Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

Swing: can't get enough of the thing

There's magic in the air when the ball hoops around corners

Mark Nicholas

February 7, 2013

Comments: 90 | Text size: A | A

Mitchell Starc in follow-through, Australia v West Indies, 1st ODI, Perth, February 1, 2013
Starc: makes it go whoosh © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Mitchell Starc | Ramnaresh Sarwan
Series/Tournaments: West Indies tour of Australia
Teams: Australia

This is the year of the cheap bowl-out. Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia and West Indies - all skittled for a song, or fewer than 75 to be precise. And the common denominator? Swing.

Wonderful summer swing, nice and late and breathtaking in its effect. If you are yet to catch Mitchell Starc on a swing day, a treat awaits you. In he bounds, all rhythm and timing, to deliver at 145 kilometres per hour, and whoosh, in it hoops and over go the hobs. The ball that bowled Ramnaresh Sarwan in Perth last Friday was pure Wasim Akram, and you can't say fairer than that.

There have been three truly exceptional quick left-arm swing bowlers. Akram, perhaps first among equals; Garry Sobers; and Alan Davidson. "Davo's" figures are incredible: 186 wickets in 44 Tests at 20.53 each - a better average than Roberts, Holding, Marshall, Garner, Ambrose and Walsh. All three were immensely strong men, though Davidson's shoulders took the biscuit - still do, come to think of it. Starc is a surprisingly big man too. Perhaps it is the species.

Australia have really got something here, and pray he stays fit. The selectors' "informed player management" policy should, in theory, see to it.

There is something utterly compelling about fast swing bowling. From behind the arm, the ball appears momentarily suspended, allowing the viewer to appreciate its flight path before the last split-second change of direction that then homes in on the target. Sarwan missed the crackerjack Perth ball by a mile. Little did he know that 48 hours later he was to suffer a similar, though even more humiliating, fate.

It began with Starc trapping a mesmerised Chris Gayle in front of off stump with the fourth ball of his first over. Sarwan arrived in Gayle's stead, took itchy guard but then pushed the fifth ball to cover comfortably enough. "Over," called the umpire. Phew, thought Sarwan. Channel 9 went to an ad break. The fielders swapped ends and Starc trotted off to long leg. "Oops," said the umpire, "we're a ball light, back you go lads." Thus everyone rebooted, even 9, who crashed out of their ad break. Nice one ump, thought Sarwan, who barely saw what came next.

Starc's belated sixth ball might have been a guided missile for all the Guyanan knew of it. Just a tiny shuffle forward before the deadly strike, centre-point of the pad, slap in front of middle, halfway up. First the inswing, then the finger. Thanks ump, thought Sarwan and off he went, dragging the wretched twist of life with him.

Swing is the thing. The game expands because the ball must be pitched up. Batsmen have the drive at their behest but with risk in the back of their mind. Swing is a temptress, luring those with the willow to indiscretion. Swing at speed is killer - there one moment, gone the next. Swing surprises, shocks, disappoints and delights.

There is no explaining it. One day it does, the next it doesn't. They say it is the batch of balls, the weight of the ball, the size of the ball, the seam, the atmospheric conditions, moisture in the pitch or otherwise. Those are the materials. The workman must deliver the seam upright. To do so he must release the ball with his wrist behind it.

Some hold the ball firmly and deep in the hand. Others hold it lightly and at the tips of their fingers. Some have their thumb under the ball, resting under the seam; others have that thumb alongside the ball, resting on the leather. Experts swear by theories and other experts tear them apart. Sideways action to bowl outswing, front-on to bowl inswing? Not necessarily, proved Malcolm Marshall and Wasim Akram. Scientists analyse the hell out of swing. Coaches search for its holy grail. Bowlers spend as many hours on swing as in the bar.

 
 
Swing is a temptress, luring those with the willow to indiscretion. Swing at speed is killer - there one moment, gone the next. Swing surprises, shocks, disappoints and delights
 

Then there is reverse swing: still swing of course but with the ball turned 180 degrees in the hand so that the movement occurs against the conventional method. Usually the ball swings to the direction of the rough side of the ball. With reverse, it reverses itself. Bowlers who shine one side of a new ball, scratch, scuff or wet one side of an old ball. The more damaged the leather, the better. On the parched playing surfaces of the subcontinent, reverse swing is a must. In England in May, forget it.

Why does the reversed method swing later? Search me. Why do the great reverse-swing bowlers practise a slightly lower arm at the point of delivery? Search me. Why does reversed inswing move more than reversed outswing? Search me.

There has been a court case about reverse swing. There has been a Test match called off and awarded to the batting team because of reverse swing. There have been diplomatic incidents because of reverse swing. It is a thing mistrusted and a thing of jealousy. And by heaven, it is a thing of envy. When the old ball tails in, travelling most of the pitch before its snake-like strike, a class fast bowler can barely contain his excitement.

Red ball or white ball, which swings most? Search me. Some say the new white ball and the old red ball are the most likely, sometimes. Is that the dye in the leather, or the white paint? Search me. Bowlers prefer cricket balls that are dark red, almost brown. Some of them, that is, while others could not care less. Some use sweat to shine it. Others, well let's just say there is above board and below board. Come to think of it, why does the brand new ball swing? There is no difference to the condition of either side of the ball, so no change in its balance. Perhaps the proud seam is the perfect rudder, canting this way and that. Perhaps not.

A reasonable argument says let the bowler do to the ball as he wishes, of his own volition but not with an outside influence. Shine it, scratch it, pick it, wet it, rub it in the dirt till the crowd go home, but no bottle tops, no pen knives, no sticks or stones. Imagine the growth of fingernails amongst the fraternity! I say let it swing any which way, for cricket is poorer when the air is dead to swing or the length too short. T20 take note: let it swing.

As I write, Australia are playing West Indies with a white ball in a one-day match. Not a single delivery has swung, not even those offered by Starc. Weird, huh. Maybe Sarwan will get a few tonight. Maybe not. The game is a mystery.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Posted by Tests_always_66 on (February 10, 2013, 14:18 GMT)

@mikey. It is a pity that you call someone that differs from you clueless. I happen to agree with the view that Kallis, although not as flamboyant as Sobers, would be in my team above Sobers anyday. I find it ironic that you start off saying people get to wrapped up in stats, where Kallis is slaughtering Sobers, on all counts, but then immediately recall the 365 which wasn't beat for 40 years (also a stat but this time to suit you). @Mark. Your article is not as good as usual this time, if you want to discuss swing and the fact that you like what Starc is doing, don't quote stats not relevant to him. Saying this, I am a fan of your writing in general.

Posted by thruthecovers on (February 9, 2013, 0:34 GMT)

@josh1942 I like you. I'm assuming you're English and therefore I definitely get a warm and fuzzy feeling eversince you decided to pick a side in this Sobers/Kallis debate. Biased maybe but I prefer to support your view on matters. Just as a side...we as SA's have come to accept not getting our dues when it matter. Kallis is not making a song and dance about, neither is anyone in his team or the whole country. We know what we have and that is what every other country can only dream about. Occassionaly you'll get the Kallis wannabe like a Watson, Flintoff or Hasan but honestly there realy have only been one true prince (or is it king?) for the last 17 years. I haven't seen Sobers play, but even, or especially Charles Darwin would only shake his head at the rediculousness of this debate. If evolution is widely accepted fact, it should be obvious that Kallis is better than Sobers. Like the numbers suggest, but because he is SA, the likes of Chappell would rather die than give him his due

Posted by mikey76 on (February 8, 2013, 22:03 GMT)

Josh1942. Your pretty clueless when it comes to cricket history. Sobers was a wonderful bowler who could bowl in many different styles. So what if his figures are not as good, people get too wrapped up in averages and how fast people bowl. As far as batting goes Sobers wins hands down, he scored 365 which wasn't beaten for 40 years. He could bat in any style and in any conditions against some of the games greatest bowlers.

Posted by ManintheWhiteCoat on (February 8, 2013, 22:02 GMT)

Mark, I can understand if you are a born Aussie hyping Starc. He is a great bowler no question about it. But if you are writing about Swing, not too sure this is the place. He is a good fast bowler not a swing bowler. It is a real shame when Kulasekara gave such a hard time right through out the ODI series to Aussies but not even mentioning it. I guess you should change the heading to "Starc the Great Bowler" (btw I'm not a SL fan) Cricinfo please have guts to publish this.

Posted by Josh1942 on (February 8, 2013, 20:57 GMT)

@Meety Sobers was a mediocre test bowler. His strike rate is not good. The job of a bowler is to get the batsman out. Not keep him in. Kallis stats against the minnows are right on his average and gained no advantage there.Nor did he get the new ball to bowl with as Sobers did. Stop trying to go against the facts, Kallis is a 50% better bowler in terms of results than Sobers was.And contrary to what you believe he averaged 145kmph as a fast bowler when he started his career with the odd ball near 150kmph. Even today he can get to 145kph if he wants to. He is genuinelyfast which Sobers never was. Sobers boweled military medium. And forget the old argument re Sobers bowling spin. He bowled on many spin friendly wickets and yet his spin stats are even worse than his medium pace. Face the facts - Kallis is a far superior bowler and probably the better batsman as well. As allrounders? Kalis by many a mile is far better than anyone who has played the game to date.

Posted by mikey76 on (February 8, 2013, 17:23 GMT)

BigBoodha. I didn't say Anderson was fast, merely too fast for Australia. And it was pretty dry in Australia in the last ashes wasn't it? Didn't see any rain in Adelaide when he was hooping the ball away in the air. Didn't see too much rain or cloud in India recently too. Very silly comments all round really. As for bashing other teams, well I'm afraid Randy/Jonesy easily take the biscuit on that one. Most people in England were quite happy to acknowledge Australia's greatness in the 90's and 00's. You just can't deal with the fact that your average right now.

Posted by UK_Chap on (February 8, 2013, 15:46 GMT)

How can all talk about Swing and reverse swing without ever managing to mention probaly one of the deadliest swing bowlers of all time Waqar Younis. He was far more lethal that Steyn, Philander etc...

Posted by ooper_cut on (February 8, 2013, 7:54 GMT)

Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar would have ripped through any side in those kind of conditions. To me, they were a class act. In Ind tour of Aus 1990-91, they regularly broke the back of the Aussies only for our batsmen to give it away each time.

Posted by Meety on (February 8, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

@Mo Moosa - you clearly have no idea what you are talking about. MOST of Sobers career was against the 2 best two teams of the era (Oz & Eng). 60% of his games were against those two teams. For most of Kallis's career the top teams he could play against were Oz & India - he did that 28%. If you said Oz & Eng - it would be around 33%. Kallis's greatness is in his batting, slips fielding & longevity, the fact that he is a good seamer as well makes him one of the finest players to have ever played the game. I still stand by Sobers being a long shot better bowler than Kallis. By the way, pitches were coverd after WWII, - Sobers started playing tests 6 years AFTER WWII!

Posted by Meety on (February 8, 2013, 7:14 GMT)

@Mo Moosa - Kallis was NEVER a 150kph bowler! Donald was & was a lot faster than Kallis. Was a 140ish kph bowler who bowled heavy balls (like Flintoff & still does), meaning they hit the bat harder than other bowlers. Kallis has spent 30% of his career @ #3 averaging 50, Sobers @ #3 averaged 72, & batted # 3 or opened 21% - hardly much of a difference to qualify "... a large chunk..." If you remove Zim & Ban (cheap wickets) - his bowling ave is marginally worse & he only took 1.8 wickets per match - whereas Sobers 2.5 per match. This means that Sobers was more of a specialist bowler than Kallis. Shane Watson as a bowler averages 1.6 wickets a match & has a superior bowling averages/SR than Kallis - but who would say Watto is more of a specialist bowler than Kallis? @Chris_P - I have just noted you have taken almost exactly the same approach as me, but my ego has made me post my comment anyway! LOL!

Posted by Integrity1 on (February 8, 2013, 6:06 GMT)

Brian Lara, West Indian, world record holder and among the greatest to have ever played the game of cricket said this of Kallis, "He was awesome. When he got out I went up to him and told him it was the greatest batting in a series I've ever experienced, for or against." Case closed #WhoAreWeToQuestion

Posted by Rowayton on (February 8, 2013, 3:26 GMT)

not making excuses for Mark Nicholas, but I suspect he remembers the 1970 RoW v England series where Sobers took 21 wickets at 21 (and also scored 588 runs at 73). These were regarded as Tests at the time but no longer appear in his record. I reckon that nearly everything Muhammad Moosa said is wrong. In Tests, Sobers's era was not weaker than Kallis's - there were no batting sides that Sobers played against that were as bad as recent NZ sides. Against Australia Kallis averages 41 with the bat, and 37 with the ball; against England it's 44 and 35. these are good, but not great. His figures are inflated by the amount of weak opposition he has had in his career against other countries - look at his batting figures against the WI for example. Sobers was in a different class.

Posted by chicko1983 on (February 8, 2013, 2:55 GMT)

No mention of Terry Alderman? The greatest conventional swing bowler that Australia has produced.

Posted by mikey76 on (February 8, 2013, 2:44 GMT)

More pearls of wisdom from our Australian friend. Of course nobody else produces swing bowlers! New Zealand have some decent ones, decent enough to win in Hobart! Praveen Kumar swung the ball round corners in England a couple of summers ago and Zaheer Khan has been doing it for years. I seem to remember a certain Sri Lankan medium pacer destroying Australia with swing recently in an ODI while before him chaminda Vaas collected 300 odd test wickets swinging the ball. As for England, well I know it's still a sore point but 24 wickets went to an England swing bowler in the recent ashes, and in 2005 Jones, Flintoff and Hoggard toyed with Aus swinging the ball all over the place while your guys couldn't make it deviate.

Posted by mikey76 on (February 8, 2013, 2:33 GMT)

Muhammad Mussa. I think you need to check your cricket history mate. "Sobers never faced a great international team". Erm well England in the 50's were one of the greatest sides ever. Trueman, Statham, Laker, Lock, Wardle just to mention the bowlers. Australia weren't bad either (Lindwall, Miller, Davidson, Benaud) oh and South Africa weren't shabby (Adcock, Heine, Tayfield). Sobers didn't have the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to get cheap runs/wickets against. He's the greatest player that ever lived, end of story.

Posted by   on (February 8, 2013, 2:08 GMT)

I would be more inclined to write this article about Dale Steyn, Mr. Nicholas.

Posted by TheBigBoodha on (February 8, 2013, 1:47 GMT)

@mikey76, Anderson too quick? I'm afraid you are being delusional. Even during the Ashes series he was 5-10 clicks slower than the Australian bowlers. He bowls 130-135 most of the time. Siddle has now dropped back his pace, and bowls around the same pace, pushing to low 140s (& now gets both regular & reverse swing). He also has a better bowling avrge than Anderson, BTW. Anderson looks like a million bucks when it is all wet and humid, but looks impotent when things are dry or slow, which is why his avrge is well below that of the great pace bowlers. That's also why he doesn't get picked in ODIs, b/c the wickets tend to be flatter (although with the 2 new balls these days, he should do well, in theory - just as it has helped Starc and Kulasekara). Starc is now bowling around 10 clicks faster than Anderson, & with good control, in all 3 forms of the game. Anyway, this is beyond the point with you. Every post you put up is the same - bash everything Australian.

Posted by emrates on (February 8, 2013, 1:37 GMT)

i believe in today great bowlers especially in case of swing bowling if i don,t see dale Steyn and jimmy Anderson name together than that column is incomplete..on seaming conditions most of today's bowler can seam and swing but dale and jimmy can even swing on the dead pitches of sub-continent...i saw how well did jimmy swing against Pakistan in UAE and in India..i admire his efforts he puts and Dale Steyn no words!!! Starc is good has pace and swing..i will only judge him after India series...other than that i wish i really wish Muhammad Amir incident never had happened..three of my favorite bowlers of this era..Australian bowlers are good..but really Dale STEYN,JIMMY ANDERSON and MUHAMMAD AMIR are TREAT TO WATCH!!!I HOPE THAT SUMS UP EVERYBODY INCLUDING MARK

Posted by wellrounded87 on (February 8, 2013, 1:36 GMT)

@Neil Sinclair Steyn and Philander aren't common denominators. They only skittled NZ and Pakistan. Starc destroyed windies and Kulasekara demolished Australia.

Not taking anything from Steyn and Philander, they're clearly the top two swing bowlers in the world but let's at least be accurate.

@Integrity1 give it a rest. Kallis best all rounder of all time probably though he's neck and neck with Sobers. Best cricketer? not even close. Bradman is quite clearly the best ever to even argue contrary is madness.

Posted by CorwainC on (February 8, 2013, 1:18 GMT)

one small correction, i noticed you called Sarwan a Guyanan....Yes he's from Guyana, as i am, but we're called Guyanese.

Posted by Swingit on (February 8, 2013, 0:56 GMT)

@Josh1942 like be quiet already! Sobers is untouchable on all levels, stop trying to make Kallis into a modern day Sobers. Kallis aint 10% what The GREAT Sobers was in any department most of all in how beautiful Sir Garry played ALL aspects of the game. And the author said LEFT handed swing bolwers you blind bat, so how is Kallis to be put in that group? All these kids here who never saw Sobers but just read statiustics and now trying to denigrate the great Sir Garry and make out nto be less exceptional an allrounder than he was, should go to bed with bottle in mouth and dont forget to do their homework first. @Raj thanks for that clarification.You would think the cricketing world would know this by now. Would they ever call someone from Wales a "Walesian?"

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 22:39 GMT)

Still not sure how you managed to write that much about swing and not once mention Dale Steyn. And to mention Garfield Sobers, whilst omitting Kallis, a prodigious swinger of the ball, I find a bit unfair. For the English, James Anderson also certainly deserves a mention, but from my perspective nobody comes close to Akram. He was fast and could swing it both ways equally well. When he ran in to bowl, I always felt we could lose a wicket at any moment. Dale Steyn is exciting and takes a lot of wickets, but Akram was so unpredictable, and thats why he was scary.

Posted by Josh1942 on (February 7, 2013, 22:24 GMT)

Can we cut out the nonsense about Kallis playing Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Even if you take out the stats out of his record his bowling is still way ahead of Sobers. In fact Kallis did not score many runs against Bangladesh or take many wickets against them or Zimbabwe. Plus the fact that Sobers bowled spin is just a red herring. I don't care if he bowled underarm as well. The facts are there for all to see. He was a mediocre test bowler. The bowlers job is not to keep the batsmen in but to get them OUT! Kallis never got the new ball as Sobers often did and in his early days was real express - close to 150kph.I sick to death of the nostalgia references to Sobers from many who never even saw him play. I watched at least 100 times in county cricket and tests. He is one of the all time great batsman but time for us to stop listening to the sour grapes of the likes of Chappell and accept Kallis as the greatest all rounder - by far.

Posted by Dubious on (February 7, 2013, 21:45 GMT)

Prabhash1985, Starc's only really had one opportunity--in Sri Lanka, at the World T20 and he was just about the bowler of the tournament, at least as far as fast bowlers were concerned, taking 10 wickets (the third most behind Shane Watson and Ajantha Mendis).

Posted by Dubious on (February 7, 2013, 21:37 GMT)

Neal Sinclair, what are you talking about? Steyn and Philander were responsible for the New Zealand and Pakistan scores that Mark mentioned, Sri Lanka was responsible for the Australian one and Australia was responsible for the West Indies. Far from Steyn and Philander being the common denominator, neither swung the ball much at all in Australia and Philander hardly took a wicket. In fact, as far as I remember both were out-performed by Morkel throughout the series. What's more--from what I've seen--Philander doesn't not bowl the audacious hooping swing that this article is focusing on. He's a talented bowler, don't get me wrong, but he relies on accuracy and nipping it off the seam in either direction.

Posted by NazmuddinShaikh on (February 7, 2013, 21:30 GMT)

What about the Spin magic of Rehman and Ajmal getting rid or England in Dubai.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 20:21 GMT)

@Tumbarumbar:

You say that: "The day Jacques starts bowling world class off spin and leg spin including an arm ball, top spinner, wrong 'un and flipper (the right arm equivalent of Sobers' Chinamen and Orthodox spin) then he will rate the same as a bowler"

You might as well say : "the day Steyn starts bowling world class off spin and leg spin..... then Steyn will rate the same as Sobers as a bowler"

It's wonderful that Sobers had all these styles, but Kallis got more wickets at a better average. End of story

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 19:22 GMT)

yo muhammad moosa what are you talking about?which gary sobers are you talking about? boy you better go talk to old timers and let them tell you about mr. sobers. you and i only read about sobers but talk to people who witness the impact his presence and performance did to the opposition.

Posted by Apocalypse_EX on (February 7, 2013, 18:39 GMT)

@Prabhash1985 you dont remember cause he never bowled there except for one ODI in India (I think). However he did bowl in the UAE against pakistan and was very good, fast,incisive,economical and got swing.

Posted by RandyOZ on (February 7, 2013, 18:24 GMT)

Australia are the best exports of swing, with Pakistan and South Africa the only other two countries who can genuinely produce swing bowlers.

Posted by realfan on (February 7, 2013, 18:16 GMT)

@Prabhash1985 agree with you but why did you mention Junaid khan???? remember he even underperformed in South africa and have no rights to be in the list... and did you forgot WASIM AKRAM and Waqar younis , Zaheer khan????????

Posted by FLIPPER_99 on (February 7, 2013, 17:35 GMT)

This article is quiet misleading as it mentions only starcs heroics and thus suggests that starc was the one that blew all those teams for 70 odd runs whereas the real scenario is that kulesekara bowled majestically throughout the season and steyn philander and co. are the ones that made those low scores possible. would also like to see the name of chaminda vaas in that great lefties list as he consistently took wickets in the feather beds of the subcontinent in the scorching heat day in and day out. But overall great article of swing bowling and nice emphasis on the mystery swing bowling holds.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 17:14 GMT)

Right Gary never faced a great international team during his peak years,had the advantage of bowling on uncovered wickets at times,had long long tails to bowl to,tailenders couldnt bat as well as nowadays,often took the new ball which Kallis never did,batsmen didnt wear helmets ,he batted at 6,did not play hundreds of odi's and t20.Bottom line is that he played in a weaker era and had many differences in his role compared to Jacques. Kallis bowled at over 150 at times in his early career,batted at 3,never took the new ball,played hundreds of odi's,bowled to some of the greatest batsmen of all time,longevity at 38 still bowling over 140 at times,tailenders bat much better,all pitches are covered,batsmen have more powerful equipment and hit the ball harder,pitches are better. Judge who you want to as the superior bowler-to my mind Kallis was far a better quick bowler then Sir Gary.

Posted by mikey76 on (February 7, 2013, 17:04 GMT)

Jonesy2. James Anderson 24 wickets in the last ashes. Was way to quick for your boys. And that average, well after he's finished with you guys it'll be around 27-28 where it should be. He's the master, Cummins, Starc and Patterson merely pupils.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 16:59 GMT)

India has produced some great swing bowlers in the last decade to only see them get out of favour.....Irfan pathan ,praveen kumar,bhuvaneshwar kumar......all are great swing bolwers,but all bowl in 130s

Posted by Prabhash1985 on (February 7, 2013, 16:49 GMT)

A real test for a quickie is not out there in Australia, but in a flat pitch as in SL or India. Try that and tell whether the heroes can still perform. This is why Junaid Khan, Chaminda Vaas, Zhaheer Khan, James Anderson becomes far more superior. Don't remember Starc doing that.

Posted by dan_1988 on (February 7, 2013, 16:47 GMT)

Mark... I really respect and value your opinions. I think you are one of the leading cricket voices at the moment but this is ridiculous. How can an article on swing bowling include Starc and not have Dale Steyn.? He has been the best bowler in the world for the last five years and when it comes to swing bowling is in a league of his own. Perhaps Starc can get a mention but what you failed to acknowledge was that it was Steyn and the South African pace attack that was responsible for most of the top displays of swing bowling this summer.

Posted by Selassie-I on (February 7, 2013, 16:38 GMT)

Good article as always Mark.

90mph/140k + swing bowling is always a dream to watch of course... Steyn the best in the current crop of course. Starc should prosper in England this Ashes... some interesting battles to come

Posted by SurlyCynic on (February 7, 2013, 16:32 GMT)

@Chris_P: You say 'if only' Sobers could bowl at Bangladesh and Zim, and then exclude these from Kallis's figures. But in the Sobers era the likes of New Zealand, Pakistan and India were just developing (like Bangladesh and Zim today) and he got to bowl to them didn't he? Shouldn't you exclude these from Sobers's figures then?

The reality is cricket has changed a lot since those days, and it's almost impossible to compare. But in each era what Sobers and Kallis have achieved is exceptional.

Posted by jonesy2 on (February 7, 2013, 16:17 GMT)

probably why james anderson averages over 30, because when he swings it he does it at medium pace not rocket pace like starc or cummins or pattinson

Posted by delmonty on (February 7, 2013, 16:14 GMT)

Good Article but swing is not quite the mystery you portray Mr Nicholas. There has been a lot of scientific study into it - The Bowlers Art by Brian Wilkins is perhaps the definative book, which also explains the swerve that spin bowlers get. It's out of print but there are usually a few copies on Amazon. I seem to also remenber an article he wrote in the cricketer explaining reverse swing when it suddenly became fashionable.

Posted by MARCUS-AURELLIUS on (February 7, 2013, 15:16 GMT)

Did he fail to mention a couple of lefties: Zaheer Khan--was he not one of the best just a short while ago? Chaminda Vaas anyone?

Posted by neo-galactico on (February 7, 2013, 15:15 GMT)

Anyone can manipulate stats to emphasize their point, but I struggle to find figures that justify the claim that Sobers was a better bowler than Kallis. Sure Jacques was never a frontline bowler, but that's because SA always had bowlers who were better than him who took the new ball. But in many countries he'd have been a new bowler and he had an average of 27 for a long time before he began reducing his overs. Yes Sobers took more wickets per match than Jacques, but he bowls fewer overs a game. And yet his average is better than Sobers and most importantly his strike rate is significantly better without having the much fabled ability to bowls a plethora of different styles. Nostalgia can influence ones opinion and try to distort facts. In fact this isn't the right article for this discussion.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 14:56 GMT)

Batsmen can't play swing... Batsmen can't play the bounce... Batsmen can't play fast-cutters... They can't play the doosra... ..or the Carrom ball, the googly and the teesra... Let's bring on T20, at least the batsmen can develop the reverse sweep, the upper cut, the switch hit, the dil-scoop....and if all else fails, they can introduce the 'do-not-hit-just-run' into test matches!!!

Posted by Chris_P on (February 7, 2013, 14:20 GMT)

@Ryan Stephen. Looking at both player stats, & you take out Bangladesh & Zimbabwe out of the equation (if only Sobers could have bowled at these guys) Kallis's averages are higher than Sobers. What was that you said about arguing bias's? Oh, just FYI, reports from Sobers early days as a bowler had him bowling express, so the like for like with Kallis bowling quick in their younger days still applies. Sobers was a top rate bowler, of that there is no doubt & figures suggest he was far superior to Kallis, any way you look at them. Like I said, stats are there for all to see.

Posted by dizzay on (February 7, 2013, 13:16 GMT)

So who do we send to India? Two straight line bowlers in Siddle and Pattinson. I also share your passion for swing bowling Mark. It annoys me every time i see somebody scramble the seam let alone deliberately bowl across the seam. Starc genuinely swings it at only around 20% of the time (definitely better than most Australian bowlers), probably because he keeps the seam sometimes straight rather than the ideal of slightly tilted inwards. His front leg collapses quite substantially too which means his release point is much lower than it should be for a man of his height.

Posted by Chris_P on (February 7, 2013, 13:15 GMT)

@Ryan Stephen, I guess it's worth an opinion, everyone is entitled to theirs, but really. Kallis, at best, is a support bowler, not a front line bowler. In 161 tests to date, his 288 wickets average around 1.8 per test with a total of 5 by 5 wicket hauls compared to Sobers 2.5 per test & 6 by 5 wicket hauls in 93 tests. Let's not forget Sobers also bowled both wrist & finger spin. This guy regularly opened the bowling, until the Hall/Griffith partnership came together where Kallis has rarely opened the bowling, & only when one of the front line bowlers was out. Not denigrating Kallis, who stands amongst the top all rounders to have played the game. But only on 5 occasions has a player scored 300 runs & taken 20 wickets in a test series, Sobers doing it 3 times (Keith Miller twice).

Posted by Apocalypse_EX on (February 7, 2013, 12:23 GMT)

I cant say who's the better bowler but I can say Sobers was the more flexible bowler(by far). Sure, Kallis could have bowled faster but everyone knows faster doesnt necessarily mean better. Sobers could adapt to the situation and bowl spin as well as medium/fast which I think would have been very useful...

Posted by Mary_786 on (February 7, 2013, 12:03 GMT)

Great article Mark. I also think Starc can be a real talent for us going forward. As for the batters Clarke, Warner and Khawaja are our best players of swing and will be key in the ashes. Also with so many lefties in our attack why don't we get someone like Akram to be our bowling coach, he would be invaluable.

Posted by Tumbarumbar on (February 7, 2013, 11:28 GMT)

@Ryan Stephen. Comparing Jacques' bowling to Sobers' bowling is like comparing a quarterhorse to a thoroughbred. The day Jacques starts bowling world class off spin and leg spin including an arm ball, top spinner, wrong 'un and flipper (the right arm equivalent of Sobers' Chinamen and Orthodox spin) then he will rate the same as a bowler. Until then he is a high quality right arm fast medium bowler, a great batsman, an outstanding fielder and without doubt the second best all round cricketer in Test history. Being second to Sobers, like being second to Bradman, is the equivalent of being first in any other field.

Posted by FighterKallis on (February 7, 2013, 11:12 GMT)

steyn the sultan of swing .All are standing in q to get punished by this master. Wait pakistan will go home crying

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 7, 2013, 10:59 GMT)

@ Ryan Stephen on (February 7, 2013, 10:34 GMT) : Exactly mate, you can't mention everyone. To be fair to the author, his list of three greats was of LEFT armers. I'm pretty sure Steyn, Anderson, Kulesakera and most of the others aren't cacky handers. ... I think it's a great little article and sums up how mysterious a thing swing really is. It's a simple enough thing but actually defies our scientific knowledge to definitively predict. Despite what the various schools of thought will tell you, no one can 100% predict if, when and how far any given delivery will swing. Anyone who tells you otherwise is having himself on imo.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 10:34 GMT)

You can't be expected to pay homage to every name in world cricket every time you write an article about.. "swing" for example. Ask yourselves: Do you guys want a well written article that encompasses the nature and beauty of a cricketing mystery, or would you rather prefer an exhaustive list of names that ensures that no cricketer goes unmentioned. Mark could easily provide the latter, but we would all be poorer for it.

A quick disclaimer: Bias is when you say one player is better than another using your personal opinions rather than facts and stats. Failing to mention a player is not bias, otherwise we would all be biased.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 10:19 GMT)

Meety " but his bowling is inferior to Sobers by a long shot."

er.. I wonder how you will explain that when Kallis reaches 300 test wickets at a better bowling average than Sobers ever had. Has Sobers ever bowled at 150 kph with swing? Kallis did this in his young days.

Then again I have to ask myself, why bother fighting against a bias that is perpetuated by international media. You can't win, but you can keep reminding people of the facts.

Posted by dunger.bob on (February 7, 2013, 9:49 GMT)

I would say the reason the writer focussed on Starc was that he was making a point. He isn't saying that Starc is the best thing since sliced bread, but rather using him as a very recent example of just how fickle a thing swing can be. .. Two matches in a row he had the ball hooping around but on the third occasion, hardly moved it at all. .. personally I think Mark is an excellent writer. He is obviously madly in love with the game and has the turn of phrase to express it fully. ... chill out guys and read it again. I'm sure you'll enjoy it if you don't read too much into it.

Posted by pauliangenius on (February 7, 2013, 9:37 GMT)

@Lǝǝ Marsh If it is an art, then this art comes naturally and cannot be taught.

Posted by MK88 on (February 7, 2013, 9:25 GMT)

Please Mark!! If you wanted to write about Starc, you should have just left 3/4 scores of below 75 because those have Steyn and Big Vern written all over them. And failing/forgetting to mention them here just goes to show who your masters are. You even forgot Kulasekara who just recently put it to the Aussies. But then again, you choose what you write and who you write about. Kudos Mark Nicholas!!

Posted by Apocalypse_EX on (February 7, 2013, 9:20 GMT)

Why do people have to find some sort of bias in anything? The guy is talking of the two matches in perth where he saw Mitchell Starc bowl and about his own feelings and thoughts on swing. Simply put he is talking about instances from the series b/w Australia and West Indies. Everyone knows that Dale Steyn, Anderson and Philander are the best at this and frankly,if he were to start talking about them he'd have write an article ten times this length.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (February 7, 2013, 8:45 GMT)

It's funny to see all the praise for Starc now, as most Aussies I speak to still blame the selection of Starc and Johnson (who has an excellent record in Perth) over Siddle and Hilf for the 3rd test against SA for 'handing' the win to SA. No acknowledgement for how well SA played, just an 'automatic' win as Starc and Johnson played.

If I were a batsman walking out at the WACA I'd much rather be facing Hilf and Siddle than Johnson and Starc.

Posted by sean_kelly on (February 7, 2013, 8:40 GMT)

An article about swing without a single mention of the current master of it, one Dale Steyn, lacks credibility. Starc is a Johnny-come-lately. Steyn is the Master

Posted by Woestynvis on (February 7, 2013, 8:34 GMT)

Mark maybe you should change the name of the article to 'Can't get enough of the Starc'. Your clearly his biggest fan. I'm sure he's a good bowler with lots of potential but as many people have commented above, if you appreciate swing bowling then go watch the south africans do it. They get swing on all the pitches in the world which is why they are the number one side in the world. Where has Starc played his tests? All except one was in Australia. Let the boy go show his mettle in the sub continent and England before we start writing entire articles about his amazing swing and comparing him with the great bowlers mentioned above.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 8:33 GMT)

The only common denominator is the biased article and comment from the Australians. KALLIS IS THE GREATEST CRICKETER OF ALL TIME and people need to accept that. The SA trio have been doing damage the entire summer and the shud be called the SULTANS OF SWING..nuff said

Posted by TsoroM on (February 7, 2013, 8:27 GMT)

And here I was reading on and on, thinking I'll see at least one mention of Steyn and Anderson who have been swinging some of the better batsmen of our generation to the pavilion for a while now, but no all we hear about is Starc. No doubt he is a good young talent for Australia, but you just dont write about swing bowling and you forget to mention Dale and Jimmy.Other than that good writing.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 8:14 GMT)

Stop blabbering on about bias in his article, he obviously knows about the other teams. Fact is he's writing the article while watching an AUSTRALIAN match and in the past 5/6 days he's watched an AUSTRALIAN swing the ball. Sure he could have mentioned it... and then you would all have known what you already know and are complaining about. Stop being biased about your own teams and just appreciate writing for what it is.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 7:43 GMT)

Swing is an art and not magic.. There are enough replays shown to prove what makes the bowl swing and which direction it swings.. You just need to take an effort to check the releases and of a bowler who swings it out and the one who swings it in.. there you go and now just imitation and practice is needed :))

Posted by dariuscorny on (February 7, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

biased article,he never mentioned one name,kulsekara who demolished Aus with his accurate swing bowling,it seemed Aus had no clue how to handle kulasekara.Starc is a quality bowler no doubt certainly amongst overhyped cummins and pattinson.......

Posted by Sejoaa on (February 7, 2013, 7:20 GMT)

wow! talk about a blinkered view. obviously Steyn, Philander, Anderson are not good enough for Mr Nicholas' lofty Aussie standards.

Posted by OnlyTestsMatter on (February 7, 2013, 7:17 GMT)

gee mark, first sobers will always be better than kallis because he was more aesthetically pleasing to watch, and now only an australian is mentioned in an article where 3 out of the 4 performances mentioned were by the south african bowlers. and all 3 were way below the 75 benchmark you quoted. biased much?

Posted by pauliangenius on (February 7, 2013, 7:06 GMT)

Wasim Akram was the king of swing. Swinging the bowl is more magic than an art. When I bowled the first time, the bowl automatically swung away from the batsman. That day I found out i could bowl a big outswinger, but no inswinger because that is how my body is made to bowl. I cannot explain how i can bowl it, but i just run in and it swings. Overtime I have got control over it because I know even if I bowl with one arm tied behind my back, it WILL SWING !! Amazing isn't it??

Posted by Kirstenfan on (February 7, 2013, 7:05 GMT)

Garry Sobers as one of the 3 greatest ever left arm swing bowlers??? Oh please, stop with the over-the-top Sobers love, what were his stats compared to others?

Posted by Protears on (February 7, 2013, 6:47 GMT)

I would like to differentiate between limited overs cricket and test cricket. Alan Donald always talked about the difficulty of bowling swing in the limited game due to excessive and exagerating swing.

To swing or seam the ball with devistating effect in the longer game is more valuable whether conventional or reverse there is nothing more beautiful than watching a fast bowler run in and completely unsettle a batting line up by hitting the money.

I was surprised to see little mention of the team that did skittle Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan out for a song, needless to say demolish said teams and England in second innings on flatter wickets. Steyn and Philander have been the big reason for that.

Posted by neo-galactico on (February 7, 2013, 6:46 GMT)

I've been hearing a lot of the young Australian crop of fast bowlers, and they're impressive from what I've seen. Although most Australians rave a whole lot more about Pattinson I'm more partial to Starc he swings it more prodigiously than the other 2. And being a lefty gives him more of the X factor about him. Starc almost gives me the same feeling I get when Steyn starts his run up and that smooth action and the whoosh at 145kph is a joy to behold. Starc, Vern, Steyn, Anderson these guys are a treat on swing day.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 6:44 GMT)

Lets be fair to both Kallis and Sobers-both equally great as cricketers for different reasons.As a bowler Kallis at peak pace was genuinely fast over 150 at times in his early stint and swung the ball away.He gets genuine bounce from a good length and can change up as well as down in pace.He also batted at 3 and never used the new ball so had he been only a bowler,obviously his wicket haul would have been considerably larger.Add in the odi's and you have the ultimate cricketer.Sobers was amazing.A middle order bat and often given the new ball which he could swing and had a good bouncer in addition to his swing bowling.Both gentlemen,lets just enjoy their memories and appreciate watching a modern great like Kallis whilst he's still playing.

Posted by Clan_McLachlan on (February 7, 2013, 6:36 GMT)

Good article. Starc is very special, though he's got a lot to do to avoid being the next Mitchell Johnson. For some reason cricket isn't kind to left-arm quicks.

Still, without mention of Steyn, Anderson, and even Zaheer an article about contemporary swing bowlers comes across as rather one-eyed.

On Sobers: I never saw him play, but I heard Boycott describe his left arm pace as "banana swing" - didn't sound like the wicked late swing that the best get. I'm sure he was a good bowler, but 200-odd wickets at a ~34 average (or even 150-odd at an average in the mid twenties, which is what Boycott guessed his pace bowling got him, being a lot better than his spin) doesn't put him in the same class as Akram or Davidson or even Starc - it's a lot more comparable to Mitchell Johnson.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 6:34 GMT)

@Meety Wrong mate-Kallis as a bowler is every bit as good as Sobers if not better.Batting at 3 for a large chunk meant that he could never fully exploit his bowling talent.However he was a fast outswinger with a lethal change up bouncer.Before injury he was often over 150 and nowadays can still bowl over 140.At 38 years of age,having played hundreds of ODI's his achievements are monumental.Sobers was magnificent,an amazing no.6 bat and a highly talented left arm swing bowler with a fine bouncer as well as a variety of spin.His bowling figures are inferior to Kallis.Now imagine if Kallis was a specialist bowler armed with the new ball-he would have had over 500 wickets by now in tests.

Posted by TATTUs on (February 7, 2013, 6:25 GMT)

If you can include Sobers with the other 2 you can include Johnson Zaheer as well.

Akram and Davidson are class apart. Sobers comes way down as a left arm 'quick swing bowler'.

Posted by CricIndia208 on (February 7, 2013, 5:56 GMT)

Pakistan cannot play test quality bowling. They have been dismissed for sub 100 scores 5 times in the last 3 years, the most for a test playing nation. ICC should reconsider their test status.

Posted by smalishah84 on (February 7, 2013, 5:54 GMT)

Sorry mate but as a left arm bowler Garry Sobers is nowhere near the class of Wasim Akram or Alan Davidson. And as far as swing is concernded, Wasim is the king.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 5:51 GMT)

Not to be an extremist. But more I read these columns, more I think, what would happen if Vassy and Kula were Australian or English, event for that matter Indian. There will be songs written about them...:D Not to take anything away from Starc. He is all class.

Posted by Meety on (February 7, 2013, 5:50 GMT)

@Neal Sinclair - small point of order - but the common denominator was NOT Steyn & Phillander. The WIndies were routed by Starc & Oz by Kulasekara. @Josh1942 on (February 7, 2013, 5:24 GMT) - Kallis great player, great batting allrounder, great slipper, but his bowling is inferior to Sobers by a long shot. Bear in mind LBW laws in the 60s was tough on bowlers. Sobers S/Rate was comparable to the great Indian spin-quartet. == == == I tend to think that the White ball swings more than the red ball. IF Starc could ever replicate his White ball skills in a Test, (Ashes preferably), he will be a legend. Still learning his craft, he is MJs superior now, next step is getting on the same pedestal as Akram! I think he can, he is tracking very well!

Posted by Romanticstud on (February 7, 2013, 5:42 GMT)

If you look at it in Test matches the common denominator of Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in South Africa is less than 50 ... in the last 16 months ... 2 destroyers actually 3 if you include the 90-odd score by South Africa in the Cape-Town game with Australia ... Steyn, Philander and Watson ... what has become of the greats when they fall for ducks and low scores on a pitch that firstly Australia proved was OK for batting, then South Africa proved was superb for batting ... But having said that ... If a batsman can score a 100 ... in a match where the opposition scored less than half that what does that prove ... Take Smith and Amla in Cape Town against Australia ... De Villiers against Pakistan ... Surely it comes down to where you bowl the ball ... Slightly short of a length in the channel ... Caught behind in South Africa ... if the batsman prods at it ...

Posted by Integrity1 on (February 7, 2013, 5:38 GMT)

Steyn and Philander have bowled Australia out for 47, New Zealand for 45 and Pakistan for 49. This duo gets the cold shoulder in lieu of Mitchell Starc. What's next? Jacques Kallis overlooked as the greatest cricket player of all time or perhaps the best batsman of our generation... Oh wait!

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 5:31 GMT)

Didn't Australia get enough from Kulasekera?

Posted by Mitcher on (February 7, 2013, 5:28 GMT)

@Neal: Steyn and Philander are not the common denominator as they weren't 'common' to every event. That's where swing comes in. Just maybe the article focuses on Starc as that is the most recent low score and one that the author was present at. If anyone had the impression Starc bowled all these teams out then they probably didn't read the article to closely.

Posted by Josh1942 on (February 7, 2013, 5:24 GMT)

Sobers? Another uninformed knee jerk reaction. His record shows him to be a mediocre test bowler at best - be it his MEDIUM/FAST(not fast) or spin bowling. He could swing the ball but so could many others - more effectively. It is time the writers stop adding Sobers to everything and analyse results more closely.He was a great batsman and fielder and served the WI well as a stock bowler but by no stretch of the imagination can he be described as a strike bowler or in the very top level of bowlers. As others have pointed out Kallis is 50% as a bowler than Sobers ever was.

Posted by   on (February 7, 2013, 5:03 GMT)

Well written! If I were to nitpick, it is Guyanese, not Guyanan :-)

Posted by Pinarsh255 on (February 7, 2013, 4:04 GMT)

Beautifully written Mr Nicholas....swing is a delight to watch even in T20

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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