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Reverse Swing vs Conventional Swing

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It is quite fascinating to see how some bowlers can make the ball deviate in the air with special skills.

England v Pakistan X : News Photo
Waqar Younis was masterful at reverse swing

Swing bowling is one of the most difficult arts in the game of cricket to master. It is quite fascinating to see how some bowlers can make the ball deviate in the air with special skills. Over the years, there have been numerous fast bowlers who have made a name for themselves with their superlative swing bowling techniques.

There is a whole lot of science that goes behind the movement of the ball in the air. It depends on plenty of things such as weather conditions, the state of the ball, release of the ball etc. There are two kinds of swing bowling that exist in cricket, one is the conventional swing and the other is the reverse swing.

Conventional Swing

This type of swing happens when the ball is new and generally lasts until the 15th over of an innings. The conventional swing usually lasts longer with the red ball as compared to the white ball and the direction of the swing depends on the position of the seam. If the seam is pointed towards slip, it goes away from the batsman and if it is pointed towards fine-leg, it comes into the batsman.

When the ball is new, it zips through the air fast and the seam cuts the air in the direction it is pointed to and hence the movement happens. The conventional swing depends heavily on the weather conditions. In overcast conditions that occur a lot in England, it swings more and for a longer duration whereas in dry conditions, it swings less and for a shorter duration.

Reverse Swing

Contrary to conventional swing, reverse swing happens when the ball is old. As an innings goes on, the condition of the ball wears out and the fielding team works on the ball to keep one side shiny and allows the other side to be roughened up. The ball after a certain amount of overs moves towards the shiny side and therefore it is termed as reverse swing.

(Video Courtesy: robelinda2)

The reverse swing depends heavily on the conditions of the ground. If the pitch and the outfield are dry, there are more chances of the ball getting deteriorated. The fielding side applies sweat and saliva on one side of the ball and rubs it from that end to keep the shine intact. That side of the ball becomes heavier and that is why it goes towards that side.

The concept of reverse swing these days is found mostly in Test cricket and has almost lost its existence in ODI cricket. The introduction of two new white balls at each end in ODI cricket does not allow the ball to deteriorate enough to be suitable for reverse swing. Earlier the whole ODI innings used to be played with one ball and from the 40th over, the reverse swing used to make run-scoring difficult in the death overs. The loss of reverse swing is one of the reasons why so many high scores are made in ODI cricket these days.

Masters of swing bowling

Since the inception of cricket, the game has witnessed several bowlers who made swing bowling an exhibition for the fans. Some of the names that are remembered for pure conventional bowling are Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Irfan Pathan, Allan Donald, Glenn Mcgrath, Chaminda Vaas and James Anderson.

Reverse swing is said to be discovered by the Pakistani bowlers which the bowlers from other countries picked up later. Sarfaraz Nawaz from Pakistan was the first bowler who is given the credit of bringing reverse swing into the game of cricket. Later Imran Khan, Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram literally made reverse swing their own. Recently, Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz have carried the baton of reverse swing bowling from the Pakistani contingent.

Some of the bowlers from other countries include Zaheer Khan, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones, Shane Bond and Lasith Malinga mastered the art of reverse swing bowling. Amongst the present bunch of bowlers, Mohammad Shami, Mitchell Starc, Vernon Philander and Tim Southee are the best exponents of reverse swing bowling.

Controversies due to reverse swing

The art of reverse swing has always been a topic of debate. Several allegations have been made on the players of ball tempering. Many times, players were caught altering the condition of the ball and worsen one side of the ball to achieve reverse swing. There have been numerous incidents of players being penalised that ranged from being fined to getting banned for matches.

Pakistani bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were accused in 1992 of ball tampering but due to no video evidence, no actions were taken against them. Mike Atherton in the year 2000 was found applying dirt on the ball and was handed a fine of £2000.

Shoaib Akhtar, in 2003, was banned for two ODIs after the cameras caught him scratching the surface of the ball. Shahid Afridi in 2010 was caught biting the ball and was banned for two ODIs.


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