December 10, 2012

Reverse psychology

Playing reverse swing is as much of an art as any other in cricket

Quashing all the many "educated guesses", Eden Gardens has sprung a surprise for many of us who believed it would help the spinners during the third Test. Instead, fast bowler James Anderson proved to be the giant-killer with his persuasive reverse swing.

Conventional wisdom has it that the inswinger is the most lethal delivery when the ball is reversing, and that bowled and lbw are the two most common modes of dismissal in these circumstances, especially for right-hand batsmen. When the old ball starts reversing, the toughest delivery to play is the one that tails back into the right-hander, for nothing in the flight of the ball (except the shine, if you see it) suggests that the ball will dart back in at the last moment.

If one half of the ball is extremely rough and the other is shiny, even a trundler can generate reverse swing, but it won't be half as effective as what a genuinely quick bowler would produce. The slower the pace, the earlier the ball swings in the air; and the later the movement in the air, the tougher it is to handle.

To delay swing, all good bowlers bowl an inswinger as they would an outswinger, and vice versa. This basically means that the bowler will use the same seam position, wrist position and overall action as he would for an outswinger. In fact, he will also bowl it as an outswinger, pushing the ball towards the off side. Only when it loses a bit of pace (and the quicker you bowl, the later it loses pace), does it tail back in. The likes of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram mastered this art.

Bowlers with slightly lower bowling arms create more problems than the ones who bowl with a high-arm action. That also explains why Anderson was more effective than Steven Finn in Kolkata, or why the likes of Lasith Malinga and Waqar have been more dangerous than Glenn McGrath, Javagal Srinath and so on.

The first and most trustworthy giveaway while countering reverse swing is to look for the shiny side of the ball. This isn't always a completely accurate indicator because every now and then the ball will misbehave, but when it starts reverse-swinging, it by and large always moves towards the shiny side. So if you manage to see the shine, you can generally set yourself up a fraction in advance. This means opening the stance up a bit if the shine is facing midwicket (for a right-hander), and issuing yourself a mental warning not to fish outside off if the shine is facing covers. It isn't always possible to spot the shiny side, though, for good bowlers also master the art of hiding the shine while running in. Waqar and Wasim managed to hide it till the very last moment, which made them even more lethal.

The ball comes back in a lot more than it goes away when it's reversing, so most batsmen try to play inside the line at all times. While that takes care of the balls coming in, it leaves you vulnerable to those that hold their line or go away

Since you don't have much of a clue about the ball's final destination, it's important to resist the temptation to play the lines, and instead to delay your movement till the last instant. This means that even when the ball is outside the off stump in its flight, you're best off not taking the front foot too far across - once you've committed to the shot, it will be impossible to bring the foot back in if the ball dips back at the last moment.

For some reason, the ball comes back in a lot more than it goes away when it's reversing, so most batsmen try to play inside the line at all times. While that takes care of the balls coming in, it leaves you vulnerable to those that hold their line or go away fractionally. That's what Anderson exploited on day one in Kolkata - he used the indippers almost as decoys to induce outside edges with the balls that held their line. Both Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar were the victims of the same strategy.

Another way to deal with reverse swing is to shorten your backlift considerably: the higher the backlift, the tougher it is to dig yorkers out. Tendulkar appreciably diminished his backlift against Anderson on day one. However, while this helps keep the toe-crushers out, it adversely affects shot-making ability because of the lack of momentum.

While a short forward stride is recommended while countering reverse swing, it's important to not mistake it with not moving the feet at all. In order to counter any kind of lateral movement, be it off the pitch or in the air, it's imperative to use the feet decisively to get into the right positions.

Just like getting the ball to reverse-swing effectively is a craft, playing it efficiently is one too - one that calls for a lot of skill and a slice of luck.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • D on December 17, 2012, 20:54 GMT

    Wasim Akram, one of the best exponents of reverse swing had praised Martin Crowe as the best batsman against reverse swing bowling. Read why on Cricinfo - The method outlined by Aakash here is pretty much the same as what Martin Crowe developed. What Aakash does is, he goes into slightly more detail and places batting against reverse swing in the context of the Kolkata Test defeat.

  • Dummy4 on December 12, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    3). If u r playing for in-dipper with open face, in order for u to get out the ball must first take edge for which probability is 1/10, The ball must go in the fielder direction after taking edge for which probability is 1/3, ball goes at catch-able height for which probability is 1/3 & fielder holds on to the catch for which probability is 1/2. The overall probability for all these 4 conditions to be satisfied is 1/10*1/2*1/3*1/2=1/120 which means u will survive nearly 120 balls with this technique on moving pitch… HENCE the best method is to imagine every ball aiming at the stumps. If ball holds the line or go away then u will simply miss it & no harm done so what's the big deal. Just that u will appear ugly but saving your wicket is much much more imp than looking ugly........Just like many times people have to undergo operations that make them ugly but are necessary to save life ...............It doesn't matter u miss 100 balls but imp thing is to protect your wicket.

  • Rishi on December 12, 2012, 3:04 GMT

    @KiwiRocker: you absolutely right, and I agree that IND batting needs a complete overhaul. @Sarmad Rizwan Ahmad: I agree that this J srinath was just another bowler. He was nowhere close even to Tim Southee of NZ. You will see lot of nonsense articles (glamorization of defeats) these days because IND sport columnist, and Fans, and players like Gambhir, Shewag are gone out of their mind after 2 consecutive whitewashes , and currently going on-in progress HUMILIATION by ENG. They really need some hard liquor to swallow their grief.

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2012, 20:15 GMT

    Quite a good article. Aakash Chopra is a good technicall analyst. Like his articles. I dont think we are enti'tled to critisize him because he has played cricket at the highest level and comes across as being unbiased, a trait I admire. Would have liked it even more if he had mentioned the fact that are only a handfull of bowlers who could reserve it both ways and that the best of them was Wasim. He could do so because he could change the angle at which his bowling arm came over. He bowled Martyn with one which swung out and the very next ball bowled mcgrath with one which swung in (wc 99). Both righthanders!!!!

  • Bobby on December 11, 2012, 9:22 GMT

    Sorry Who was Javagal Srinath? What was his average as a bowler and how many wickets did he actually get? is Akash Chopra now going to be the next big fast bowler for India that they are search since Muhammad Nisar played for India in 1931. I am sure in current form even Akash Chopra will do better than Umesh Yadev ( touted as fast as SHoib Akhtar), better than Irfan Pathan ( next Wasim Akram). Please write some articles about batting as thats where India needs help!

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2012, 8:55 GMT

    you made me laugh when you mentioned Javagal Srinath in an article about reverse swing in the same sentence as McGrath and Wasim...i thought i was reading an amazing satire on Page 2 :)

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    wonder if Gavaskar looked for the shiny side,or did it not reverse in his times

  • Aditya on December 11, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Thanks Akash for this article... Your articles give us good knowledge about the scientific aspects of the game. It helps a player to understand how things work - hence use it more efficiently. This particular article also explains why it is difficult to play reverse swing. Looking forward for your next one....

  • Cricinfouser on December 10, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    I remember Nathan Astle swinging the ball prodigiously during a test series, albeit at a much lower pace! But swing he did, got a couple of wickets too! But then the lack of pace was a problem! Same goes with Srinath, who actually swung it both ways against an ODI against Sri Lanka, the match being called off because off an under-prepared pitch, and the match was made into an exhibition match for the spectators in India! He bowled a lot slower! Bowling is an art indeed!

  • mo on December 10, 2012, 18:56 GMT

    aakash, i love your articles because it answers questions which most of us non-first-class amateur players only have guesses about!

    ...and yeah, how on earth does dravid play swing bowling so well and how quick are sehwag and the very different lax (who hangs back more) at reading the fast swinging ball and attacking it - not to mention how sachin does it - have all been questions on many of our minds forever!!! so thanks for the keen insight!

    btw, let me take this opportunity to commend you for your wonderful opening batting in AUS eons ago! we all saw what happened recently in AUS when the selectors ignored the trusted and true virtues of a patient classical opening batter like yourself or jaffer to rotate the strike with the mercurial sehwag and went with the unpredictable gambhir who has always been vulnerable to the moving ball even at home! but when you opened with sehwag, we seriously threatened AUS and had them scared for once *in* AUS in waugh's last test! so...thanks!!! :)

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