Thursday, November 29, 2012

Swing Bowling

In most top class cricket teams today there is at least one swing bowler, one who can move or “swing” the ball from its initial line in the air, producing a difficult situation for the batsman, both from a scoring point of view and also just to survive at the crease.

One of the earliest exponents of swing bowling was the great Australian pace-man Frederick “The Demon” Spofforth (1853 – 1926), who began his spectacular Test career in 1877 at express pace, but later switched to variation in his bowling, including a mean in-swinger that produced plenty of wickets. 

Frederick Spofforth (1853 to 1926)
Test bowler for Australia - known as "The Demon"
(Image form Wikipedia Commons)

Known as “swerve” in the 19th century, it was further developed over the years and is now recognized as one of the main weapons in the arsenal of the fast medium bowler. The English quick James Anderson is recognized as one of the great swing bowlers of the present time.

Swing bowling is very much an art, and is produced through several different factors, including the way the ball is held on delivery, the nature of the shine on the ball, and perhaps a little more surprisingly, the weather.

English fast bowler James Anderson - a noted swing bowler
(Image form Wikipedia Commons)

Bowling a swinger basically depends on the position of the seam on the ball through the delivery and this results in one side travelling through the air faster than the other. This is encouraged by polishing one side of the ball and assisted by the prevailing atmospheric conditions such as temperature, humidity, cloud cover, together with wind speed and direction.

The denser the air, the more swing is encouraged, so cooler air is a more fertile swing environment than warmer air. Up until quite recent times it was also believed that high humidity helped in encouraging swing, but new research has revealed the rather surprising fact that cloud cover may be far more important. In bright sunlight hot air rises from the surface of the pitch, creating a turbulent environment for the ball to pass through, which reduces swing. In overcast conditions there is less rising air, less turbulence and more swing.

All this means that cool, overcast weather is best for swing bowling and the swing can also be magnified if there is some component of the wind blowing across the wicket in the same direction in which the ball is swinging.

These conditions are met with far more often in England than Australia where hot and sunny weather is the norm during the summer months, but on occasion good swing bowling weather can emerge here as well. In the southern capital cities of Australia, such as Adelaide, Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney, this can happen in a southerly airflow following a cold front, when temperatures fall and cloud cover increases.

One of the greatest exhibitions of swing bowling ever seen was by the Australian Bob Massie in the Second Test at Lords in England during the 1972 Ashes tour.

In cool and cloudy conditions, Massie, coming alternately over and around the wicket, bent the ball through the air so prodigiously that many of his deliveries were virtually unplayable and the English batting was routed. His figures over the two innings were 8/84 and 8/53, representing match figures of 16/137, the third best test match figures of all time.

Massie’s display was a convincing demonstration of the tremendous potency of swing bowling, achieved when the bowler is on song and the atmosphere is just right for the purpose.

Great footage of Massie’s bowling during this Test can be seen at

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