England June 2, 2012

A scientific explanation for swing

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35

Wednesday, 30th May Today saw the publication of yet another scientific paper tackling one of mankind’s most pressing issues: what makes a cricket ball swing. Now, I’ve got nothing against scientists, I have many friends who fiddle with test tubes and Bunsen burners for a living, although obviously I don’t invite them to my parties or socialise with them in public.

But, admirable though they are, our lab coat-wearing friends tend to develop some rather unhealthy character traits, perhaps due to spending too many summers in dusty laboratories dissecting rat intestines whilst everyone else is outside having fun. One of these is an laissez-faire approach to personal grooming. Another is obsessiveness.

For years now, the scientific community has appeared obsessed with proving that cricket folk are wrong about swing. Periodically one of their number deigns to release a rather sniffy paper explaining with patronising diagrams and condescending paragraphs that there is no reason why a ball should swing, swerve or bend as it travels and that it is all in our fevered, unscientific imaginations.

This argument proved difficult to sustain after the 1992 World Cup final when viewers clearly witnessed a delivery from Wasim Akram swing in at least three different directions before bowling Chris Lewis. If the ball did not swing, Professor, then why was Mr Lewis looking hither when the ball and his bails had gone thither?

So scientists changed their minds. They decided that maybe we were right about the swing but that we were wrong about why it happened. It couldn’t possibly be down to humidity, since there is no link between the moisture content of air and the trajectory of a leather orb. But that’s because they were looking for a scientific link.

As every schoolboy knows, science doesn’t come into it. When the air gets clammy, the sky fairies get restless in their cloud hammocks and flutter down to earth. Now, as we all know, sky fairies are attracted to shiny things, so provided a bowler has worked enough spit into the ball to make it gleam, the little sprites will chase after it and the airflow turbulence from their wings makes it swerve or reverse swerve. It’s really quite straightforward.

Scientists will catch on in the end, but in the meantime they’ll blunder about, overcomplicating things, like Mr Duckworth and his friend. Before they foisted their algorithms and accompanying 187-page instruction manual on us, we had a range of perfectly fair methods of settling rain-affected games, such as tossing a coin, asking Richie Benaud to adjudicate or coming back a week next Tuesday to finish it off.

And believing that the ball swings because the afternoon is sweaty, the breeze is over the Pennines, there’s dew on the outfield or the bowler is wearing his lucky pink socks is much more satisfying to the human soul than talk of laminar air-flow and critical velocity. The church of cricket is rather like the Church of England. The cricket scripture is there for aesthetic purposes and to create a sense of mystery. Asking whether it’s true or not is, quite frankly, missing the point.

Thursday, 31st May We all remember last year’s unfortunate outbreak of hubrisitis within the England camp. It was thought that the pioneering treatment of a Dr Ajmal in Dubai had cured them of this irritating condition, which is characterised by fevered delusions and swollen egos.

Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone at Team England has been taking their medication. This week, David Saker, England’s head bowling facilitation coordinator declared that James Anderson and Graeme Swann are as good as Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.

I understand that a specialist team are en route from South Africa to administer a stiff dose of reality vaccine, but in the meantime I prescribe a long lie-down in a darkened room, followed by an evening watching DVDs of Warne and McGrath in their heyday, and, when the hallucinations have passed, a hand-written letter of apology to the Australian embassy.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Circe on June 4, 2012, 20:08 GMT

    "Circe, I already feel more intelligent having read your comment, and I particularly like the phrase 'Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics' which I will try on for size next time I'm speaking to a scientist. "

    Thanks, Andrew, for taking the time to humour us scientists and scientists-in-training.

    By the way, I forgot to say this in the "heat" of the moment in my last comment: Great article! :D

  • Saad Parekh on June 3, 2012, 17:32 GMT

    This is the best non-Zaltsman article to appear on Page 2. Brilliant work Andrew.

  • Andrew Hughes on June 3, 2012, 16:02 GMT

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment.

    Circe, I already feel more intelligent having read your comment, and I particularly like the phrase 'Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics' which I will try on for size next time I'm speaking to a scientist.

    Mark, I had read David Saker's comments too, and reproduce the salient ones here:

    'McGrath and Warne in tandem were amazing but I have seen some spells from Jimmy and Swanny that have been just as good or better at times.

    It’s a bit like when Jimmy and Swann bowl together – it is not unlike McGrath and Warnie at times. There’s so much pressure on the batsmen. We should be saying our group is as good as them.'

    So, technically he didn't say they were as good as Glen and Shane, he said that he should be saying that they are as good. And he went further, claiming that Anderson and Swann had bowled spells that were better than W & M, which I dispute. I think my rather gentle satire was justified based on the above.

  • Neil on June 3, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    Thanks to this article, now I know I should skip reading Andrew Hughes articles here onwards.

  • Praxis on June 3, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    Finally! Some sanity & a logical explanation of swing. Sky fairies do make sense now & will help me so much explaining it to my 11 year old niece.

    Brilliant piece, Mr. Hughes.

  • Salahuddin Ahmed on June 3, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    So brilliant! So enjoyable! I haven't read such brilliant write-up about Cricket before!

  • Circe on June 3, 2012, 4:41 GMT

    People-in-lab-coat-dissecting-rats: you might not invite them to parties, but for them, you won't be having any parties, since you would be too busy dying of bacterial infections.

    On a less (more?) serious note, the problem of the swing of the cricket ball is a special case of one of the most important open problems in Mathematics: achieving an understanding of turbulence through the solution of the so called Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. Solving this problem would give an explanation of turbulence in such systems as whirlpools, and tornadoes, with an explanation for the swing of the cricket ball and the swerve of the football free-kicks being a small add-on prize. The solution will also buy you instant Ramanujan-Euler level mathematical immortality, and also a million dollars promised by the Clay Mathematical Institute to the first solver(s).

  • vinod on June 3, 2012, 4:40 GMT

    superb

  • ishfaque on June 3, 2012, 3:31 GMT

    swinging the ball is an art which not many people have mastered, hence people try to find out conspiracy theories and scientific theories in order to demean the people who cab make the ball swing, people like imran khan and wasim akram and waqar have taken swing bowling to a level which is hard to replicate and we should give them the due respect instead of trying to come up with scientific logic, cheers for the post

  • narayan paudel on June 3, 2012, 3:29 GMT

    just seems to be written with knowledge no more than that of school level physics...if somethings is there, it must be explained by science anyway

  • Circe on June 4, 2012, 20:08 GMT

    "Circe, I already feel more intelligent having read your comment, and I particularly like the phrase 'Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics' which I will try on for size next time I'm speaking to a scientist. "

    Thanks, Andrew, for taking the time to humour us scientists and scientists-in-training.

    By the way, I forgot to say this in the "heat" of the moment in my last comment: Great article! :D

  • Saad Parekh on June 3, 2012, 17:32 GMT

    This is the best non-Zaltsman article to appear on Page 2. Brilliant work Andrew.

  • Andrew Hughes on June 3, 2012, 16:02 GMT

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment.

    Circe, I already feel more intelligent having read your comment, and I particularly like the phrase 'Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics' which I will try on for size next time I'm speaking to a scientist.

    Mark, I had read David Saker's comments too, and reproduce the salient ones here:

    'McGrath and Warne in tandem were amazing but I have seen some spells from Jimmy and Swanny that have been just as good or better at times.

    It’s a bit like when Jimmy and Swann bowl together – it is not unlike McGrath and Warnie at times. There’s so much pressure on the batsmen. We should be saying our group is as good as them.'

    So, technically he didn't say they were as good as Glen and Shane, he said that he should be saying that they are as good. And he went further, claiming that Anderson and Swann had bowled spells that were better than W & M, which I dispute. I think my rather gentle satire was justified based on the above.

  • Neil on June 3, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    Thanks to this article, now I know I should skip reading Andrew Hughes articles here onwards.

  • Praxis on June 3, 2012, 6:50 GMT

    Finally! Some sanity & a logical explanation of swing. Sky fairies do make sense now & will help me so much explaining it to my 11 year old niece.

    Brilliant piece, Mr. Hughes.

  • Salahuddin Ahmed on June 3, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    So brilliant! So enjoyable! I haven't read such brilliant write-up about Cricket before!

  • Circe on June 3, 2012, 4:41 GMT

    People-in-lab-coat-dissecting-rats: you might not invite them to parties, but for them, you won't be having any parties, since you would be too busy dying of bacterial infections.

    On a less (more?) serious note, the problem of the swing of the cricket ball is a special case of one of the most important open problems in Mathematics: achieving an understanding of turbulence through the solution of the so called Navier-Stokes equations of fluid dynamics. Solving this problem would give an explanation of turbulence in such systems as whirlpools, and tornadoes, with an explanation for the swing of the cricket ball and the swerve of the football free-kicks being a small add-on prize. The solution will also buy you instant Ramanujan-Euler level mathematical immortality, and also a million dollars promised by the Clay Mathematical Institute to the first solver(s).

  • vinod on June 3, 2012, 4:40 GMT

    superb

  • ishfaque on June 3, 2012, 3:31 GMT

    swinging the ball is an art which not many people have mastered, hence people try to find out conspiracy theories and scientific theories in order to demean the people who cab make the ball swing, people like imran khan and wasim akram and waqar have taken swing bowling to a level which is hard to replicate and we should give them the due respect instead of trying to come up with scientific logic, cheers for the post

  • narayan paudel on June 3, 2012, 3:29 GMT

    just seems to be written with knowledge no more than that of school level physics...if somethings is there, it must be explained by science anyway

  • pakspin on June 3, 2012, 3:14 GMT

    James Anderson as good as Mcgrath? lol..how does Anderson perform in non-English conditions? Namely in the sub-continent ? And Swan as good as Warne? Ajmal is way better and on his way to being on of the best...Warne is in top three spinners of all time in history..lol..reminds me of when the Brits say Ian Botham was better than Imran Khan..just look at the stats...also when Indians say Kapil Dev was better than Imran...just losing connection with reality..swing bowling...invented/discovered and mastered by Pakistan..our gift to cricket..

  • Sanjay on June 3, 2012, 3:08 GMT

    Awesome! Especially the last para. Keep it coming, Andrew!

  • Toby1 on June 3, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    'Asking whether it's true or not is, quite frankly, missing the point.'.

    Great little piece, put a smile on my face. One inaccuracy however, my lucky socks are green. :)

  • Ace on June 2, 2012, 22:40 GMT

    Loved a read of this, good stuff.

  • Hubert Fitzsimmons on June 2, 2012, 21:20 GMT

    Brilliant!

  • javid sheikh on June 2, 2012, 20:41 GMT

    simply excellent no less no more

  • Sagir Parkar on June 2, 2012, 20:30 GMT

    Andrew,, you are simply BRILLIANT !!!!

    the second part of your article is exactly what a few friends and I have been discussing lately.. we did wonder whether Mr Saker was given honourary citizenship of the glorious nation of ECB and has risen to the ranks of Chief Braggart !

  • Mark Bailey on June 2, 2012, 18:10 GMT

    If Andrew had bothered to read David Saker's judgement on the bowling of James Anderson and Graeme Swann instead of using it as an excuse to write yet another article ridiculing England he would realise that what David actually said was that on occasions Anderson and Swann have bowled spells together which have reminded him of McGrath and Warne. In future Andrew, if you insist on belittling England, at least try to get your facts straight and not twist people's words.

  • xoxoxox on June 2, 2012, 17:13 GMT

    we will rule the world

  • raghu on June 2, 2012, 16:56 GMT

    ultimate:)

  • Ajay on June 2, 2012, 16:30 GMT

    Jai Ho! Prabhu! Wah Wah!

  • mastmale on June 2, 2012, 16:17 GMT

    The last 3 paragraphs are brilliant Andrew. Hubrisitis indeed. Typical English pragmatism mixed with scathing sarcasm. I hope David Saker is reading your piece.

  • khurram shahzad on June 2, 2012, 16:06 GMT

    hahhahaha the most funniest part was David saker's quote :D

  • Ali Shear on June 2, 2012, 15:16 GMT

    buhahahahah seriously Andrew i actually got stomach cramps laughing so hard

  • Ragesh Menon on June 2, 2012, 14:55 GMT

    Brilliant...!!! to say the least.. was always wondering why ICC is so very sticking to the two Gentlemen (D/L).. It would be nice if If Mr. Saker takes some time to watch Warne and McGrath in their prime vedios..!!

  • Dishan on June 2, 2012, 14:47 GMT

    One Word: Awesome!

  • Peter lewis on June 2, 2012, 12:27 GMT

    James and graeme ,Norway "somebody got to be dreaming.

  • Luke on June 2, 2012, 12:22 GMT

    I wrote something like that in my year 10 biology exam in what was a clear, accurate, scientific explanation of the nitrogen cycle. The teacher read my paper out to the entire class. But the important thing: I got marks for it! Explicit proof that the scientific community accept magic as fact! Well done for bringing this insight to a wider audience, Mr Hughes.

  • Adnan on June 2, 2012, 11:53 GMT

    brilliant article. Stating facts in this hilarious manner is definitely an art and Andrew seems to have a decent grip on it.

  • Srinivas Maganty on June 2, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    Now, how good was that?

  • Anonymous on June 2, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    HAHAHAHA loved ABSOLUTELY loved the part about england and david saker.. it was so succinctly put yet done with great dose of humour

  • Rajesh Mehta on June 2, 2012, 8:45 GMT

    Yes indeed, I thought David Saker was running way ahead of himself talking about Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, James Anderson and Graeme Swann in the same breath

  • Zeeshan on June 2, 2012, 8:20 GMT

    Hahaha, simply brilliant. Hilarious.

  • Shah Hussain on June 2, 2012, 8:07 GMT

    I would not have wanted to start my day with something better than this.. awesome ♥ little read for cricket geeks

  • RockN'Rolla on June 2, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    Bloody brilliant. Nothing else required saying.

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  • RockN'Rolla on June 2, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    Bloody brilliant. Nothing else required saying.

  • Shah Hussain on June 2, 2012, 8:07 GMT

    I would not have wanted to start my day with something better than this.. awesome ♥ little read for cricket geeks

  • Zeeshan on June 2, 2012, 8:20 GMT

    Hahaha, simply brilliant. Hilarious.

  • Rajesh Mehta on June 2, 2012, 8:45 GMT

    Yes indeed, I thought David Saker was running way ahead of himself talking about Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, James Anderson and Graeme Swann in the same breath

  • Anonymous on June 2, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    HAHAHAHA loved ABSOLUTELY loved the part about england and david saker.. it was so succinctly put yet done with great dose of humour

  • Srinivas Maganty on June 2, 2012, 11:34 GMT

    Now, how good was that?

  • Adnan on June 2, 2012, 11:53 GMT

    brilliant article. Stating facts in this hilarious manner is definitely an art and Andrew seems to have a decent grip on it.

  • Luke on June 2, 2012, 12:22 GMT

    I wrote something like that in my year 10 biology exam in what was a clear, accurate, scientific explanation of the nitrogen cycle. The teacher read my paper out to the entire class. But the important thing: I got marks for it! Explicit proof that the scientific community accept magic as fact! Well done for bringing this insight to a wider audience, Mr Hughes.

  • Peter lewis on June 2, 2012, 12:27 GMT

    James and graeme ,Norway "somebody got to be dreaming.

  • Dishan on June 2, 2012, 14:47 GMT

    One Word: Awesome!