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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Kings of swing

Update : 01 Sep 2015, 07:45 PM

When it comes to bowling, Pakistanis have always been innovators. Pakistan had their first great bowler in Fazal Mahmood, a medium-fast bowler of great skill and accuracy. Even though many considered him a medium-pacer, Neil Harvey and Richie Benaud differed from the rest and Benaud confirmed that Fazal bowled around the pace of Michael Kasprowicz, a recent Aussie bowler who bowled in the mid-130ks.

He had a lethal leg-cutter which Benaud called “a very fast leg break.” Neil Harvey considered him a greater bowler than many famed pace bowlers of the 1950s, and Frank Tyson said he was “like Bedser but better.” According to Benaud, there never was a better bowler on matting wickets prevalent in the sub-continent in the early days, especially after Fazal and Khan Mohammad demolished the Australians at Karachi in 1956, with Fazal taking 13 wickets and Khan seven in the match. Fazal apparently redefined swing bowling on matting wickets and was quite successful on normal wickets too.

The recent trend in quick bowling, in the last few decades, has been reverse-swing, another Pakistani innovation.

Conventional swing bowling means that a newish ball after delivery will swing away from the shiny side. Fielding sides always shine one side of the ball to create two dissimilar semi-spheres. A bowler trying to swing the ball away from a right-handed batsman will keep the shiny side facing the batsman so that the ball will swing away from him after dropping and go towards the slips.

An out-and-out fast bowler like Jeff Thomson or the quartet of quicks engaged by the West Indies from the mid 1970s till the 1990s, bowled as fast as they could, using bumpers at will and various changes of length and pace. The yorker or a full-length delivery proved lethal, landing near the toes of the batsman after a prior short-pitch bouncer was trying to knock the batsman’s head off. Ask Brian Close, who faced Michael Holding in 1976.

Conditions of the pitch, grass on it or lack of it, and the ambient conditions, aided conventional fast bowlers to swing the ball at various degrees. The bounce offered by the wickets also aided them. But after about 35 or 40 overs with a cricket ball, swing became non-existent unless one were playing in a typical green top at Headingley, Leeds. Bowlers like Dennis Lillee, John Snow, Kapil Dev, or Richard Hadlee could swing the ball when it was still quite new, but had to revert to bowling quick or disciplined line and length stuff with the older ball.

Ian Botham, in his heyday, could generate conventional swing with an older ball longer than many, hence his successes in the first five or six years of his career.

On the wickets of England or New Zealand, because of the green nature of the pitches, and in the West Indies or Australia or South Africa, because of the natural bounce, fast bowlers remained effective throughout a cricket match. The sub-continental wickets are a totally different matter. With low and slow pitches which tend to break up with the natural wear and tear of bowlers running up and landing on spots which get battered, and the condition of the soil used, and the sun baking the wickets, cracks are easily formed. The balls also lose their newness faster and more often because of rough outfield conditions. Spinners have traditionally called the shots in these conditions and fast bowlers just made up the numbers.

Fast bowlers had to do something to remain effective with the older ball. The answer was the reverse swing.

“Reverse swing” means that the ball swings towards the shiny side. For this to happen, the asymmetry of the old ball has to be more pronounced. Teams work feverishly to keep the shiny side shiny, while letting the other side “go to the dogs” as it were. The resulting extreme asymmetry allows the reverse swing, the changed aerodynamic allowing the ball to swing unconventionally and, more often than not, the swing is more pronounced. There is one caveat though: The ball has to be delivered at quite high speeds. Reverse swing can prove even more deadly as, in extreme cases, the ball swings conventionally in the air and then unconventionally off the wicket.

A case in point, Wasim Akram’s delivery to Allan Lamb in the final of the 1992 World Cup, one of the greatest deliveries in recorded history. The ball, delivered from round the wicket, swung in the air towards the batsman and then cut back to hit Lamb’s off-stump. The bemused face of Allan Lamb was something to behold.

The credit for “inventing” reverse swing is claimed to this day by the maverick Sarfraz Nawaz of Pakistan, even though it is claimed by many Pakistanis that he “pinched” the new innovation from some lesser known bowler in the Pakistani domestic cricket circuit. But his use of the new style of swing came to light in Melbourne in 1979. Australia chasing 381 run to win was comfortably placed at 305 for three, with Allan Border and Kim Hughes going great guns. In came Sarfraz to bowl and he took seven wickets for one run in no time, and the Australians were all out for 310.

Sarfraz passed the knowledge to his fast-bowling partner Imran Khan, who was a faster bowler and used it to great effect to defeat first the Australians and then the Indians, at home, taking 40 wickets in the latter series in the dead wickets of Pakistan. This new type of swing bowling raised eyebrows, and the world paid close attention. When the Pakistani pair of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis bamboozled England on their own soil in 1992 they were outright accused of ball-tampering.

It was later revealed that they were using the bottle tops to make the rough side of the ball rougher. Those were extreme measures, but the world of cricket could not overlook this new technique. And since the late 90s, many non-Pakistani bowlers have used the reverse swing to great effect, especially in dead pitches, which are becoming more prevalent the world over. Dale Steyn and James Anderson are two current successful proponents of the reverse swing.

Now, in Bangladesh, Rubel Hossain has had some success at reverse swinging the ball -- his pace and his rather round arm action help his cause. It is imperative that Bangladesh take good care of him and groom other bowlers of his type. The current Bangladeshi sensation, Mustafizur Rahman, is banking on conventional swing and cutters, but he is still very young and he has time to become a genuine fast bowler.

There is no reason to not believe that one day he will not be able to reverse swing like the great Wasim Akram. This is of utmost importance: Developing bowlers who can reverse swing the older ball, as the world of cricket, swayed by the crash and bang of T-20, is producing dead pitches for Test matches as well, and a fast bowler must develop the ability to reverse swing the ball to remain effective and make an impact. 

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