As soon as the ball gets a little old and medium-pacers come back for their second spell, commentators begin chatting about the discovery of the modern era, ‘reverse swing’. But before going into this mysterious art, we need to know what exactly swing is.
What is swing?
The sideways movement achieved in the air when the ball travels with an upright seam position.
A cricket ball is divided into two halves separated by the seam. To get swing in the air, one half needs to be smoother/shinier than the other. When the ball is relatively new, the ball swings in the direction opposite to the shiny side. For instance, if the shiny side is on the right hand side, the ball will swing towards the left (an out-swinger) and vice-versa.
The ball gets old in due course and the fielding side keeps ‘shining’ (or rubbing) one half of the ball to keep it smoother/shinier while completely ignoring the other half. The other half automatically becomes rough. Now, if the ball is delivered with the seam in an upright position, the ball moves in the direction of the shinier side. For example, if the right hand side of the ball is smoother, the ball moves in the same direction (an in-swinger).
What’s so special about reverse swing?
Well, there’s nothing fancy about this unless you’re exceptionally quick in the air like a Shoaib or Tait. Even Collingwood was able to get some reverse swing but wasn’t half as effective as Tait. Whoever delivers the ball on the seam will get the ball to reverse swing, but the better exponents of this art are those who make it reverse late. The later the ball swings, the more difficult it is to play. The shinier side will eventually make the ball move in its direction but if delivered at very high pace and with a particular seam position, the swing can be delayed.
How it is done?
The basic principles still remain the same (like the ball needs to travel in an upright seam position) but to get the ball to swing late, it has to be slightly altered.
To bowl an in-swinger with the new ball, the seam should be tilted towards the leg slip and should be exactly the opposite while bowling with an older ball. So, to bowl an in-swinger with the old ball (when it’s reverse swinging) the seam position has to be tilted slightly towards the orthodox slips. The seam position delays the ball to move towards the shiny side. On the contrary, if the seam is tilted towards leg slip, the ball starts swinging as soon as it leaves the hand and becomes more predictable and easier to play.
What makes Tait and Malinga more effective?
Both of them have mastered the art of keeping the seam in the position most appropriate to get late swing. Their in-swinging yorkers seem like a straight ball or even an out-swinger (going by the seam position—slightly tilted towards slips) for a long time. Their pace doesn’t allow the ball to swing early and the ball swings only in the last few feet before landing. It can be lethal.