Innovation Zone

Late 1970s: Reverse-swing

Rob Smyth

Reverse-swing is cricket's irresistible force. Appropriately for such a murky subject, we cannot be entirely sure of its origins, beyond the fact that it was developed in Pakistan, possibly as far back as the Second World War, as a response to parched pitches. A little further down, its lineage is clearer: it was patented by Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz right - although Imran also credits Australian Max Walker for it - and mastered by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Hand in hand with the legspin renaissance, it revitalised cricket in the nineties.

Cricket's response to such an unknown science was first fear (allegations of ball-tampering), then ignorance (as seen in the dirt-in-the-pocket affair involving Michael Atherton). But as time has gone on, more has been understood about the mechanics of reverse-swing: pace and full length are prerequisites, as is a fast arm and a relative lack of height; additionally, a bone-dry outfield is also of help. As the name suggests, it reverses the norms of orthodox swing bowling: while one side of the ball is kept shiny, the other must be made as dry and rough as possible, which is why the old ball became such a deadly weapon. Beyond that, it's hard to explain, though some balls "go" better than others. Readers are the reverse-swinger's ball of choice.

Reverse-swing has also enabled bowlers to be entirely self-sufficient, needing no help from pitch or umpire (height is not a factor in lbw decisions that result from reverse-swinging yorkers). Both Wasim and Waqar have taken over half their Test wickets through bowleds and lbws. Ultimately reverse-swing has meant more collapses, more hat-tricks, and as Scyld Berry has pointed out more results: tailenders are simply not equipped to handle a ball boomeranging in at their toes.

A diagram of reverse swing by Rabi Mehta
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Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar Pakistan's pace trio all smiles
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Jacques Kallis is clean-bowled by a stunning Andrew Flintoff yorker
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Ashley Giles's stumps are destroyed by a yorker from Shoaib Akhtar as Pakistan close in on victory
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