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Nothing is straight in the wobbly theory of swing

By Tony Lewis

21 June 1998

I HAVE had a confusing time at the Test. On the first day, someone, and I cannot remember who, said that the ball swings more at Lord's these days since the new Grand Stand has been in place. It was said to be the opinion of Mike Hunt, the groundsman.

Now if you are going to tell me that Hunt is no judge of swing bowling, I have to reveal that the theory that buildings can influence lateral movement of a cricket ball in flight came from the groundsman at Edgbaston, Steve Rouse, and he does know a lot about the subject because he was a useful left-arm practitioner of swing. Presumably the latest Lego blocks added to Warwickshire's impromptu structures have created a roundabout for Midlands thermals.

There are always theories about swing. I began asking questions with the firm conviction that swing is merely to do with one side of the ball being shiny and the other side matt. If propelled seam-upwards then the shiny side meets less air resistance than the other and so the ball may curve. I write 'may' because there are other factors, notably the quality of the ball and the action of the bowler. There are also grounds in particular weather conditions where swing appears to come easier.

An excellent opinion to gather was of England's former wicketkeeper, Bob Taylor. He said: ``I saw Mark Ealham and Dominic Cork trying to polish the ball on their white trousers. So I went to the dressing room and told them that leather can not be polished on polyester, which is the stuff modern whites are made of.'' He thought they should do the same as Angus Fraser, who carries a small piece of material on his belt. On Friday, Bob came to the ground with a couple of cotton squares only to learn that Angus uses his only to wipe his hands when they are perspiring.

A few seasons ago county cricketers looking for swing used to prefer a ball made by Dukes. They said that Readers were harder, with a different varnish, though Pakistanis quite liked Readers, which they believed were better for reverse swing. The current Test series is being played with Dukes.

We at Glamorgan in the early Sixties had a delightful member of the side, Billy Slade, who claimed he could actually smell a ball which would swing.

When I got to the man of the moment, Dominic Cork, who had bowled superb out-swing for a couple of days at Lord's, he was surprised by the theory that a building could influence his swing but he did think that there were cricket grounds where some conditions helped. The trees at Chesterfield, he thought, were an assistance, but the Lord's Grand Stand?

``My new grip and action is the reason I got the late swing. I have worked at keeping my fingers behind the ball at the moment of delivery. I think the palm of my bowling hand had got too far on top.''

Hand behind the ball, is, of course, the textbook advice but to do it requires hours of practice and perhaps a determination not to bowl too fast.

Terry Alderman was a fine example of a swing bowler who obeyed the ancient advice - get in close to the stumps at delivery, keep the fingers behind the ball, stay sideways, stay tall, plant the front foot firmly inwards and pivot to take the right side through and the body away from the centre of the pitch. A bowling action is precious; the best bowlers in the world are always fine-tuning.

A recent change of regulation has helped bowlers to get close to the stumps at delivery without running through on to the pitch and getting a warning: 4ft has become 5ft. Let me quote a bit of this 'Old Testament' regulation - ``The danger area on the pitch, which must be protected from damage by a bowler, shall be regarded by the umpire as the area contained by an imaginary line 5ft from the popping crease and parallel to it and within two imaginary and parallel lines drawn down the pitch from points on that line one foot on either side of the middle stump''.

The truth is that the umpires found they could not seriously enforce the 4ft rule and even now I guess they will be nodding through the bowlers even if they trespass beyond 5ft. They say it is the next stride of the follow-through which constitutes a serious roughing-up of the surface and an unfair help to those bowling from the other end. So young bowlers should be encouraged to get in close. Wicket-to-wicket bowling has always been the best.

Many other former international players offered theories about Lord's on Thursday and Friday. Then, back in my hotel on Friday evening, I weighed up the various evidence. Polyester, cotton squares, ball manufacture, ball aroma, techniques and the new Grand Stand - when Mrs Lewis returned from a day's shopping.

``Hot in Piccadilly Circus; you could feel the heat on the back of the neck and yet it felt like rain too. Thundery. I guess it was like standing in a bowl with all those buildings around. Must have been a good day for swing at Lord's, Was it?''

I slipped my notes under the newspaper and replied: ``Er. Not really. Dominic Cork got six for 119 but I think it was going through pretty straight.''

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Date-stamped : 21 Jun1998 - 07:11