Seam and Swing Bowling

by D.G. Bradman, excerpt from "The Art of Cricket"

Despite the claims of well-meaning theorists (some of whom have even gone to the extent of writing newspaper articles on the subject) that a cricket ball cannot be made to change its direction in the air, any knowledgeable practical cricketer knows that it can.

The bowler who understands the mechanics of swing can make a new ball change its course in mid-air under practically any conditions. But give him favourable conditions and it is astonishing how far it will move on occasions.

For some reason which I do not profess to understand, a two-piece ball will swing ever so much more than a four-piece ball.

Very many years ago I played in a second-class game in which Australia's fast bowler Tim Wall opened the attack with a two-piece ball. He swung it so much that the game was a farce. Balls which started off towards the stumps finished up near the wide mark and batsmen were unable to make shots.

A conference was held and the ball changed to a four-piece one.

It is impossible to trace the precise discovery and development of swing. With underarm bowling it could not have been of any consequence and we may safely say that it played no part in cricket before the legalisation of overarm bowling in 1864. But I can't find out who discovered it.

There is little doubt great bowlers who played before 1900 such as Tom Richardson, Lohmann, Hirst, Spofforth, W.G.Grace and Ernest Jones swung the ball.

America's greatest cricketing son, Bart King of Philadelphia, confused the opposition with his swing bowling during his tours of England just after the beginning of the twentieth century.

We must remember that originally the laws of cricket only allowed a new ball at the start of each innings. Then came a change when a new ball could be claimed by the fielding side after 200 runs had been scored.

But possibly the thing which gave swing bowling its greatest impetus was the experimental change in 1946, which permitted a new ball after 55 overs (six ball).

Different tactics were adopted. Fast or medium-pace bowlers operated as long as they reasonably could, whereupon, the fielding captain often resorted to negative bowling and field placing with other bowlers until a new ball could be taken again.

The spin bowler, being relatively expensive in terms of runs per over, was used sparingly.

Under such circumstances a new ball was coming up regularly after little more than 100 runs. Indeed, many instances occurred where it was taken below 90.

The batsmen were virtually facing all the time a shiny ball which could swing, especially in England where climatic conditions do not impose the same wear and tear on the ball. No wonder the bowlers worked on swing at every turn.

I am sure this legislation was responsible to some extent for the development of leg-side defensive bowling. Bowlers found themselves able to move the ball across the batsman's body with their in-swingers and to restrict the rate of scoring.

In retrospect the experiment may be regarded as unwise and I have heard many people condemn it. But the rule was altered to encourage fast bowling which, many thought, was languishing.

The fast bowler, who had to be satisfied with one new ball in 200 runs in scorching dry heat at Adelaide when the turf was flint hard, not unreasonably thought that he was harshly treated compared with the slow bowler.

The experiment did encourage fast bowling, which returned and dominated cricket to a large extent.

But a feeling soon grew that the slow bowler was being pushed too far into the background.

Gradually the rule was relaxed, and within ten years of the commencement of the experiment, legislation tended to reverse the trend so that spin bowlers would be encouraged.

If the experiment did nothing else but pinpoint the relative virtues of fast and slow bowling, it will have been well worth while.

There is little doubt that a fixed number of overs is the right answer. The problem is to be sure how many overs in order to do justice to all types of bowling.

At the time of writing one of the greatest tragedies in cricket is the almost complete absence of slow leg-spin bowlers. There is more than one cause for this and without doubt limited over cricket must take a large share of the blame. Nevertheless it highlights the need to constantly review the situation and I believe a good case can be made out for legislating that a greater number of overs must be bowled before a new ball can be taken.

But getting back to swing itself. So many people have asked why a cricket ball will swing that I have decided to quote in full, at the conclusion of this section, a scientific explanation of the matter.

For this I am indebted to Dr R.A.Lyttleton, F.R.S., who dealt with the subject in a talk on the B.B.C.


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