Galle, Sri Lanka v Australia
Day 1, 4 August 2016
By Bernard Whimpress
I tuned into the game after lunch, Sri Lanka 3-160 or thereabouts, and Mitchell Starc into the attack for a spell bowling round the wicket.
Can you believe the commentators?
Well, you’re expected to.
They blather on about reverse swing when it’s nothing of the kind.
According to the dynamics of physics you have to be able to bowl above 140 kph to achieve this. Starc can do it but it’s not what he was doing.
His first delivery was a rip-snorter. A magnificent ball with a low arm aiming at off stump, cuttingaway and which went within millimetres of drawing an edge from the bat. No doubt he had similar intentions with some other deliveries but had not the same control.
In the nineteenth century in the days when cricket balls scarcely had seams worth mentioning, and these were well worn down because only a single ball was used for an entire innings, bowlers had to employ various crafts to extract a batsman on a good wicket.
Cut was one of these. A pace bowler cut his fingers down one side of the ball to produce deviation off the pitch. The great English fast bowler Tom Richardson was noted for his break-backs as was Australia’s Fred Spofforth. The term ‘break-backs’ gave way to off-cutters and among other bowlers to employ the delivery at lesser pace were the Australian trio of Charlie Turner, George Giffen and Monty Noble.
The off-cutter was produced by sliding the fingers down the outside of the ball while the opposite effect (a leg-cutter) resulted from fingers cut down the inside of the ball. Exponents of the latter have included England medium-pacer Alec Bedser and even fast bowlers such as Dennis Lillee and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee late in their careers.
Left-arm pace bowlers have often employed what for them is a fast orthodox leg break by cuttingtheir fingers outside the ball. One has read of Ernie Toshack in a post-war Test against India proving unplayable and his contemporary Bill Johnston regularly dropping his pace to bowl quickish cutters.
Pakistan’s Wasim Akram opened a day’s play at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the 1990s bowling an over like this to Ian Healy. Healy was beaten five times in a row before being dismissed by the final ball.
The phrase, ‘It was wasted on thee’, came quickly to mind.
Starc’s tactic today reminded me of several occasions when Mitch Johnson dropped his arm to bowl fast leg-cutters, once in an SCG Test against South Africa when he knocked over the tail to win the match. Johnson, of course, may have tried the tactic too often and his career fell into decline when his arm fell too low too often. One trusts Starc will control his experiments better.
I’ve got nothing against the use of the term ‘reverse swing’. The great Pakistani trio of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis got the ball (and the cricket world) talking with reverse swing in the 1990s and Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones used it with great effect against us in the 2005 Ashes, especially by going round the wicket to our left-hand batsmen.
My complaint is not with reverse swing, my gripe is with commentators and reporters who can’t make the distinction in the bowler’s intention between cut and swing, reverse or otherwise.
It’s time cut was given its due.
Second Test, Galle. Sri Lanka 281. Australia 2/54. Full scorecard.
Posted on http://www.footyalmanac.com.au 5 August 2016