No. 28 August 7, 2010

The advent of reverse swing

Developed in Pakistan in response to unresponsive pitches, it revitalised cricket, but not before being greeted with fear and suspicion

Late 1970s

Reverse swing is cricket's irresistible force. Appropriately for such a murky subject, we cannot be entirely sure of its origins, beyond the fact that it was developed in Pakistan, possibly as far back as the late 1940s, as a response to parched pitches. A little further down, its lineage is clearer: it was patented by Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz - although Imran also credits Australia's Max Walker for it - and mastered by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis.

Hand in hand with the legspin renaissance, reverse swing revitalised cricket in 90s. Cricket's response to such an unknown science was first fear (allegations of ball-tampering), then ignorance (as seen in the dirt-in-the-pocket affair involving Michael Atherton). But as time has gone on, more has been understood about the mechanics of reverse swing: pace and full length are prerequisites, as is a fast arm and a relative lack of height; additionally, a bone-dry outfield is also of help. As the name suggests, it reverses the norms of orthodox swing bowling: while one side of the ball is kept shiny, the other must be made as dry and rough as possible, which is why the old ball became such a deadly weapon. Beyond that, it's hard to explain, though some balls "go" better than others. Readers are the reverse swinger's ball of choice.

Reverse swing has also enabled bowlers to be entirely self-sufficient, needing no help from pitch or umpire (height is not a factor in lbw decisions that result from reverse-swinging yorkers). Both Wasim and Waqar have taken over half their Test wickets through bowleds and lbws. Ultimately, reverse swing has meant more collapses, more hat-tricks, and as Scyld Berry has pointed out, more results: tailenders are simply not equipped to handle a ball boomeranging in at their toes.

Rob Smyth is the author of The Spirit of Cricket - What Makes Cricket the Greatest Game on Earth. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kushan on August 8, 2010, 3:13 GMT

    @ Asis Rout is it venkatesh prasad?

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2010, 2:55 GMT

    @Raghav you concluded that all the bowlers who are doing it now are cheat, because Hadlee or whoever greats don't know that art back then. The problem with these facets minds is to make a controversy out of everything that originates from Pakistan whether its bad or good. If its that bad then rest of the world should stop acquiring the art, and try mastering the conventional swing rather than reverse. Why not let it only remain with the Masters of reverse. No, because every one knows that is not the answer of the modern day bowling.

  • MUHAMMAD on August 8, 2010, 2:03 GMT

    great article bcoz reverse swing is really a turning point in cricket. may be there is some doubt on the advent of it. yet there is no doubt that PAKISTAN bowlers did it better than others. other team bowlers are also doing it better now. this art has given bowling great strength to dominate over batsman when conditions r not bowling friendly. in this way way we get some results. so its a beauty to watch really.

  • Jani on August 8, 2010, 1:48 GMT

    RaghavShete. Sorry dude but your definition of reverse swing is incorrect and analogous to a 1970 mindset. First of all the issue of "lifting the seam" doesn't even come into play as reverse swing happens in the air even before the ball touches the ground. That is why it only works at high speed with a fullish delivery. Your definition of orthodox "air swing" is correct. The only difference is "reverse swing" happens when the old ball is old enough (around the 40th over) , its characterstics change so it actually swings towards the shiny side instead of the rough side very late in the air. However; its not just as simple as that, exact sceince behind it is still a theory and the delivery depends on the angle of the seam (as it disrupts airflow) and height and angle of the arm sling. Even with he education most bowlers still can't do it as it requires immense talent. Even under Wasim , Irfan and Zaheer both couldn't do it very effectively.

  • Basim on August 8, 2010, 1:03 GMT

    What a load of bull, Lille and Hadlee couldn't do it because they didn't know how to do it besides they had conditions which allowed conventional swing bowling which normally isn't an option on the subcontinent. And Aqib Javed was an ordinary bowler to you? Have you forgotten the his hatrick against India where he got Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and another one of your greats or can any ordinary bowler do that? And now that Pakistan has taught the cricketing world the art of reverse swing and people like Flintoff and the 'ordinary bowler' Zaheer are half-decent at it, do they mess around with the seam and cheat? You're quoting 'Sir Ian''s ghost writer's work as the best source on reverse swing, thats just laughable, that guy's just a bitter old fool who failed in the world cup final. I've played first class cricket which I'm sure you haven't and I can assure you that you have no idea what you're talking about regarding reverse swing.

  • Y on August 8, 2010, 0:22 GMT

    Inadequate and incomplete article-you have not explained any thing about reverse swing-neither the technicalities nor the art of it such as why does the old ball swing deadly even when there is no shine on the ball? Do the research properly before you write such articles.

  • wasif on August 7, 2010, 23:27 GMT

    'Nurser end' has made a very good point, normally when we play here with tap ball it is left to batsmen to decide when he wants a fresh layer of tape on the ball as bowlers here use the torn tape as a weapon and swing the ball enormously and second reason is that ball is ever hard to hit when tape is torn so bowlers get a luxury of getting hit out of the park. This type of slog cricket has really helped Pakistan in producing great fast bowlers as intelligence is built into them by always thinking of doing a new thing when they have ball in their hands.

  • wasif on August 7, 2010, 23:22 GMT

    Despite all the criticism from English players, reverse swing has played its part in making the game more beautiful and i agree with smyth that i meant no life for tail enders which produced more results and a team playing really well for its 350-5 and all of a sudden lower order collapses for 25-30 runs i think this is the biggest beauty of test matches.

  • Jani on August 7, 2010, 21:49 GMT

    RaghavShete , sorry dude but your mindset like the article says is stuck in the 70s. Lifting the seam just gives the ball more propensity to swing off the seam in the orthodox fashion, it has nothing to do with the "reverse swing". If you have ever watched cricket closely, reverse swing balls are fuller and actually reverse swing in the "air" before the ball even touches the ground. What happens is it will swing in the direction of the shiny side instead of the rough side. Angle of the seam, height of the bowler and speed and angle of the arm during bowling action are all factors including how old the ball is. If "lifting the seam" made the ball reverse swing, then it would start in the 1st over instead of the 40th. Offcourse even with all the conditions are achieved not all bowlers can do it even with necessary training as it requires immense talet, that is why Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan are not too effective even when Wasim coached them.

  • Ahmad on August 7, 2010, 21:32 GMT

    what an ignorant comment by Raghav Shete. Now when every fast bowler is reversing, do you think they are all cheating? when the ball is new, both sides are shiny and the swing depends on the direction of seam. However, as the ball grows older, the seam regresses and now if one side of ball is rough, it will create more turbulance and thus more pressure on that side and thus will cause the ball to swing towards the shiny side.

    before imran, bowlers around the world used to keep both sides shiny .. so they didnt get any reverse swing

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