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Accidental or intentional, departures from the norm often aid the evolution of a sport. Five writers pick their top innovations in cricket
February 25, 2013
Overarm bowlingJarrod Kimber
No one flighted them like the lobster.
The lobster, or Digby Jephson as his mother named him, got more flight than Ramesh Powar, Nathan Lyon and Holly Colvin combined. His first-class bowling average was 25. He took a hat-trick against Middlesex, once took 77 wickets in a season, and his best figures were 7 for 51 against Gloucestershire.
The lobster did all this while being RUA: right underarm.
While in modern terms underarm bowling is generally associated with Australian arrogance and one family not being welcome in New Zealand, it is actually far more important to cricket.
Underarm bowling was the original bowling. While the lobster might have been one of the last first-class lobbers of underarm deliveries, until cricket came of age, it was just how people bowled. It was perfectly acceptable to lob a ball over a batsman's head to get him out. It was a different kind of sport back then.
Of course underarm bowling was kind of rubbish. Okay to your three-year-old nephew, but not really a demanding athletic endeavour that would captivate millions of people, like Wes Hall in full flight did. So bowlers tried to change it. The story goes (you weren't there, you don't know it's not true) that John Willes started bowling roundarm when he saw his sister Christina do it because her dress wouldn't allow her to bowl underarm.
Either way, bowling roundarm caused Wiles so much trouble that he quit cricket and apparently rode off into the sunset, never to play again, after being repeatedly no-balled. Cricket then did what cricket does - protect batsmen at all costs and generally make the ignorant conservative reaction first. A law banning roundarm bowling was brought in.
It wasn't until 1835 that roundarm bowling became legal in cricket, and overarm bowling was born in 1864, only 13 years before the first-ever Test.
But what if they hadn't allowed roundarm or overarm bowling?
What would cricket be?
It would be treated in much the same way polo, croquet and fox hunting are. As a weird sport of the English elite. The best athletes would have gone to other sports. It would barely be a sport at all, more an eccentric novelty.
There would have been no Ashes, no reason for the ICC to ever exist, and the English language would be poorer. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh would never have been swept up in leg glances and doosras. Don Bradman would have been a grumpy accountant, not a symbol of Australian pride. The West Indies would never have come together as one.
The world would essentially be cricketless without the invention of overarm bowling.
Sure, occasionally you'd pick up an American sweater catalogue and see men in white cable-knit jumpers lobbing the ball, and yes the illuminati would play it as they plotted a global government. But the cricket we know wouldn't exist without overarm bowling. It wouldn't be exciting, no cricket administracrat would call it a product, and no shady bookmakers would be taking bets on it. This website would not exist without overarm bowling.
It is the single most important thing that has ever happened to cricket, and it is not overly surprising that the cricket officials tried to stop it.
The lobster retired in 1904. Underarm bowling was finished (Trevor Chappell aside) shortly after World War I. By then, overarm bowling had turned a novelty game into one of the greatest sports ever invented. You can thank English dressmakers, frustrated bowlers, and those who believed the game they loved could get better.
We lost the lobster, but we gained an obsession.
There was nothing new under the sun - until the doosra came along, that is.
I love the doosra, don't you? For a start, it's such a sweet word in Urdu. Forget the drabness of its English translation, or that Moin Khan, a miniature cricketer with a major's manner, made it famous. The "second one" or the "other one", forget that. Urdu is a poet's language for good reasons. Words have meanings, moods, mystery, and sometimes magic. In the world of cricket, the doosra is all these and more; it is a tipping point, a little thing that made a big difference.
Think on it for moment. Cricket is invented in the 16th century and over the next 400 years is carried to all corners of the world by the sailing ships of the British empire. It is played by Europeans, Asians, Africans, Caribbeans - even Americans. The game develops, styles change, but there is nothing new under the sun - until, that is, a quiet bespectacled fellow from Pakistan's capital of culture produces something utterly original.
Reverse swing, switch hit, leg glance - all variations on a theme. The googly? Not for me; the line of the wrong'un can undo the deceit of the hand. The greatest practitioner of legspin's art, Shane Warne, perhaps the greatest bowler ever, wasn't able to bowl it reliably. How important can it be? Bosanquet's Bosie, you see, never turned cricket's world inside out like the doosra, Saqlain Mushtaq's genius invention.
Offspinners were valuable before wickets were covered, firing in a ball to make it spit and slide on a greasy deck or exploiting decay and footholds on tracks that resembled the lunar surface. Covers and better wicket preparation did for much of that. Offspin became a skill reserved for the final innings of a Test match, or a negative ploy in limited-overs cricket. Once Warne beguiled the world, offspin further resembled a moribund trade, offering little to excite in the way of mystery or surprise. Muttiah Muralitharan, the world champion of offspin's art, was readily dismissed as a freak and a cheat.
Along came the doosra, spinning the other way and changing the course of cricket history. You see, the doosra jumped into the storm blowing around bowling actions, in which another Pakistani, our loose-jointed fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib Akhtar, was a protagonist. Chucking was the scourge of modern international cricket, one that umpires and authorities were unable to quell. Almost every international bowler who attempted a doosra earned a ban and an ICC investigation.
The ICC began a review of bowling actions. A study filmed the world's top bowlers, reassessed past cases, and sought to bring clarity to a complex area. The upshot was that the current bowling laws were unworkable. Some of the world's greatest bowlers, past and present, whose bowling actions had never been questioned, turned out to be chuckers. The problem didn't lie, for the most part, with the bowlers. The problem was the Laws, which had been written for the uniformity of machines not the natural biological variations of humans.
The law changed. One rule for all, 15 degrees of bend in the bowling arm, the level at which the human eye can detect a throw. Fair as you get. The doosra, in large part, did this, revolutionising an ancient law of cricket. It saved Murali, allowing the world to savour his record-breaking career. It saved offspin bowling, now a revived attacking art in all of cricket's forms. It filled the minds of the world's best batsmen with dread from the most innocuous-looking deliveries; what could be more fascinating? It brought great joy to the world's cricket public.
And, perhaps above all for supporters of Pakistan cricket and cricket lovers generally, it brought us the magic of Saeed Ajmal - a little thing that makes a big difference.
Kamran Abbasi is the editor of the British Medical Journal
Reverse swingSidharth Monga
It may not have been the most accurate story ever told, but Fire In Babylon provided a fitting soundtrack for fast bowling: reggae. You can imagine Michael Holding running in as a bass guitar plays; joyously keyboard and drums join in as whispering death sneaks up on the umpire; then as Holding lets go, Bob Marley goes, "Could You Be Loved?" Could you ever?
Reverse swing, though, deserves a soundtrack of its own.
Try this. Thursday evenings in Lahore, at the tomb of Baba Jamal Shah, plays Pappu Saeen. Bearded, long-haired, beating with sticks - one straight, one crooked - the only instrument, the dhol. No slips, gullies or short legs required here, you see. The dervishes around him are all in a trance. In the right mood, it is all a trippy whirl; something not to explain but merely enjoy. A bit like what seems to be a low full toss but changes its mind three-quarters of its journey through and suddenly dips and darts and makes a possessed charge towards batsmen's toes.
Still, in the modern world, where viewers sight the seam better than batsmen, everything must be explained and traced. The explanation is now not as mystical as it once was. When the ball gets old, provided it is kept well, so as to get one half of it shinier and moister than the other, it inverts the traditional mechanics of swing and begins to go with the shine when bowled at the right pace. This swing, though, happens late, thus seems more pronounced, and gives batsmen little time to make adjustments. It is all the more difficult for a new batsman or a tailender to face, which explains the staggering number of dramatic collapses in Tests in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Reverse swing involves so much meticulous devotion it is almost worship. You bounce the wrong side on the grass, and the rough side might lose its roughness. You place a sweaty palm on the ball and you can kiss reverse swing goodbye. Saqlain Mushtaq was made to alter his action because he used to rub the ball in a manner that would soften the rough side. Alastair Cook is given sole rights to look after the ball because he is reptilian when it comes to sweating. Everything, from what might look like innocuous bouncers to throws into the practice pitches, is deliberate.
To trace the evolution of reverse swing is much more difficult. Well before Sarfraz Nawaz made it famous, well before it was given a name, possibly well before it was considered a distinct phenomenon that merited a name, reverse swing was practised in the mohallas and maidans of Pakistan. Sikander Bakht, born in 1957, told Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2004 that he reversed it as a schoolboy.
Even in Australia there have been ancient mentions of reverse swing. Imran Khan, who was legendarily handed the art by Sarfraz, also credits Max Walker, who in turn credits Alan Connolly, a Victorian who played 29 Tests for Australia. Connolly was an old-fashioned quick who wanted to run in as hard and bowl as fast as he could, but he found little assistance from the pebbly MCG pitch of the 1960s. He is believed to have borrowed from baseball's bad-old spitball the idea of loading one side of the ball up with "perspiration and saliva".
Walker says he was taught the art by Connolly in 1973. About a couple of years earlier, a man known even less than Connolly was handing down similar tricks to Sarfraz. Farrukh Ahmed Khan - 20 wickets from nine first-class matches - might not have invented or discovered reverse swing but his association with Sarfraz remains a turning point. "I was in the nets one day," Sarfraz told Wisden Asia Cricket. "And he told me how, if the ball gets rough and old enough on one side while remaining fairly new on the other, bowlers could generate extravagant late swing with it. He didn't know why, he just did it." In about 1974, Sarfraz started sharing the art with Imran.
It was only in the late 1970s and 1980s, though, that reverse swing began to be used consistently - allowance needs to be made here for matches not being so assiduously analysed back then as they are now. Imran tormented India in Karachi in 1982-83, stunning them with bursts of five wickets for three runs and three wickets for none in the same innings, after India had been 102 for 1 at tea. The image of Gundappa Viswanath shouldering arms to what looks like a harmless wide delivery only to see his off stump knocked back is the stuff of legend.
Before that came Sarfraz's show at the MCG - seven wickets for one run in the space of 33 deliveries - to skittle Australia's chase of 382 after they had been 305 for 3, but the Wisden report doesn't mention the word "reverse".
The world at large might have been ignorant of reverse swing for a long time, but the new sultans of swing, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, made sure it couldn't look the other way in the late 1980s and the early '90s. Starting with the series against New Zealand in 1990-91, series after series featured Wasim, Waqar and batting collapses unheard of. Teams would be going swimmingly at about 40 overs for the loss of one or two wickets, and then disintegrate spectacularly. Wasim took two hat-tricks in Sharjah, and once took four wickets in five balls against West Indies.
Reverse swing didn't quite do for fast bowling what Shane Warne, Anil Kumble and Abdul Qadir did for legspin - it didn't need a renaissance - but introduced a whole new branch, which can be regarded as a different art in its own right. Toes became the new throat, opening the batting became easier than being in the middle order, the old ball became the new new ball. Fielders became redundant and umpiring easier, as there was no bounce to judge. Fifty-seven per cent of Waqar's Test victims were either bowled or lbw; Wasim's 53% wasn't much less staggering.
The initial reaction to all this was of suspicion, and perhaps further ignorance. Lawsuits have been filed, dirt has been carried in pockets, a Test has been called off, bottle caps have been credited, lozenges have been thought of as cricketing equipment… Whether the ball used to be tampered with or not, whether Pakistan alone did it or not, we will never know, but it will be pointed out - not without merit - that it all became kosher when Zaheer Khan and James Anderson and Brett Lee began to do it too.
No one will argue against the excitement reverse swing brought into Test cricket in Asia, especially Pakistan. India's response to lifeless pitches had been to create dirt tracks and unleash their four spinners, but Pakistan - somehow their side of Punjab has produced more fast bowlers than the whole of India put together - took the pitch out of the equation. Nine out of 13, and ten out of 14 Tests were drawn in Pakistan in the 1960s and '70s respectively. In the '80s and '90s, the draw rate fell to 24 out of 43 and 13 out of 34. A cure had been found for parched and unhelpful pitches, and obstinate and newly armoured tailenders. It was done swiftly, spectacularly and without violence - unless you count a broken toe here or there.
Apart from this huge impact on Test cricket in Asia, what set reverse swing apart was that it was born not out of adventure or accident but sheer necessity. It was more life support than an accessory, a matter of survival for poor fast bowlers in conditions adverse both underfoot and overhead. Not only have they survived, they have left us in a trance while doing so. Try watching a collection of Waqar's Yorkers to the sound of Pappu Saeen's dhol.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
The switch hitAyaz Memon
Having agonised for a few weeks on how to start this piece, I finally decided on an experiential approach: I pulled out a bat stored in the old coffin for a long, long time, stood in front of a full-length mirror and tried the switch hit.
When pushing 58, admittedly the body is not what it used to be when the reflexes were sharper, the muscles and bones could support sudden swivels and turns, the wrists and forearms were strong enough to wield the bat vertically or horizontally to drive, cut, pull and plunder.
What surprised me, however, was that even getting halfway into position for the switch hit was a challenge - even in a mock drill. When the feet moved, the change of grip was sluggish; when the grip switch seemed perfect, the foot movements lagged behind terribly, leaving me in a grotesque tangle.
Age spares none, as all of us learn to our chagrin at some time. But the difficulty of playing this shot - at whatever age - comes through clearly. Try it. To become a left-hander from a right-hander (or vice versa), get into position to play an attacking shot against a ball delivered at speeds ranging from 45 to 130mph in just a fraction of a second is a work of complex biomechanics, skill, strength and, above all, great derring-do.
The switch hit is not only about reflexes, muscular coordination and power, rather more about intent and ambition. This can sometimes be mistaken for showmanship. But every innovation, at its core, is about transcending convention. As in all such endeavours, this can put prevailing legalities under duress.
When Kevin Pietersen exhibited this shot against New Zealand in an ODI in 2008, there was shock and awe: shock that a batsman dared to challenge the canons of cricket, awe that he could execute it so brilliantly.
Those feelings gave rise to consternation and furore as the repercussions of the switch hit were discussed and debated in dressing rooms, drawing rooms, newsrooms, long rooms - not to mention the hallowed committee room of the Marylebone Cricket Club, where matters of law are decided.
Was it right for the game or did it violate its very fabric? The MCC ruled in favour of the shot - and rightly so, I believe.
Those opposed to it argue that the switch hit is grossly unfair to the bowler. This is not without basis, admittedly. A bowler is required by law to inform whether he is bowling over or round the wicket, and which arm he will be using.
Unlike in the reverse sweep, the grip changes in the switch hit and can make field placings superfluous, but the bowler receives no advance notice of this. Moreover, what if a right-hand batsman attempting a switch hit misses a delivery that would have hit the stumps even though it pitched outside leg? Should the benefit of a leg-before decision not accrue to the bowler in this case?
The case, however, is not open and shut, but has stimulating layers of grey. My position, in favour of the switch hit, stems from the belief that improvisations are a necessary part of life - not just sport - and must not be drowned out by dogma. Moreover, Test cricket, more than any other, needs to look agreeably at innovations that will engage fans.
|The switch hit can possibly become the defining characteristic of the bionic batsman of the 21st century|
The conformist approach overlooks some vital matters germane to the contest between bat and ball. Foremost here is the notion that laws in any case are ranged in favour of batsmen, so allowing the switch hit makes it far worse for the bowler.
From an existential point of view, the batsman is alone in grim battle against 11 predators. True, he has the non-striker at the other end, but when he is facing a delivery, he is isolated in his quest for survival, while the bowler has several allies in getting him out.
And frankly, there are several other factors that have stymied bowlers more than the switch hit. The two-bouncers-per-over rule, for instance, has defanged fast bowlers; short, 60-65 yard boundaries have made spinners rueful, as even mishits sail over the fence; and field restrictions have made the contest even more lopsided.
The switch hit, in contrast, gives bowlers more than an equal chance. It is not a percentage shot. In fact, it is fraught with great risk. Like the hook, the switch hit is an expression of a batsman's ego and relies on daring. It is entirely premeditated, often reckless. From a bowler's point of view, this is how they would like batsmen to be.
There are other aspects, too, that make the switch hit relevant in the modern era. A 7-2 on-side field (for a right-hander) would not only make run-scoring difficult, but also impact the rhythm of play so much as to drive away spectators.
The switch hit is no less radical than the leg glance, though not as highly nuanced, obviously. The glance added an extraordinary dimension to batting technique for the 20th century; the switch hit can possibly become the defining characteristic of the bionic batsman of the 21st.
It is a breathless mixture of courage, free-spiritedness and improvisation. A batsman steps out of his comfort zone to step up the ante, and forces the others on the field to do so as well. It may work spectacularly and it may also fail. This adds immeasurably to the thrill of the sport.
And as long as the spirit of the game is not disturbed, this can only be for the good.
Ayaz Memon has written on cricket for over 20 years, during which time he has covered a number of tours and six World Cups
Next week: Sidharth Monga on reverse swing
The leg glanceGideon Haigh
Cricket is played on an oval field in which there are no restricted areas or foul zones. Yet for a long time, it was almost as though there were. Through the 19th century, as cricket converged on modernity, with the advent of first-class competitions and Test matches, it was largely an off-side game.
More reliable pitches and improving techniques made stumps harder to hit; the development of an amateur aesthetic that emphasised the drives as cricket's strokes of distinction led in the 1880s to the détente of "off theory".
In Max Bonnell's new biography, he describes JJ Ferris' match-winning bowling at Lord's in 1888: eight wickets in 44 overs for 45 runs with only two leg-side fielders, at mid-on and long-on. It indicates, as Bonnell observes, "phenomenal control"; what it doesn't suggest is enormous initiative on the part of the batsmen.
Partly this was native English constipation. As a schoolboy at Repton at the time, CB Fry was told that "if one hit the ball in an unexpected direction on the on side, intentionally or otherwise, one apologised to the bowler… The opposing captain never, by any chance, put a fieldsman there; he expected you to drive on the off side like a gentleman."
And while Australians were not quite so hidebound, they had their own inhibitions, as Monty Noble recalled: "When I first wielded a bat it was considered distinctly bad cricket to pull on the on-side, where there were no fieldsmen, a ball pitched outside the off stump or on the wicket. It had, forsooth, to be played in the regular and approved manner either straight or to the off-side where there were nine and often ten obliging fielders waiting to gather it in. The batsman was supposed to wait until the bowler lost his accuracy and direction and at length pitched one outside the leg stump before it was polite to dispatch it for four to where no fieldsman lurked."
Change came at last with cricket's Golden Age - roughly the two decades preceding World War I. Noble ascribed the popularisation of the hook and the pull to his great contemporaries Victor Trumper and Clem Hill: "I can remember how a few bold spirits in Australia defied convention and, caring little whether it was considered good or bad play, provided the score was increased, developed the stroke which proved so prolific from a run-getting point of view. Soon their methods were adopted by others and in a few years the stroke outgrew all prejudice."
But the foremost innovator was a soi-disant Indian prince, Ranjitsinhji, with an uncanny facility for leg-side play. Like many of the best innovations, the leg glance was arrived at by accident. To curb Ranji's tendency to back away from the ball, his coach at Cambridge University, a local professional called Dan Hayward, nailed his back boot to the crease. Ranji still moved his front foot towards the off, but discovered an aptitude for flicking the ball wristily to the on side, which, in games, was largely untenanted. In 1893, Ranji, and the leg glance, debuted in first-class cricket, with immediate effect.
The writer JN Pentelow described watching Ranji with a taciturn farmer from the Fens, who was finally overwhelmed with wonderment: "Whoy, he only tooch it and it go to th' boundary!" Pretty soon the sentiment was widespread.
By 1896, Ranji was a popular choice in the English Test XI, with his signature stroke achieving a kind of individual celebrity, described by one observer as like "a shell from a seven-pounder - Immense! Audacious! Unstoppable!"
|"The pace already imparted to the ball by the bowler is helped on and added to by a flick of the bat, executed either with the wrist or some movement of the arms. Consequently, the faster the bowler the easier it is to make hard cuts and glances" Ranji|
By 1897, with the assistance of his friend Fry, Ranji was a bestselling author. The Jubilee Book of Cricket was both a hugely successful popular treatise and an outstanding act of imperial fealty, dedicated as it was "by gracious permission to Her Majesty The Queen Empress". Ranji's biographers infer that much of his motivation was self-promotional, to win British patronage for his claim to the throne of his Indian state, which he finally achieved when he became Jam Sahib of Nawanagar in 1906. In the process, though, he turned the batting accident on its head, opening up quadrants of the field never previously explored, changing bowling and captaincy by extension.
The Jubilee Book of Cricket contains diagrams of 15 recommended fields for bowlers of various types: only one, for lob bowlers, contains more than three leg-side fielders and most feature only one or two. In effect it was Ranji who more than any other individual rendered this section of his book obsolete, forcing opponents to distribute their forces more evenly.
Harry Altham looked back on Ranji in his canonical The History of Cricket (1926) as having "orientated afresh the setting of the cricket field"; by then some bowlers had even reversed the game's old polarities altogether by indulging in "leg theory".
More generally, Ranji's methods suggested a whole new way of making runs, harnessing the pace of the bowler in his own overthrow. "The pace already imparted to the ball by the bowler is helped on and added to by a flick of the bat, executed either with the wrist or some movement of the arms," Ranji explained. "Consequently, the faster the bowler the easier it is to make hard cuts and glances."
A subtle appreciation by the distinguished liberal journalist Alfred George Gardiner of the Daily News put it in succinct perspective: "If the supreme art is to achieve the maximum result with the minimum expenditure of effort, the Jam Sahib, as a batsman, is in a class by himself… The typical batsman performs a series of intricate evolutions in playing the ball; the Jam Sahib flicks his wrist and the ball bounds to the ropes. It is not jugglery, or magic; it is simply the perfect economy of means to an end."
An intriguing sub-theme is how Ranji's exoticism contributed to his success. Ranji courted the embedded racism and conservatism of this period of Victorian and Edwardian England; but as a privileged outsider he also probably enjoyed greater licence to play according to his own lights. In doing so, he moved not just gay amateur blades but tradesman-like professionals such as Hayward's roundhead brother Tom. "We had got into a groove," Hayward wrote in his primer Cricket (1907), "out of which the daring of a revolutionary alone could move us. The Indian Prince has proven himself an innovator. He recognises no teaching which is not progressive, and frankly he has tilted, by his play, at our stereotyped creations." Those sterotyped creations were never the same again.
Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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