Saturday, November 28, 2015
Updated: Tuesday, July 01, 2003
Reverse Swing


Lunch is over almost an hour ago on the opening day of the test mach. Spinners were able to restrict the batting side, however, yet to get a breakthrough. Thoughtful captain brings back his fast bowler on the attack and immediately gets the long awaited breakthrough. The ball uprooted both the off and middle stumps. Someone from the commentary box says it was a reverse swing but watching the slow motion replay on the TV screen, you are convinced that the ball was just like a full length in swinger which was cruising outside off before making inward turn to hit the stumps. In earlier spells, the bowler sure did delivered a few in swingers. Now you are confused, why not just call this particular delivery an in swinger instead? To make the matter worst, they sometimes refer out swinger also as being reverse swing. Sounds familiar? You are not alone, lots of die hard cricket fans all over the world find themselves lost when it comes to reverse swing. Well my friend, relax, it's probably not that hard to appreciate the term. I'll try to explain it here in plain terms. Hopefully, after reading, you might not be able to bowl a reverse swing but sure will know what the fuss is all about.

Let's start with the swing itself. A fast ball is supposed to go straight down the pitch after bowled. But sometimes it is deviated sideways from the normal straight path. If this deviation occurs before the ball is pitched (touching the ground), it is known as swing as opposed to the after-pitched deviation, called cutter. Cutters could easily be compared to off and leg spins for theoretical understanding from a spectator's stand point if one keeps in mind that the cutters are fast balls (mostly medium range). Unlike slow bowling, the swing is traditionally been described in relation to the batsmen instead of the bowler. That is, a delivery will be called in swinger as long as it swings towards the batsmen (off to leg direction) irrespective of the delivery arm (right or left). So as the out swinger which swings away (leg to off direction) from the batsmen. One might wonder about upswing and downswing, well, they (up-down swings, loop, flight) are weapons of slow bowlers. We wouldn't talk about it any further here. That reminds me of one simple fact that certain amount of speed (don't know the exact limits) is a pre-requisite to produce the swing whether normal or reverse.

Traditional swing is produced and controlled by the seam. It is brought about by the angulation of seam placement which works on airflow generated by the sheer speed. As the ball becomes older, the seam gets battered rendering the swing harder to produce. There kicks in the concept of reverse swing, creation of drastic swing with different method. The reverse swing is produced not by the seam but by the surface (differential roughness) of the ball. As the ball is played on, it's surface becomes rough. If the roughness is more or less similar on both sides of the seam, the reverse swing will not be produced. Similarly, a new ball also will not produce reverse swing. Now we know that, in order to produce reverse swing, we need one side (surface) of the ball much smoother than the other side. Bowlers and fielders start conditioning the ball very early on (fifth over or so) by selectively preserving smoothness to one side and allowing the other side to roughen up from normal wear and tear. It takes a long time (35 overs or more) of careful conditioning to create enough differential roughness on the ball for it to be ready for reverse swinging. That's why we don't see the reverse swing in the first forty overs or so with a new ball.

In traditional swing, we see in swing and out swing. In reverse swing, we also see in swing and out swing. In other words, the reverse swing is actually not reverse or opposite to anything; it is just another swing brought forth by different method. The seam in placed in certain way to get the normal swing, whereas the ball surface is placed in certain way to achieve reverse swing.

Now let's see how different swings affect the batsmen. In normal swing, the ball starts the swing very early on and continues throughout the flight. The batsmen sees the ball's path as being uniformly concave or convex, and therefore, can decide early on how to play it. In reverse swing, however, the swing kicks in much later on the flight. The ball follows a straight path more than half way before making a sudden and often surprise turn on it's flight. It is this surprise element that catches the batsmen off guard not to mention the magnitude of the turn itself. Being a late swing, the reverse swing has more potential in terms of effectiveness than it's traditional counterpart. Moreover, as the ball gets older the normal swing loses it's sharpness because of the battered seam. So the reverse swing comes in handy for the fast bowler to impart his dominance once again later in the innings.

Now we see that the reverse swing is more like a late swing than being the opposite of anything. I have yet to find a good reason for the prefix. I heard there are other ways of producing late swing by the fast bowlers but didn't have a chance to dig deeper. By then, you can shout watching the TV replays of late swing later in an innings "wow, it's the reverse swing!"