to offer some allowance to its Yang, for in their balance lies true actualisation of all existence.

Ian Chappell has suggested to “Rub the laws and start again… they should sit down with all the captains, and say - write down the list of all the things that make ball swing…. we will then go through the list and pick out - 6, 7, 8 …pick a number. Then we present the list to all the captains, and we ask them to pick one out of that lot, and make it legal and the rest is illegal. And if you are caught doing any of those - big trouble, you will be handed a suspension.” Biting the ball, though, would not have made it to the list of any captain in his right mind.

Though reverse swing still lives on and always will, the way we saw it move in the air during the early 1990’s we may never see again, unless the laws are changed. Amongst many reasons, a major one is that at least two cameras are almost always focused on the ball and the umpires keep a regular check on the ball. In the words of Tony Greig, it’s an open secret for 50 years amongst cricketers and, "Some may choose to deny it but most bowlers have technically indulged in ball-tampering" yet not everyone has had the same success as there is a high degree of art involved in reverse swing.

Exactly two decades ago, when the uncanny British press brought the art to limelight, it was thought that it would have a much larger impact on the game than it does today.

The sight of a 25-metre run-up has become rarer than ever before. The adrenaline pumps slightly slower than it did in the summer of 1992. Pakistan, once a mine of fast bowlers, has had an off-spinner quickly come on as first change in its last few Test series and opened their bowling in one of them. The fast bowling era seems to be a distant memory and there is a dearth of genuine toe-crushing and helmet-wrecking men around the world today. Any reasonable concession or encouragement that refuels their kind should be welcomed with an open mind if not open arms.

Ideally, with all due credit to the Sri Lankan batsmen, a fifth day’s pitch should not provide for such a comfortable stay at the crease as the Pallekele wicket did. It is a wonder that even in such conditions Junaid Khan provided some inspirational moments, his skill coming more off the pitch than the air.

Maybe the world needs the blessed land of Pakistan to mine more diamonds. The sight of two slips instead of four with a medium pacer ambling in instead of an express train on the first morning of a Test match is similar to a wedding ring without a rock.

The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.


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Comments (39) Closed

Yawer Jul 12, 2012 06:51pm
Not long Taimur not long.... Aamir would be back in 2015.... 3 more years wait. Junaid is promising but needs to work hard..... Future is bright my friend future is bright
vix Jul 15, 2012 08:01pm
Yes reverse swing and good cameras can't work in tandem. !! Glory days of ball tampering are long gone guys ....stick to the rules and you see how good the pak bowlers are.!,
JVK Jul 15, 2012 07:57pm
Yes mate the cameras are better these days ....stick to spot fixing !!
guest Jul 13, 2012 10:34pm
Burhan go back to sleep, you are obviously living in the past. Shoaib has been done and you could see it in the World cup. To his credit he knew when the time was right and retired and did not embarass himself like a lot of bowlers do.
ahmadchaudhry Jul 12, 2012 07:20pm
yes you are right we need another player like mohammad aamir.He was just spectalur in balling
m ahmad Jul 14, 2012 12:02pm
Very well written article
Taimur Jul 12, 2012 06:03pm
Yes maybe the rules should be changed. Like you said, every die hard fan will enjoy a low scoring match rather than a high scoring one. But I am surprised you missed our mentioning Mohammed Aamir. The guy was just pure BRILLIANCE!! I just wish we find some one like him soon. Than maybe the scales will dip back in Pakistan's favor.
Salman Balouch Jul 13, 2012 07:40am
Why is Gul not able to replicate his reverse swinging yorkers with the red ball ? It is almost as if that delivery is reserved for T-20 cricket. Surely the exaggerated movement that Wasim and Waqar got might never be seen again due to strict control over the state of the ball. Insightful piece !!
Salman Baloch Jul 13, 2012 08:30am
Nice to see faces and appreciation from across the border (assumption). I remember watching/hosting a match in Karachi sitting with a bunch of Indians, great fun. We should start bilateral cricket again. p.s. It is indeed well written.
imran Jul 13, 2012 10:04am
Last nail in the coffin. Bret Lee last of the survivors also retired today
ANWAR KHAN Jul 28, 2012 12:26am
When Waqar Yunus was head coach of Pakistan he never thought art of reverse swing to any new comer including when he was captain of Pakistan he always hided art of reverse swing with younger players like Mohammad Sami who is still the fastest bowler in Pakistan but lakes the ability in art of reverse swing all yesteryears bowlers specially Waqar and Wasim Akram gave nothing to younger Pakistan bowler and legendary Sarfaraz Nawaz was the only real patriot Pakistani player who pass on the art of reverse swing to Imran Khan who was only kind with Wasim Akram and thought him reverse swing. In fact Waqar and Wasim are the main culprint that before leaving Pakistan cricket they did not groomed Shoaikb Akhtar/Mohammad Sami for Pakistan. If people want to learn more about Shoaib Akhtar's plight in his early days in carrier they can read his autobiograpby in which he has narrated how Wasim Akram has spoiled his life. PCB WAKE UP BEFORE RETRING GUL/SAMI GROOM NEW BOWLERS FOR GLORY OF PAKISTAN
muhamamd saifullah Jul 28, 2012 01:10am
wake up call for muhammad sami if he wants to prolong his international career in the pakistan team then he must learn the art of reverse swing and without wasting any time must seek guaidence of legendery King of reverse swing our loving sarfaraz nawaz who was the only geniune pace bowler porduced by pakistan but sorry to mention that his career was ended early due to politics of pakistan cricket , we miss him badly and immideatily he shall be appointed of the bowling coach of pakistan cricket team directly reportion to pcb chairman not dev whatmore .
Numan Jul 13, 2012 08:38pm
only if he can bowl 8 over in one go!!!
Iman Azmat Jul 12, 2012 09:58pm
A brilliant piece of writing, kudos to you. To add to the comment above, Aamir got unlucky and rather than wait for his revival I wish we could conjure the young talent and groom it for the future, similar to how football works in England. With a country such as Pakistan the talent is endless and not only in cricket. As a Pakistani it is saddening how we don't and rather at the moment cannot invest in the future of our sports, because I certainly believe if the principles and methods applied in other nations were used over here, not only would we revive our talented and feared fast bowlers, but also our legendary squash players and hockey teams.
S.F.Ali Jul 13, 2012 04:24am
Waqar (The toe crusher) was the king of Reverse swing, his famous banana swing ...
C. Nandkishore Jul 13, 2012 04:28am
Pakistan is missing the bottle cap.
Burhan Jul 13, 2012 04:52am
please bring back Shoaib Akhtar if you want to win matches.
Mohsin Jul 13, 2012 05:00am
Nice article.Naseer Hussain is the only player who supports Pakistan always. Reverse swing is the art and it should have to flourish in the International games. Ian Chappel's solution is the appropriate one. But one thing is for sure, There is no one like Waqar Younis in the history of games when it comes to toe-crushers..:) Good luck Pakistan
Burhan Jul 13, 2012 05:21am
Personal hatred shown by Afridi and Waqar Younus towards Shoaib Akhtar threw him out of the team. It is not that he was bad. He had become the good boy and you do htis to him. He is the only one in Pakistan today who can bowl the opposition out twice in a test match. Bring him back he still has some years left in him.
shafi Jul 13, 2012 05:29am
Players suffering for remaining in teams squads always flourish while playing with Pakistan team. i think everyone has read blog about the sri lankan bowler KMDN Kulasekara's performance. talent along with spirit do work, but not solely. and pakis may have some talent but no maturity about game situation or perform in pressure situations.
Fawad Jul 13, 2012 05:33am
This is the era of medium pace bowling...thats becaz the cricket is being commerciliazed and ppl want to see the ball flying over the ropes. The batsmen depend on the bounce of pitch to play shots and the pitches are not like before. Its becoming an abuse to be a fast bowler...see how dale stayne was dispatched for sixes and fours this IPL! utter disgrace for the express bowlers..
Abhishek Jul 13, 2012 07:11am
what an exceptional article! well done shaan..
Shaukatullah Jul 13, 2012 11:49pm
It's hard to get reverse swing without ball tampering. Increased surveillance since the beginning of the decade (more than 20+ cameras covering every corner of the stadium) has basically stopped bowlers from working on the ball without drawing scrutiny. No such problem for most of the 90s or the 80s because ball coverage wasn't the same as it is now, some stadiums barely had 5 cameras. Whenever Waqar was caught ball tampering, he would simply shrug and reply that he was just doing what he did for the last 15 years. In addition to this, you don't have too many bowlers out there with the pace to use it effectively. The ICC should give an advantage back to the bowler and legalize ball least let bowlers 'work on the ball' to get it into the desired state for achieving reverse. Bowlers nowadays just look after the ball and hope that it becomes useful for reverse as the game goes on, relying on some luck more than anything else. Batsmen have too many advantages and the game needs to be balanced out. Pakistanis were the kings of reverse but the bowlers hardly ever do it and now rely on the bent, 36 y/old arm of Saeed Ajmal. Inshallah we will make dua for the ICC to legalize ball tampering, maybe a little fixing and then we will rule the world for thousands of years just like we ruled the world for millions of years in the past, we are the greatest.
R Rashdi. Jul 13, 2012 06:51am
Change is coming. wait for it. swinging soon.
Shubs Jul 14, 2012 05:52am
As long as they have Afridi's teeth, they'll be fine...
faisal Jul 14, 2012 06:30am
Quiet Intresting to read about reverse swing. The youngsters should make the most of the abilities and experience of waqar.
Hassan 2b Jul 14, 2012 08:15am
A wonderful piece of writing for Pak Cricket lovers. .
khurram khan Jul 15, 2012 04:58pm
Dear writer, You forgot to mention Afridi's famous ball biting incident. He was taking a bite, like he was eating fresh apple :))
kirtikumarkasat Jul 15, 2012 06:02am
Waiting for an encounter between Pakistan and India( test match), it would get exciting in presence of legends and new breed from both nations
Tabriz A.Yusufzai Jul 17, 2012 09:06am
man wat an article..made me go in the glory days of pakistani fast bowling..n i agree to the author to quite an extent that we might never gonna witness the same magical era again....
ChrisNSmith Jul 17, 2012 09:52am
Before George HIrst first deployed controlled swing (1901) slow bowlers often opened the bowling & rubbed the new ball in the dirt to grip it better. Keith Miller (1956) remarks that if you lift the seam & get the ball to bounce on it at pace it really 'fizzes'. He adds that care must be taken not to let the umpire know what's going on. These remarks are however light-hearted, in the Miller style. now obsolete.
cricketlover Jul 17, 2012 11:51pm
can we pls forget about Amir now!!! he is one reason why pak was brought to ground on shame. lets focus on these new kids who are not as talented as amir but whole lot more honest!!
Jazz Jul 18, 2012 02:09am
Even with poorer cameras, they picked up your Lillee"s tripping of Miandad and the much smaller man going after the big bully Lillee, the Ausies had to apologize for it or is your memory too short or narrow about how Austrailia has behaved in the cricket world, I think you are just envious of us because you cannot produce bowlers of this quality ! keep working hard and pray that you will get it, but I doubt it
stanley Jul 18, 2012 05:27pm
Dave, So it was traditional 'in-swing' but with tampering it swung more and became 'reverse-swing'. Glad to get back to morality and bowling tradition of the more difficult art of in-swing.
Neil Evans Jul 18, 2012 06:14pm
I'm pretty certain that it is the polished side that moves faster through the air and as a result moves away from this side - the rougher side is on the inside of the swing curve. Unless I am a pioneer of reverse reverse swing that is. I used to enjoy Graham Gooch's "right arm slow" deliveries that bent a fair bit and seemed to regularly baffle batsmen.
Neil Jul 18, 2012 06:36pm
I'm pretty certain that it is the polished side that moves faster through the air and as a result moves away from this side - the rougher side is on the inside of the swing curve. Unless I am a pioneer of reverse reverse swing that is.
Adil Jadoon Aug 01, 2012 02:35am
Adil Jadoon Aug 01, 2012 02:37am
But not as exciting as a toe crusher! ;)
Adil Jadoon Aug 01, 2012 02:39am
No thanks.