Is reverse swing a black art? Well, not really!
Reverse swing has been the talk of the town for a very long time now. It continues to remain one of the biggest taboos in public light, not for its existence but for the despicable methods players have applied to achieve it. It’s an art, but the immoral ways executed to gain it has tainted its image in the eyes of public. Reverse swing is not everyone’s cup of tea, it requires a special set of skills altogether and needless to say, loads of hard work.
Reverse swing comes very handy in the sub-continent, where the surfaces are not very responsive to seamers. Pakistani bowlers from 1990s were widely reckoned to use this art with perfection. They could run through batting line-ups on docile surfaces and leave them bewildered. The likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Sarfraz Nawaz rendered reverse-swing bowling, a joy to behold.
First and foremost, let’s get to know what reverse swing actually is? For a cricket ball to reverse, it generally has to be at least 35-40 overs old and not to forget, menacing pace. This is also the phase when one side of the ball is shiny while the other side is rough. A bowler capable of reverse-swinging the ball will move the ball in opposite direction to conventional swing. In short, the ball will swing towards the shinier side, which is also the heavier side. It’s difficult for any bowler to master this art and very few manage to do so. For batsmen, it gets difficult to pick the shinier side, further making batting difficult.
Sarfraz Nawaz scalped 177 wickets in 55 games. His spell in Melbourne against Australia in 1979 was a great example of reverse-swing bowling. He picked nine wickets for 86, but seven of it came in 33 deliveries while leaking just a solitary run. The former Pakistani bowler spoke about how reverse-swing is an art and not cheating.
“This is ridiculous to say reverse swing is cheating. You can achieve reverse swing without tampering with the ball. There is a conventional swing which is done with the new ball and then there is reverse swing which is achieved with an old ball and it has been proved in laboratories that reverse swing is a scientific phenomenon, Sarfraz was quoted by AFP.
Nawaz also emphasised the fact that he passed on this pristine knowledge to Imran Khan, Akram and Waqar and how it became an art as soon as the Englishmen started practising it. “When I passed the art to Imran Khan he developed it and then taught Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and in those times everyone called it cheating but when the Englishmen started to reverse swing it became an art,” said Sarfraz.
During the recent Test series between South Africa and Australia, Steve Smith David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were found guilty for ball tampering and punished subsequently. Nawaz said, “It was and will remain an art, but resorting to tampering is cheating and that was what Australians did to beat South Africa and were deservedly punished. Conventional swing is simple — if the seam is angled toward the slip fielders it will swing away from the right-handed batsman, and if the seam is angled towards the leg side it will swing into the batsman,” explained Sarfraz. “Reverse swing is totally opposite.”
Even the ICC Code of Conduct deems ball tampering a lesser offence than racial abuse. It only warrants a one-match ban as Steven Smith was handed out after sandpaper gate became public. It is said that with the advent of social media, a small indiscretion on part of a player, which would have gone unnoticed in the years gone by is suddenly subjected to a draconian public trial.
While a lot of former players, who have been there and done it all are suddenly preceding over the matter as the ultimate moral authority. You would notice that all the current players were pretty lenient in their opinion on sandpaper gate. The attitude and the reaction of those presently involved confirm that ball-tampering is an accepted practice and not a taboo as the public might view it as.
If reverse-swing is an art, then ball-tampering is a paintbrush without which this art form, successfully mastered only by a few would seize to exist.