The Swing of a Cricket Ball

Since there have been many controversies over ball-tampering in international cricket, the subject of how a ball is made to swing has been of considerable interest. To give a clearer understanding of the swing-bowling phenomenon, I have transcribed a section from "The Art of Cricket" by Sir Donald Bradman, who was the most prolific batsman of all time. Pages 1-2 contain thoughts by The Don on the subject, and Pages 3-4 give a scientific explanation by Professor R.A.Lyttleton, F.R.S., a good friend of The Don, on the precise mechanics behind swing bowling. This was one of the first attempts at explaining why a cricket ball swings in such a way, and the fundamentals are more or less correct. More recent experimental studies that improved on Lyttleton's theoretical explanation have been carried out, and some references are listed below.

Related Web Link... James Foster's page entitled The Science of Swing describes forward and reverse swing with the help of diagrams.


In modern one-day cricket, a white ball is commonly used for easier viewing on the TV. The ball has a thin lacquer that is applied to its surface to avoid discolouring the ball as it gets knocked aeound during the innings. This seemingly minor change to the ball in fact provides a much greater swing than the good old conventional red ball. Why? The answers can be found in a couple of articles in The Guardian and BBC.

Bradman/Lyttleton article: Forward to Page 1

Jump to Page 1 2 3 4 , Figure 1 2 3


Below is an list of references related to cricket ball swing; thanks to Paul Glazier for passing on many of these references. Recommended articles and books are highlighted.

My strongest recommendation is Dr Brian Wilkins' book "Cricket: The Bowler's Art" which is now out of print, but might be available from some online bookstores.
If anyone has additional references, please mail me.

Barrett, R.S. and Wood, D.H. (1996). The theory and practice of reverse swing. Sports Coach, 18, 28-30.

Bartlett, R.M., Stockill, N.P., Elliott, B.C. and Burnett, A.F. (1996). The biomechanics of fast bowling in men's cricket: A review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 14, 403-424.

Barton, N.G. (1982). On the swing of a cricket ball in flight.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A, 379, 109-131.

Binnie, A.M. (1976). The effect of humidity on the swing of cricket balls. International Journal of Mechanical Science, 18, 497-499.

Bowen, L.O. (1995). Torque and force measurements on a cricket ball and the influence of atmospheric conditions. Transactions of Mechanical Engineering, Vol. 20, No. 1. 15-20. Australia: Institution of Engineers.

Bown, W. and Mehta, R.D. (1993). The seamy side of swing bowling.
New Scientist, 139, 21-24.

Bradman, D. G. (1958). The Art of Cricket. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Now on CD-ROM (ETT Imprint, Sydney 1998). The classic textbook on cricket by the master batsman himself, recently re-published in 1998. The Lyttleton article on these Web pages is lifted from this book, with permission.

Cooke, J.C. (1955). The boundary layer and seam bowling. Mathematical Gazette, 39, 196-199.

Grant, C., Anderson, A. and Anderson, J.M. (1998). Cricket ball swing: the Cooke-Lyttleton theory revisited. In The Engineering of Sport: Design and Development (edited by S.J. Haake), pp. 371-378. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science.

Horlock, J.H. (1973). The swing of a cricket ball. In Mechanics and Sport (edited by J.L. Bleustein), pp. 293-303. New York: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Lewis, A.P. (1993). Reverse swing. The Cricketer, 74 (5), 20-22.

Lyttleton, R.A. (1957). The swing of a cricket ball. Discovery, 18, 186-191.

Mehta, R.D. (1985). Aerodynamics of sports balls. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 17, 151-189.

Mehta, R.D. (2000). Cricket ball aerodynamics: myth versus science. In The Engineering of Sport: Research, Development and Innovation (edited by A.J. Subic and S.J. Haake), pp. 153-167. Oxford: Blackwell Science.

Mehta, R.D. and Wood, D.H. (1980). Aerodynamics of the cricket ball.
New Scientist, 87, 442-447.

Mehta, R.D., Bentley, K., Proudlove, M. and Varty, P. (1983). Factors affecting cricket ball swing. Nature, 303, 787-788.

Penrose, J.M.T., Hose, D.R. and Trowbridge, E.A. (1996). Cricket ball swing: a preliminary analysis using computational fluid dynamics. In Engineering of Sport (edited by S.J. Haake), pp. 11-19. Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema.

Sayers, A.T. and Hill, A. (1999). Aerodynamics of a cricket ball. Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics, 79, 169-182.

Sherwin, K. and Sproston, J.L. (1982). Aerodynamics of a cricket ball. International Journal of Mechanical Education, 10, 71-79.

Wilkins, B. (1991). The Bowler's Art: Understanding Spin, Swing and Swerve. London: A & C Black.

Wilkins, B. (1997). Cricket: The Bowler's Art. Australia: Kangaroo Press.
A comprehensive book that begins with a brief history of bowling in cricket, followed by the art and science of swing bowling. Many common myths are shattered along the way, with the help of Wilkins' wind tunnel experiments and state-of-the-art bowling machine. There is even a chapter on how tampering with the ball affects normal and reverse swing. The rest of the book deals with swerve and the nuances of spin bowling, plus many other aspects such as the bowling action and the all-important grip. A superb read.

Wilkins, B. (2000). The new semantics. The Cricketer, 81 (8), 16.

Wilkins, B. (2002). Rough with the smooth. The Cricketer, 83 (1), 46-47.

If anybody has any further references and/or thoughts, feel free to mail me.