2006-04-02

"Contrast Swing"

For all you Cricket lovers out there, a new discovery has been made about how cricket balls swing after being delivered.

The bad news is - the English cricket team knew about it last northern summer and it was instrumental in Australia losing the Ashes.

The good news is - the guy who
is the world expert in it is now employed by Cricket Australia to teach it to the Aussies.

As you know, "Swing" occurs when the ball's line shifts as it travels down the pitch. By polishing one side of the ball, and adding sweat and saliva to that polished side, while leaving the other side scuffed and worn, allows the ball's flight to change. This knowledge has been around for over 100 years, and has been instrumental in the armoury of bowlers.

About 10-15 years ago, "Reverse Swing" was discovered - mainly by Pakistani bowlers Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. This discovery showed that balls that were sufficiently aged (that is, around half-way to being replaced by a new ball) could actually swing the other direction to what the batsmen could discern.

Now there is "Contrast Swing". Whoever thought up the name should be shot, but it appears to be a deadly new development for bowlers and may, in fact, shift the balance away from the batsmen dominating the game.

Essentially, contrast swing is the discovery that balls delivered at between 105-115 kph will swing to the opposite direction of balls that are delivered at speeds faster than 115 kph. What this means is that the bowler, simply through varying his pace and not through any change of action at all, can cause the ball to swing the opposite direction. The bowler comes in, delivers an outswinger at 119kph, and then bowls an inswinger at 113kph the next ball - and all without changing his grip, his approach or his line. To the batsman, the second ball appears to be another outswinger, but swings in instead.

England used it against Australia during the Ashes series, with Simon Jones and Andy Flintoff especially effective. In the latest England v India test, Matthew Hoggard was able to take wickets using contrast swing, giving England victory.

The guy who is expert in contrast swing is the former Tasmanian bowler Troy Cooley. Cooley played 33 matches for Tasmania and took 54 wickets at the incredibly poor average of 61.35. For some reason, this very unsucessful bowler got himself involved in coaching and, after learning the secrets and the science of contrast swing, was employed by the English team as its bowling coach.

This is an exciting development from my pov. Most of the technological developments in cricket during the past 30 years have helped the batsmen: better manufactured bats with high-tech sweet spots; better pitch and outfield preparation; better helmet and pad design and so on. This has resulted in batsmen with inflated averages and bowlers whose job merely seems to be glorified pie throwers.

Cooley's job will be to teach and train the younger generation of Australian pace bowlers as well as offer advice and assistance to the current crop.

Imagine if Glenn McGrath was able to improve his performaces with contrast swing!

See the SMH article that this was reported on here.


7 comments:

CraigS said...

That is pretty amazing - It's very surprising that medium pace bowlers haven't noticed this before.

One Salient Oversight said...

Apparently there is ammple footage from Test and other matches going back years - contrast swing has always been there. The problem was that no one could explain it adequately - they just thought it was a "one off" unexplainable event.

CraigS said...

I'm surprised you haven't created a wikipedia article for it yet

apodeictic said...

To craigs' comment about medium pacers I also add consideration of young fast bowlers to the mix.

Why wasn't this noticed when kids are at an age where the 105-115 km/h range is their fastest delivery bowled? Obviously the younger kids playing the game can't achieve the same kind of delivery speed as adults. Yet to achieve an outswinger they would have been taught to hold the ball the same way as faster adults.

Why didn't someone notice that following the conventional wisdom resulted in the ball swinging the "wrong" way for young fast bowlers -- that their attempted outswinger reulted in an inswinger? If "contrast swing" really is true then then I'm surprised it's taken this long to discover. Or are bowlers at that age not even trying to swing the ball? Perhaps there is some other explanation (such as the use of 2 piece or even composite balls at that level of cricket)?

One Salient Oversight said...

I think that young bowlers are still being taught the basics of line and length and are yet to develop the ability to swing the ball effectively.

If you look at the slo-mo replays of deliveries by Glenn McGrath, Andy Flintoff and others, you'll see that they are able to deliver balls where the seam is completely upright before it hits the pitch. But even these guys struggle to maintain such deliveries over after over.

I'm not the world's foremost expert of swing bowling, but I'm fairly certain that a crucial element is the position of the ball in the air after it leaves the bowlers hand and before it hits the pitch.

Given this fact, I would be very surprised if young bowlers are able to maintain such an effect - hence the lack of major evidence at that level of cricket to contrast swing.

And as someone who has returned to playing club cricket after 20 years, I can maintain that most bowlers at that level cannot swing the ball much, if at all (and these guys are adults)

CraigS said...

Yeah, the seam has to be upright for it to swing...

CraigS said...

Did some reading and the seam has to be angled slightly rather than fully upright - but must still maintain position during flight.