Thursday, August 31, 2006

Swinging in confusion

Here’s a much-awaited treatise on that great mystery of cricket – swing. While Saad Shafqat mentions a few interesting facts there about the past of swing bowling and touches upon the scientific simplicity of it all, he yorks me with the lines:

It is often said that reverse (super) swing is poorly understood, but in fact it is a simple and straightforward technique that you can try in your own backyard. All you need is a tennis ball, a roll of electrical insulation tape, and a set of stumps to aim at. Cover one half of the ball with strips of tape and hold it down the center, with the taped side entirely to one side. For a toe-bruising yorker, keep the taped side towards leg and deliver the ball aiming for second slip. About two-thirds of the way the ball will curve like a banana and crash into the base of middle and leg. The faster you are the better, but you don't have to be very quick to create the effect. To bowl a menacing outswinger, keep the taped side facing off and aim for fine leg. The physics is elementary. The smooth, taped side creates less turbulence than the uncovered, rough side of the tennis ball. Less turbulence means lesser resistance, and the ball moves in that direction.

A scientific confusion is created here. For all the elementary science lessons at your memory’s disposal and without treading into ‘turbulence’ territory you would have thought that the smoother or shiny half of the ball would face lesser air resistance and try to travel FASTER through the air than the other (rough) half and thus force the ball to move away from it, which would be the opposite of Shafqat’s take in the last two lines. The resultant trajectory, when viewed from above should resemble a heated bimetallic strip. I believe most of us laymen generally regard the normal (or conventional) swing to function that way rather than ‘reverse’ (or ‘super’ or whatever) swing.

Is the turbulence effect, that obviously functions inversely as the ‘expected’ effect explained above (let’s call it that), so strong that it overcomes this expected effect and reverses it to a degree that it becomes too negligible to even deserve a mention from Shafqat? And does the cricket ball behave in exactly the same fashion as the tape ball? In case you think of dismissing the above words of Shafqat as a typo there’s further confirmation of what he intends to say:

Super swing is simpler to understand, easier to learn, more accurate, and perfectly reproducible. Delivered at speeds over 90 mph, it can be a lethal weapon, some would even say a weapon of mass destruction. It doesn't matter what your action is or how you cock your wrist. All that matters is which way the smoother surface is facing. Provided there is enough difference between the rough and shiny sides, the ball will always move towards the smoother surface. It isn't the 'reverse' of anything. That's just the way it is.
Towards the smoother surface’ again? Now my confusion is peaking and needs serious sorting out. Having surfed on this topic a few times earlier I repeat the exercise. All of the more simplistic explanations (links provided below) that I pick up on the net point towards my original beliefs (to use a suitable term) about swing. However I’m far from convinced that I understand the truth.

Not for nothing is aerodynamics excluded from science syllabi for fifth standard students and there should be a lot more to the mechanism of swing than simplistic explanations. Simply put, the ball behaves as it does and it is up to us to find out how it moves. There’s no use expecting it to do this or that just because our expectations soar only as far as our knowledge allow them to.

Maybe ‘turbulence’ does weird and big things to the quickly hurled cricket ball and Shafqat’s statement may be based on that. How I wish this scientific misery of cricket lovers to end once for all through extensive studies on this front by a handful of crazy cricket lovers pretending as brilliant scientists.

Oh – I must kick myself hard for forgetting to thank Shafqat profusely. Controversies have deluged cricket over the last month and it is a long time since we all discussed ball, bat and such things that are easier to relate to. At least Shafqat has started a debate that we would love to shout ourselves hoarse about. Would love to read a more detailed account by him about those words of his.

Do add your views here and help enlighten me if you have understood Saad Shafqat's point. In case you wondered, I regard myself to be an on-the-verge-of-retirement non-pro medium pacer who generally swings the ball right up. And as Shafqat mentions in his post, I agree with Imran Khan that it would swing the same (almost) all the time irrespective of the way the ball is held.
More stuff on swing bowling mechanism has been discussed here, here and here.
[cross posted on Caught Behind and Different Strokes]
Update [7-Sep-2006]:

Rabindra Mehta has come up with an illustrative piece on cricinfo to explain the science of swing bowling in simple terms. My DS friend Krishna Kumar has this to say about the issue:

I know you can get conventional swing with a taped ball, if you strip away a bit of the tape on one side, after covering the whole ball first with tape, i.e. away from the shiny, smooth side and toward the damaged tape side. We used to do that for fun in Ottawa, until very quickly the batting team asked for a re-tape :)
Ball does travel faster over the turbulent air stream side. The smooth side allows air to stick to it better, roughly speaking, and hence air flow is slower. It's the same reason a dimpled golf ball travels quicker through air.
There's a ball available on order, from the Greg Chappell cricket centre online, called King Swinger or something like that (I have it with me:), it's half regular tennis ball, half smooth rubber, it swings conventionally, but swings a LOT. Very difficult to control unless you bowl as quick you can, otherwise it starts bending half way down the pitch. :)
A taped ball I'd have thought would behave much the same way, i.e. generate conventional swing, but Saad seems to suggest otherwise.
The only real difference in reverse swing and the conventional variety, is that when one side becomes really rough, air flow becomes very turbulent, and when it is really turbulent (as opposed to mildly turbulent for conventional swing), air flow slows down, resulting in a reversal of swing direction. Or so people claim :)
The real reason (I think) wrist position becomes very crucial in conventional swing, is that, the difference in air flow speeds is because of the seam position as opposed to the difference in roughness between sides of the ball. After all, the first few overs of a game, there is no rough side :) Hence, the angle at which the protruding seam cuts through the air determines the speed of air flow over and around it. That's not a very good explanation, but that's about as well as I understand it anyway :) A bit of wobble (not too much, but just a bit) of the seam I think helps (although TV comms and coaches say, you need a pefectly positioned seam), because if you notice, Zaheer Khan has about the best positioned non-wobbly seam ever, but gets almost no swing with a red ball. Or perhaps, it is the non-slinginess of his action.
But, overall, it's the vaguest science known to mankind (superstring theory being a distant second:)
God bless both.

Gibbs decides to take it on

Gibbs has finally decided to face his long pending police interrogation session in India with the Delhi police that will hopefully close the Indian chapter of his involvement in the match-fixing episode. Since 2000 he has avoided visiting India citing grounds of possible arrest and harassment. here's a cricinfo report on his views of the forthcoming India tour:

Gibbs said that the delays were all at the Indian end. "They haven't really played their part," he shrugged. "You know, we've asked them many a time to come question me on neutral territory, and they refuse. So it's not like I haven't made the effort. It's them being hard-arses. That's it."

It is laughable how he expects to be interrogated on a neutral land for a crime committed on Indian terrotory. Easy to blast him for that, as Gibbs had confessed to involvement in the controversy. Long dragging worries though can be thoroughly irksome - we all have a few (generally of smaller gravity) - and manage to bring out the prickly side of men. Poor guy, this Herschelle Gibbs. Brilliant batsman he might be inside of the 22 yards but he still is an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation and fighting to come out of it with no UCBSA in sight this time to approve a 'withdrawal'.

As I recently commented here, everything in cricket today is not just cricket and it is futile in the long run to skirt issues that test the mettle. At least Gibbs has decided to face the consequences and we need to appreciate that thought. He need not be worried; here in this country we all respect him for his timely withdrawal and throngs of people will surely come out in his support if he is harassed without a reason while some other tainted ones belonging to this land strut around signing autographs and participating in weekly sports debates at prestigious television channels.

The maiden maiden of Twenty20

Here's a nice piece of info: Mohammad Asif is now a strong contender for "Casanova of the year" award after winning over the most reluctant maiden of all time. It, or she, took 8 matches coming....(okay we will go this far and no further)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Holding the truth aloft

Thaat maan Michael Holding may be well into his 50's but he can still send down some serious singing stuff. Whichever side of the fence you are on, his take on a divided cricket world on the Hair controversy will take some digesting. he does not mention the much-discussed racism issue, or even the regal air that some older nations surround themselves in while dealing with the newer entrants to international cricket.

Holding says:

There is a double standard at work in cricket and this episode has only highlighted it.

Mikey's statement opens up a different perspective when he points to a first-world-third-world factor in the equation of power. In other words, he says that the unwritten rule of traditional Indian marriages also dictates polarisation in the realms of ICC: spouses bond well when their families have similar economic backgrounds.

You start thinking, "Is there a chance in a hundred that South Africa might have reacted any differently than Australia did (by staying on) if they had been playing a series in England last year when the London blasts happened?" Back in 1996 the cricket administrators of Australia thought nothing of even forfeiting their World Cup match in Sri Lanka but when the 'action' shifted to England everyone in Cricket Australia showed a big heart.

Till the recent South Africa incident I found nothing partisan about that bravado. The 1996 reaction of Australia and Mikey's own West Indies always looked more of a panicky reaction, independent of the 'status' of Sri Lanka in the world of firsts and thirds. After the brilliant Ashes last year I could only thank heavens that the intervening nine years of terrrorism around the world had so drastically changed perspectives of even the 'safer' nations. [Not that I am a great supporter of terrorism, in case I selected a few wrong words there...] Had Australia pulled out after the London blasts we would have been denied cricket of quality rarely seen in the past decade.

The South African reaction to the Sri Lanka blasts and a telling silence from the 'first world' in response to that backout said things that no cricket lover in these parts wants to hear: we are considered below par in protecting our guests from local distractions. Sadder still, that message may just be the header text of a rather long paragraph. After these incidents from the recent past even the most neutral of Asian cricket supporters will hope to be forgiven for nodding in agreement when Holding says "That is first-world hypocrisy and we have to live with it."

I am yet to come across recordings of the exact events that took place on "Hair Day" but even so I am pretty sure that Hair would have gone about the matter just as Mikey says if the fielding team at Oval had been Australia, England, West Indies or even New Zealand (who are about as old, or new, in Test cricket as Pakistan).

Saturday, August 26, 2006

"All in a day’s work", the new Macbeth

For a few moments let us forget the rights and wrongs of Pakistan in the ball tampering controversy and concentrate on the parody of that Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth that the Hair drama is throwing up. Trying to reword the latest developments with some creative license:

Scene One:

"I’ll be putting a lot to my side when this is all over. I have been vilified by virtually everybody here and when the truth comes out a lot of people will pay. So, that’s all I can say."

Darrell Hair mouths these dramatic words and achieves his original aim of making people chew off nails in anticipation of his autobiography. Good PR job that, we must say. But then……

Scene Two:

……with his present and future workload the story can only come out a few years later - as stale as John Wright talking about his Indian tenure in 2006. Enter the three witches who whisper business sense into Hair's ears and arouse his greed. [Analogies yet to be established for all three witches but
Steve Waugh with his indirect role in fanning the controversy qualifies as one…]

Hair realises that he simply has to write a book on this controversy right NOW. "Hit the market while the principal topic is still raging." He may strike gold with the publication and never have to stand again in the sun with stressed lumbars for days on end.

But how does Hair write a book while ICC (King Duncan) makes him conquer new frontiers [officiate in Test matches] around the globe all year? Darrell (okay, we will call him Macbeth henceforth) feels the prick to chuck this umpiring job for a greater gain. Time for a few drastic measures.

Scene Three:

Meanwhile, Macbeth consults Lady Macbeth (umpire Ross Emerson, of the Murali connection). The Lady comes out in
support of Macbeth’s plan to get rid of Duncan from his scheme of things. The Lady incites him further: why not try and wring out his expected earnings over next few years from the King’s coffers before eliminating him? Enter $500,000, Hair’s claim for vacating an umpiring slot of the ICC panel. [I bet that was the most expensive way to lose Hair.]

Our Macbeth is a man of deeds. [Please note the absence of the term ‘honourable man’ – I hate mixing up plays.] He assures us about making 'a lot of people pay when the truth is out' and actually attempts it. Indeed what is ICC, Darrell's paymaster and the Duncan of this Macbeth, but representation of 'a lot of people'?

Scene Four:

"If people want to force me out of the game it has to be done in some shape or form that I am unaware of, because I am contracted to do a job and I know I am doing it quite well at the moment so far as the ins and outs are concerned."

Is it the same Macbeth speaking to
news agencies while firing off that half-a-million letter to ICC? Here the Shakespearean script threatens to morph into a Ram aur Shyam like Hindi movie ("Maqbool" be damned) where lookalikes keep exchanging positions. But wait! Darrell Hair’s Macbeth has to be taken to task and who else can you have but the slain King’s son Malcolm speeding up to the podium, joining hands with Macduff (Inzamam), another Macbeth victim to elaborate on the clandestine deeds of Macbeth.

Scene Five:

Still under scripting – keep watching.

And almost all of this has happened in a single day! Irrespective of the fate of Darrell Hair this Macbeth is anything but a tragedy.

Disclaimer: I happen to be a complete outsider in this Hair-v-Pak war as I admit to the shame of not having watched live cricket in the past fortnight or so.

Friday, August 25, 2006

An ICC-free cricket match...

Billy Bowden hands out a dodgy lbw to Brian Lara playing in his final Test. The batsman crinkles his eyes an ambles back with head falling back. While passing the umpire Lara stops on his way and asks:
Are you sure the eyesight's any straighter than that finger of yours?

Vishnu Pawan imagines a dream world and has a few breezy suggestions for those 'ideal' conditions when no rules are there to stop you from having your way..or, say.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

If it's 'Ashes to Ashes' for the English then for the Pakistanis it's... to Hair!

Dying to play cricket

Wasim Raja, the former Pakistan batsman who went on to become an ICC match referee, has died while playing for Surrey Over 50s at Marlow in Buckinghamshire. He was 54.

"Wasim had a big heart attack on the field," a Surrey spokesman told Cricinfo. "He felt dizzy, and mentioned this to the slips, saying that he felt he had to go off. He was carried off but then collapsed on the boundary."


That was part of the cricinfo report on Wasim Raja. Amid the sadness of the incident emerges this rare picture of a cricketer dying in harness. Very few people are fortunate enough to die doing a job they love deeply. I am not aware of the stats but presumably for a cricketer such a death is far more unlikely than, say, for a business executive.

Barring accidents, most sportsmen retire long before health check-ups find their way into packed monthly schedules. Wasim Bari was 54 and It was no time to leave, really. It is not even the retirement age in other 9-to-5 professions. But.....can we view this from another perspective?

Let us ponder over a hypothetical situation: say, what thoughts might come to Wasim Raja during a net session 30 years back if some mystic prophet would lean towards him and whisper in his ears to tell him that he would die playing cricket?

I guess I will invite wrath from some quarters for cheapening a personal tragedy by confessing that one of the first thoughts to cross my mind upon reading the news was "I wish I was that lucky in my death'. Maybe I deserve to be criticised. "The high of cricket contributes to these callous thoughts" is one of the generous reactions I can imagine. I ask myself, "Would I feel differently had I personally known Raja?"

No. The death of Wasim Raja is a tragedy to people who cared for him and my first reaction to the news does not challenge that. It merely speculates if the cricketer himself would settle for a 'till death do us part' affair with cricket. Not everyone though will relate good fortune to a demise. Barring, perhaps, those sport lovers who dream to be with their beloved sport all the time.

Even when they have no more time.

Sadly this isolated incident has the potential to become a reference for banning Over 50's cricket as a potentially hazardous concept for aging sportsmen.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mark Boucher McFlies back to South Africa

Mark Boucher owns a baby-face. Remember the similar countenance of Michael J Fox when he played the teenaged Marty McFly in 'Back to the Future' trilogy? How badly I want a refresher of the fun-loaded movie series now that Boucher has lived upto his McFly resemblance right up to the 'Nobody calls me chicken' bit.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Away from home

Do you know what separates the batsmen from the batsboys in Tests?
Alternatively, do you know how to get Mohammad Kaif and Ramnaresh Sarwan out of lean trots in ODI's?
Answer's just the same - cast them away to foreign shores. The Cricinfo List this week also disproves my long time suspicion that the home / away factor has far less pronounced an effect in the ODI format than in Tests. As for Sachin who averages in the high 50's and hence could be expected to have some deviant stats, absence of his name from this sort of a list highlighting standard deviations again bears testimony to his consistency.

I mean, Rahul Dravid averages a formidable 51 at home along with that 65 away average, but Rahul baiters could easily observe that 'Rahul is decidedly more susceptible on low and slow tracks' and logic would not allow outright rejection of that view. Sachin's stats offer no such opportunities to his detractors as his batting performances show little variation with the presence or absence of a visa in his pocket.
But I just cannot get over Rahul's average of 65 plus in foreign shores. S-I-X-T-Y F-I-V-E !!! For that alone I am willing to stand up and salute Rahul Dravid without any reservations.
By the way, going by that list Mohinder Amarnath's away record is 70% better than his home stats!! Surely that must be another record?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Anniversary celebration

How do you celebrate an anniversary? Simple - recreate the original magic.
Test cricket in the year 2006 has so far been generally disappointing. If we delve deeper for the reasons we find that most of the Test series featured at least two of the four principal causes that produce nondescript matches: mismatch in strengths of rival sides, loss of key players through injury, pitches that are unconducive to rivetting cricket (bat dominating ball being the bigger problem) and safety first approach from skippers.
Logic says that the above list names those causes in their descending order of impact. Now let us designate those reasons as A (team mismatch), B (loss of players), C (unconducive pitches) and D (defensive approach) and rate a few series on those shortcomings.

India v Pak @ Pak: C & D; rating - avg.
Eng v India @ Ind: B, C & D; rating - disappointing
Sri Lanka v. Eng @ Eng: B, rating - good
Aus vs. RSA @ RSA: A, rating - avg.
Ind vs. WI @ WI: B, C & D; rating - disappointing
Pak vs. Eng @ Eng: B, D and E (NIGHTMARISH CATCHING); rating - disappointing

(A friend pleads that I upgrade the Eng-v-Pak rating after that pole vault dismissal of Inzamam at Headingley)

Amidst all this comes a breath of fresh air - the RSA vs. Sri Lanka series at the latter's home territory. It started off with strong suggestions of 'A' over the 1st three days of the 1st Test. But the South Africans played valiantly over the last two days and went close to dragging a virtual gonner to a draw. And now this cliffhanger of a 2nd Test. All three innings so far have produced scored between 300 and 400 and the fourth one, barring a brilliant Ntini spell early in the 5th morning, is heading towards a similar total irrespective of the outcome.

The match is evenly poised for a certain result. The bowling has been both excellent and tidy while the batting was as brilliant as it was purposeful. Both sides have been up at each other's throats. All this could not happen without positive thinking going on between the skippers' ears. The way things are poised today at close of 4th day's play, there could not be a better celebration of 1st anniversary of that great Ashes 2nd Test last year at Edgbaston.

Sada - for ever

On occasions that are getting rarer by the day, I find time to turn over the pages of Sunil Gavaskar's 'One day Wonders' and the one thought that inevitably comes back to me each time is: "What exactly happened to that audacious nut of a keeper called Sadanand Viswanath?"
Pre-Ganguly, chirpy players were a rare breed in India and Sadanand Viswanath is absolutely the earliest bird of that feather that I can remember (naturally, as I started cricket viewing in 1985). His mannerisms and energy are amongst the few remaining memories of that victorious 1985 World Series Cup campaign by India.

The mid eighties was a strange time for Indian Cricket. Quite a few young cricketers with obvious calibre gatecrashed into the Indian cricket team with remarkable initial success but then almost all of them disappeared from the scene just as quickly. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan the leggie (and brilliant fielder), Maninder Singh the left arm spinner (and brilliant fielder), Narendra Hirwani the leggie (not as great a fielder, perhaps). The quickest of those shock demises that set Indian cricket by a few years must have been Sadanand Viswanath's.
Here's a long-awaited chat with 'Sada' (as we all referred to him back in our household and neighbourhood during his glory days) that Sportstar has thankfully managed to come up with. He shares a few memories of his honour and his misfortune in the tete-a-tete.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Memories of the 574 run Jayasuriya-Mahanama effort

That rare feat was started on this day 9 years back. Last week Mahela Jayawardene and Kumara Sangakarra usurped the most coveted team batting record of all from their senior compatriots Jayasuriya and Mahanama. The latter duo had stitched together a 576 run 2nd wicket patience-tester in the 1st Test versus India in 1997 at the Premadasa. It was the highest partnership for any wicket in Test cricket at the time, a record Kumara and Mahela bettered by 48 runs.

I recall having appeared for a professional entrance examination on the 4th and 5th of August, 1997. Those were also the 3rd and 4th days of "Jayasuriya's Test". I went into the exam hall on Monday (Aug 4th) in a happy frame of mind, secure with the knowledge of India declaring at 537 on a batting beauty and Sri Lanka losing their first wicket at 39 on the last ball of 2nd day. I came out late in the afternoon and headed for the nearest paan (betel nut) shop.

I was expecting news of Indian ascendancy but instead learnt that it was way past tea and yet no Sri Lankan wicket had fallen. Next day I came out of the exam hall at the same time, and got the same news. No wickets yet. Something was wrong with the paan shop, maybe. Luckily for me I never found myself in its vicinity again with an India match on.

The longest wait by any Indian fielding side for a wicket finally ended on Wednesday morning when Mahanama thankfully decided to relent. [It is another matter that Sri Lanka batted on for the whole day with the sole aim of getting a world record Test score of 952.] Two whole days and six no-rain sessions of Test cricket were played out by Sanath and Roshan without getting dismissed.

I wonder if that has ever happened...we may have other partnerships lasting over 12 hours but those are generally comprised of a full day and two partial days. That Jayasuriya-Mahanama lullaby might well be the only one that spanned two whole days of uninterrupted cricket. Their runs may have been overwhelmed but that unique feat may take some doing.

A look at performances of Indian bowlers in that match will tell its own story:

Chauhan 78 ovrs, 8 mdns, 276 runs, 1 wkt
Kumble 72 ovrs, 7 mdns, 223 runs, 1 wkt
Kulkarni 70 ovrs, 12 mdns, 195 runs, 1 wkt
(And to think Kulkarni's wicket came off the very 1st ball he bowled in the innings, which was also the 1st delivery of his Test career)

I know a lot of people will back me in the assertion that Indian fans of the time would be happy whenever their entire team would surpass the figure in Chauhan's runs column in an overseas Test innings.

Any guesses how I fared with that exam?

Afterthought: The Jayasuriya-Mahanama partnership was just 9 years old when it got overwhelmed by Kumara and Mahela an there's some relief in that. The new recordholders know the previous holders and have also played with them. That sounds so different from Sehwag-Dravid's near-successful assault on compatriots Mankad-Roy's highest opening partnership record earlier this year at Lahore. On that occasion Sehwag faced ire from old timers after his innocent declaration that he never heard of two gentlemen by the names of Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad.
Sri Lankan authorities must have watched the Sehwag episode with consternation. However they failed to realise that the pitfalls associated with a 50 year generation gap do not apply to a mere 9 year old record. Consequently they overdid their attempt to prevent similar embarassment: they ended up inviting Sanath Jayasuriya (still a teammate of the new record holders) and Roshan Mahanama to the dais for official 'handing over' of their record during a never-ending prize distribution ceremony. The duration of that event should have been another record if someone would care to note.