Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New Reverse Swing

Just when everybody thinks they know everything about cricket, there is always an instance where so called experts are reminded that they are just a student who has a lot to learn about cricket and the cricket will always keep on developing and innovating itself.

Since the introduction of reverse swing in last decade this art has fascinated all. Some hailed it; some saw it with suspension as if it was some kind of black magic mastered by few. And to their credit, these few bowlers who have mastered the art used it effectively and made a lot of difference to the result. There was also an accepted notion that reverse swing can only be achieved after the ball gets old, probably around 40 overs mark, which also depends on the condition of how dry and rough the wicket is to get the ball old. But it was sometimes too late for it to have any effect on the game. But then the
Mohali test changed all that. The Team India bowlers and Fielders have worked out a new reverse swing, where the ball starts reversing from as early as 8th or 9th over. G.S. Vivek has the detail story about this new art

"While several reasons have been attributed to India’s record victory against Australia in Mohali, primary reason is the Indian fast bowler’s ability to get the ball to reverse swing as early as the eighth over of the innings. Caught totally unawares by this unheard-of phenomenon, the Australian batsmen were sitting ducks as the team spiraled to defeat. On Wednesday, a day after the match ended, sources in the Indian team revealed that they had indeed managed to master a new brand of reverse swing in which, rather than waiting for the ball to scruff up naturally with passage of time and overs, the Indians managed to create this condition early. This phenomenal art, they stressed on it, was perfectly done within rules of the game.

While bowlers such as Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan have been called the fathers of reverse swing — the art of making the old ball swing into a right-hand batsman at great speed — Zaheer Khan is now being tipped as the king of this ‘new reverse swing,’ which was executed with the help of bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad, deep back-end study, and the entire fielding unit.

This new style didn’t crop up all of a sudden — it was a gradual work-in-progress in coaching camps, with a dummy run in the Irani Cup match in Vadodara, where Zaheer ran through the Delhi batting on a dry wicket along with first-change bowler Munaf Patel".

He then explains how the new reverse swing is achieved
In Mohali, Zaheer and Ishant bowled a lot of deliveries cross-seam with the new ball, rather than bowling seam-up and allowing the ball to swing. A Team India member explained: “The new SG Test ball doesn’t swing much. When the fast bowlers bowl cross-seam, the ball inevitably lands on the sides. With a dry pitch like Mohali, the soft leather on the ball gets roughed up very quickly. And at the time of release, a bowler can ensure he keeps hitting one side of the ball to scruff it up more. At the same time, the soft leather can be repaired quickly, so the fielders keep shining the other side to protect it.”
Once the ball gets scruffy from one side, the worldwide formula of using mints and jelly beans for more sugary saliva, throwing one bounce, and keeping the ball dry is religiously followed.
So, what is the difference between reverse swing and new reverse swing apart from the early start point of the latter? He has the explanation:

"This new brand is different from traditional reverse swing. In this case, the ball is still hard and thereby requires to be bowled at a different length. Former India paceman Amit Bhandari who, along with Ishant Sharma, produced reverse swing in a Ranji match against Andhra Pradesh as early as in the fifth over, explains the difference. “First thing to remember is that the ball is hard. So it makes sense to hit the deck rather than going for the conventional full length. It takes a lot of effort for a bowler to bowl reverse swing with the old ball because pace is essential. The effort gets reduced drastically with the hard ball,” he says.

Bhandari adds: “The first thing is to hit the ball three-quarters of length. If you look at the replays of Ricky Ponting, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin’s dismissals, they were done in as the ball cut back sharply into them. The ball is still hard and, when it starts reversing, you can afford to pitch it slightly shorter while expecting more response off the wicket. The idea is to make the batsman play all six deliveries in an over, and the field setting is very important,” he says.

Incidentally, the opening spells of fast bowlers have been short, and Zaheer and Ishant have been kept fresh to bowl all out with the semi-new ball."

Then there is something called optical illusion, where former India fast bowler Vivek Razdan is quoted:

"Reverse swing has to do with lighter side and heavier side, not necessarily with the shiny and rough side. At the same time, the batsman cannot know which side is heavier or lighter, he can only pick the shine from the point of release. There can be conditions where the fielders work on the ball in such a manner that the shiny side isn’t necessarily the heavier side."

It’s fascinating that nobody came up with this idea before, or may be nobody was able to use it effectively. Now, if Pakistanis, who are master of reverse swing, and English, who used reverse swing so easily against Aussies in 2005 ashes, have probably never known this new reverse swing, then you can imagine the haplessness of the Aussies. Also, it has a lot to do with the SG ball used in India. We have to wait and watch how much of this new reverse swing can be achieved from other type of balls. But it surely makes the reverse swing an important factor for Test matches in India where previously the focus used to be on spin and thus puts light back on the pace bowlers of India who previously were used to make the ball old. They will make ball old but for their use instead of spinners.

One thing to note is that ball to get reverse swing; the bowlers have to bowl a touch shorter length with a cross-seam. Now, this will stop the new ball bowler from using the orthodox swing initially and batsman may use this to their advantage in most cases. Batsman will try to score more from the initial overs and at the same time make the bowl rough from both sides. But a lot of this also depends on what kind of wicket is used for the game. So,wait for the strategies and counter-strategies for this exciting new phenomenon. This all augurs well for the game of Cricket especially Test match Cricket.

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