Events and people that shaped the game

No. 28

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

Rob Smyth

August 7, 2010

Comments: 39 | Text size: A | A

Sourav Ganguly handles the seam, New Zealand v India, 3rd Test, Hamilton, 1st day, August 2, 1999
Reverse-swing: those who didn't understand it believed it wasn't legal © Getty Images
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Teams: Pakistan

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

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Posted by Kushh on (August 8, 2010, 3:13 GMT)

@ Asis Rout is it venkatesh prasad?

Posted by   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.

Posted by FreakyBoy 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.

Posted by jani_nasir 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.

Posted by Basimali 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.

Posted by vrms 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.

Posted by Wasif_Minhas 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.

Posted by Wasif_Minhas 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.

Posted by jani_nasir 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.

Posted by Drahanif 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

Posted by groovyboy on (August 7, 2010, 20:42 GMT)

to RaghavShete

I think you have played any cricket or any balling experience. In your comments you said that ball swing in the direction of rough area, now tell me where do bowler will use bottle caps or nail on the shinny side ... so that ball doesnt do any thing or you are saying they use bottle caps and nail on the seam. For you kind information seam gets worn out when ball keeps on bounce off the pitch and constantly hitting the bat. Dont forget the angle of the seam that cause the ball to reverse that why ballers with sling action can reverse the ball more. And Waqar was best becasue of his action. Non where close to him. Wasim , Imran Sarfaz they didnot have slingy action. Therefore were not able to reverse the ball as mush waqar use to do.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 20:41 GMT)

RaghavShete, It's sad we still have people like you in this world who choose to ignore the pure genius of something truly artistic. Maybe you're just depressed Indian bowlers were never so innovative enough as their rivals. Could it be that Botham's autobiography is only a human's account of his opinions and not the word of God? After all it was the reverse swing wiz (Akram) himself who got him out in the 1992 WC final and shattered his and the English dream of winning (finally) at their own game. Could it be that Lillee and Hadlee, though great bowlers were just not able enough as the likes of Imran Khan in this particular area? Could it be that you're trying too hard to overcome your hatred and denial for Pakistanis who invented something that arguably saved Test cricket? But alas! How miserably you shall fail.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 20:39 GMT)

And because Raghav is a jealous indian who neither can swing/reverse swing and not even bowl fast he is accusing the pakistani greats for ball tampering. Inda would have been thankfull if they even had half a bowler like Aaqib Javed.

Posted by Nuur on (August 7, 2010, 20:37 GMT)

@ RaghavShete : your closing lines suggest envy speaking ;)...Y would u close with such a line that suggests reverse swing is cheating??...Im guessing you are an Indian and India's fast bowling is a joke...U havent produced "ordinary" bowlers like Aaqib Javed even...Im not gonna go too far by quoting Imran, Fazal,Wasim ,Waqar and Sarfraz here, Muhammad Aamir is 18 and India have never in their history produced anything like this kid...ur 'fast' bowlers cant even bowl fast.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 20:27 GMT)

You know what brings a smile to my face? Seeing people like Raghav below, unable to control their jealousy. Its such a pleasantry. This, along with the success in the spin department [Doosra, Googly], is one of the rare proudful achievements Pakistan cricket has attained, let us enjoy them please haters, with the added pleasure of watching all your hatred burn your very self. Raghav, try not to directly paste scientific text from another website, especially which I bet you yourself have no clue about. If Wasim and Waqar cheated, then dare explain how Flintoff and Simon Jones pulled off massive reverse swing in the Ashes? The technology was insanely advanced, which means they'd have been easily caught. Nah? Also do explain how Gul, reverses the ball in TWENTY overs cricket, with technology such that you can't even clean the ball without arousing suspicion.

HINT : You'll find the reality out if you try using your own common sense rather than pasting from other scientific websites.

Posted by Ellis on (August 7, 2010, 20:08 GMT)

Of course the background to reverse swing was suspicious and murky. It was the " not invented here' syndrome from Australia and England. However, once Australian and English bowlers began to master it, reverse swing became OK. The doosra and googly are two other bowling inventions that have had a so called "suspicious " background. Cricket is a batsman dominated game. Any advance in bowling effectiveness is likely to be tagged " suspicious". Especially if the advance does not originate in England and Australia. T'was ever thus!

Posted by haroonalvi on (August 7, 2010, 19:39 GMT)

Pakistan has produced so many bowlers capable of reverse swing due to one simple fact, that they grow up playing in worst possible conditions. I've gown up playing on roads with a tape ball. I almost learnt reverse swing on my own, and have been using it to target a batsman's off stump, by bowling reverse swinging outswingers outside the off stump. I do not want to reveal this Pakistani secret, but its all about wrist position at the time of delivery and the angle of delivery. I have a friend who bowls gentle medium pace that reverse swings a good 1 and a half to 2 feet. He's the best I've ever seen. (so my point is that pace is important but not that important when it comes to reverse swing, the role of pace is exaggerated)

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 19:31 GMT)

@ Raghav Shete

just two words

"pure jealousy"

Posted by DrAtharAbbas on (August 7, 2010, 19:07 GMT)

GRAPES ARE SOUR. Before any comments were made I was certain someone from India will write about it being illegal. Voila Mr. RaghavShete writes exactly that. They cannot do it so it must be CHEATING. Quite similar to the behavior of British during that era. Yes, it is simple fluid dynamics. A hyrdo dynamics/fluid dynamiccs expert knowing the subject of fluid mechanics/dynamics and Reynold's number can understand it clearly. The turbulence on one side providing more pressure/ streamlined flow on the other side with lesser pressure create the pressure imbalance which deviates the ball. It can be achieved by the seam position or rough/shiny ball surface combination or both. Anyone and everyone can do it, question is to control it which is rare. If India has no fast bowlers at all, the question of those who can control orthodox swing or reverse swing does not even arise. Ishant Sharma is a good example. He does not even know where his straight ball is going let alone the swinging ball

Posted by tayyabasif on (August 7, 2010, 19:06 GMT)

"Botham's autobiography will tell us that this could not be done by great bowlers like Lillee or Hadlee because they doidnt cheat, but ordinary ines like Aqib Javed". And I wonder what would Botham say about Flintoff and Jones doing it. Such a Hypocrite.

Posted by ABRAR-JANJUA on (August 7, 2010, 18:55 GMT)

Well Mr. RaghavShete you gave example of botham who was part of anti Pakistan party.He & his team was unable to handle reverse swing in early 90s when Wasim & Waqar destroyed them with magnificent reverse swing.For your kind information Lillee or Hadlee played most of their cricket in Australia Newzeland and in England and for reverse swing you need lots of things like lack of height; additionally, a bone-dry outfield( As author mentioned above )and suitable smooth action. Further more when Reverse swing was invented then both Lillee or Hadlee were at last stage of their career. Reverse swing was recognize in late 80s & 90s.If it is cheating then what would you say about Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Darren Gough and Shaun Pollock? All of them were also masters of Reverse swing. Would you say them cheater????You can also blame reverse swing as cheating like those people who are unaware of that art….

Posted by Madmast_Hathi on (August 7, 2010, 18:43 GMT)

See...Imran admitted using a bottle top to scratch the bowl. Now I lose all respect for him. Not sure whether any of his wickets were legal now.

Posted by pak-united on (August 7, 2010, 18:37 GMT)

I remember my days of tape-ball too, the tape was renewed though even with the smallest tear, but we still got it to do unusual things in the air, the secret to that was just steam in and whip it as fast as you could, that did the trick for us. we didn't play with ripped tape at all. However, sometimes, to make things interesting we'd just wrap half of the ball with tape only, it was really fun then especially for the bowlers. That's how I learned to bat against swing bowling. Another thing, tape-ball really helped my hand-eye coordination, it also sharpened my eye-sight and to pick the ball early. I found hard-ball relatively easier than tape ball because it reached a little slower.

I wonder why Ian Botham didn't ever comment on Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones, when they they won the Ashes back in 2005. All of a sudden reverse swing became an "art". Grapes are always sour for those who aren't able to achieve something.

Posted by quantized on (August 7, 2010, 18:25 GMT)

it was developed in Pakistan, possibly as far back as the late 1940s, as a response to parched pitches...............

Pakistan didn't use to exist by then

Posted by Joji_ on (August 7, 2010, 18:09 GMT)

@NurseryEnd....ohh my my!!! Brings back all the old memories.

Posted by hmia1001 on (August 7, 2010, 17:44 GMT)

The seam of a cricket ball is not possible to uproot/disturb with naked fingers of a hand (as demonstrated by the "head off" picture). Though I must acknowledge your "effort" to pin point something! Any way, I guess English seamers tried the same in 2005 ashes...!

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 17:44 GMT)

oh yeah.. that tape ball, we have a rule where you cannot re-tape the ball in a 9-over game. This means that the ball usually swings about a yard. I gt out to a ball yesterday which I swear swung two ways, it swung in initially and then dramatic late out swing or maybe the inswing was the angle? And thank you for using a picture of Dravid doctoring the ball because it illustrates one of the chief reasons why conditioning the ball should be allowed. Tedulkar and Dravid and a few other Indian players over the years have doctored with the ball to make it reverse but it never has for them, very few people can make it happen because it is a skill, not simply cheating, it is a skill.

Posted by bloodlegion on (August 7, 2010, 16:31 GMT)

Mr RaghavShete just because no Indian trundler is able to bowl above 80 miles per hour doesn't mean that all of those greats were cheat. you mentioned Aqib, but what's about Hogard, Flintof, Simon Jones, Bret Lee....Are they also a cheat.. Its not you, but your Malaise towards Pakistani Bowling over the decades. only reason just because Indian can,t produce fast bowlers and accept it.

Posted by AhmadSaleem on (August 7, 2010, 14:54 GMT)

Yup I also do it with tape ball. Most of the guys in Pakistan play cricket with tape ball therefore, they master it easily. Aussies, Indians, English can not understand it.

Posted by FreakyBoy on (August 7, 2010, 14:44 GMT)

atlast world has realised the masterpiece of pakistan bowling legends like imran, wasim and the allegations should stop against this art of reverse swing. this is an absolute trick n it can be mastered by anyone. but history tells us that it is perfected by pakistani's.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 14:38 GMT)

Spot the player contest-Who is this Indian player lifting the seam here?Dates back to 1995-1999.I cant identify the player.

Posted by BullPUP on (August 7, 2010, 14:36 GMT)

And i remember wasim explaining one vital factor for preparing the ball for reverse swing. Never ever get the ball's rough side wet. Not even a drop of fluid should touch it.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 14:33 GMT)

Interesting Facts and nice article :)

Posted by RogerC on (August 7, 2010, 13:17 GMT)

@RaghavShete: You have explained it very well which many experts couln't do. What's the name of Botham's biography? Its worth reading on this subject.

Posted by amitrathivamnicom on (August 7, 2010, 13:00 GMT)

@Aadil Mohiudin.....a little correction mr. aadil....reverse swing passed from Sarfaraz Nawaz to Imran Khan and not is fine though...!!!!!!

Posted by RaghavShete on (August 7, 2010, 11:44 GMT)

Normal swing is achieved by keeping one side shiny, while the other roughs up. with the seam vertical, the ball swings into the rough side, as turbulent flow against mean lower air pressure on that side. This is fluid mechanics. The batsman identifies the swing by watching the ball from the hand. In reverse swing, the bowler makes the flow against the shiny side MORE turbulent by lifting the seam,or using the nails or a bottle cap against this side. The poor batsman is expecting the ball to swing away from the shiny side, and voila, it does just the opposite. Botham's autobiography will tell us that this could not be done by great bowlers like Lillee or Hadlee because they doidnt cheat, but ordinary ines like Aqib Javed.

Posted by   on (August 7, 2010, 11:37 GMT)

This is really amazing to read about the reverse is becoming a heridity character of pakistani passed from Imran and Sarfaraz to Waqar and Wasim and from these to Umar Gul.

Posted by fazeel007 on (August 7, 2010, 11:05 GMT)

i tell u something................i do it easily.........with that electrical tape covered tennis ball kind of easy.....cant control it fully though.......duh...

Posted by NurseryEnd on (August 7, 2010, 10:33 GMT)

you've left out a very important piece of information about the origin of reverse swing in Pakistan. the local boys i played with used to wrap insulation / electrical tape around the tennis balls. as the tape begins to tear off, the ball begins to behave in weird ways. the ball, then, has a smooth side (the nature of the tape) and a rough side.

in 8-over matches, we used to have the ball swinging wildly starting the 3rd over.

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