Sri Lanka in The Ashes?

Seen this before? The scoreboard operator is ready for action at the R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka, for the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy final between India and Sri Lanka on 29 September 2002. (© ESPNcricinfo Ltd)

Seen this before? The scoreboard operator is ready for action at the R. Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka, for the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy final between India and Sri Lanka on 29 September 2002. (© ESPNcricinfo Ltd)

Soon after Sri Lanka’s infamous ODI win against Australia in Melbourne, November 2010, we were at the nearby rail station to get back to our hotel. There were posters in the station announcing the forthcoming “The Ashes” series. On seeing those, a young Sri Lankan cricket fan lamented, “Why aren’t we (Sri Lanka) invited to take part in The Ashes!”

This wonderful game has had its share of complications. I am no expert but have tried to clarify a few cricketing terms that fans regularly come across, but often not properly understood by them.

Fan following of cricket increased in numbers by tens of millions around the world during the last ten years or so, and in Sri Lanka, it is no exception. Watching the Sri Lankan national team playing cricket has now become the biggest pastime of a majority of the Sri Lankan population. Cricket has proved its ability to reach out and to unify all of our major ethnic communities in a way no other sport can. Other than the joy and the fond memories it brings, fans can develop many skills by following cricket and its good role models. Improving English language skills, learning about leadership and teamwork, strategic awareness and risk-taking, as well as how to accept defeat in the right manner are some of them.

At a time when commercial interests have undermined the true spirit of the actual game, cricket fans worldwide, probably the most important stakeholders; are a neglected lot.

This wonderful game has had its share of complications. I am no expert but have tried to clarify a few cricketing terms that fans regularly come across, but often not properly understood by them.

ICC (International Cricket Council) makes the Laws of Cricket:

Though the ICC is the governing body of world cricket, Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), founded in 1787, is the sole authority and the custodian of the Laws of Cricket and, all Laws are written and interpreted by them. Cricket may be the only sport that has both Laws and Rules. Cricket associations including the ICC modify the Laws by having their Rules, which determine their playing conditions. The Laws are designed to regulate the contest out in the field in all matches, while the Rules are the regulations enacted for each different competition. An example of such Rules would be the T20 rules.

The difference between the pull and the hook shot:

Though played in a similar way, the pull is played to a ball around waist height, while the hook is to a short delivery between the chest and head height. The hook was the riskiest and potentially the most dangerous shot to play in cricket before the advent of Dilscoop.

How is seam bowling different to swing bowling?

Swing refers to the deviation of the ball in the air, and it may occur before pitching or even after. What happens is that the ball moves laterally in the air away from the initial line it should have taken, when it came out of the bowler’s hand. Even after a ball has pitched and is travelling down a particular line, it may deviate/wobble in the air. Swing happens because of aerodynamics, and it will depend on the condition of the ball/the position of the ball (grip)/wind condition/humidity, etc.

Seam movement refers to the change in the line of the ball that occurs once it strikes the pitch, commonly referred to as “movement off the pitch”. It happens due to the noticeably raised seam – the circular stitching – which joins the two halves of the cricket ball. The direction and degree of deviation from a straight path are dependent on the small-scale alignment of the seam and any irregularities in the pitch surface. The deviation caused by seam can be chaotic and unpredictable. If the seam hits the pitch, the ball may move in any direction or just go straight.

Conventional (orthodox) swing v reverse swing:

graphic demonstrating a conventional swingTo swing the ball in an orthodox fashion away from a right-handed batsman (which is called outswing), the rough side of the ball will be on the left side with the seam angling towards second slip. It is the other way around for inswing – the rough side is on the right with the seam pointing towards an imaginary leg slip. Both deliveries also require a subtle change in seam grip too. Conventional swing happens when the ball is relatively new but tends to stop after the ball has lost its shine and hardness.

Reverse swing happens once the ball becomes older and more worn. It will begin to move in the opposite direction to where it would usually swing with no great change in the bowling grip. For example, an outswinger’s grip will move towards the batsman in the air while an inswinger will move away from the bat. All this tends to happen very late on in the delivery, making it difficult for the batsman to pick up the changes in the air. Not every single bowler can obtain reverse swing – the ball needs to be propelled above 80mph or thereabouts to make it happen.

There have been plenty of theories about why, but the simplest explanation from former England bowling coach Troy Cooley says: “Reverse swing is all to do with the deterioration of the ball and the seam position in flight. When the ball becomes rougher, it will take on a different characteristic. So, if you present the ball as an outswinger, the ball has deteriorated so much on the rough side that it takes on the characteristics of a shiny side. Which means a natural outswinger will become an inswinger and conversely, an inswinger into an outswinger.”

Is bowling with a bent arm chucking?

In the aftermath of Sachithra Senanayake’s ban, ‘chucking’ has again become a talking point amongst Sri Lankan fans. In cricket, throwing, commonly referred to as chucking, is an illegal bowling action which occurs when a bowler straightens his arm by more than 15 degrees from the elbow joint when delivering the ball. The law applies between the point at which the bowling arm passes above shoulder height and the point of releasing the ball. The 15-degree limit is to allow some natural flexing of the elbow joint which happens while delivering the ball. The permitted limit does not, however, prevent bowlers from flexing or rotating their wrists or the rotation of shoulders to impart more pace or spin to their bowling.

How about bowlers starting with a bent arm above shoulder height? As confirmed by the ICC, “There is nothing preventing a bowler bowling with a bent arm, provided he does not straighten it beyond the permitted degrees of tolerance”.

Pakistan’s champion spinner Saeed Ajmal is a classic example to illustrate this point. When Ajmal brings his arm over the shoulder, there is, on average, a 23.5-degree bend in his elbow. As he delivers the ball, his arm will not fully straighten (elbow extension) but only straightens by about 8 degrees, which is well within the permitted 15-degree limit and thereby his action is considered quite legal. At the moment of delivering the ball, the bent gets reduced to around 15.5 degrees from the original 23.5 degrees.

Contrary to widespread belief, it is also interesting to note that tests have proved Ajmal’s off-break and quicker ball cause his arm to straighten fractionally more than his doosra.

A single still photograph of a bowler with a bent arm can be misleading. What matters under the laws is not the bend but by how much will it straighten, to determine whether a bowler is chucking or not.

There is more that fans, even budding cricketers would want to know. Let’s hope the administrators, TV and radio broadcasters, commentators and media would play a proactive role to enhance the knowledge and overall cricketing experience of their ‘customers’ – fans and supporters, whether while reading cricket related articles, watching TV or at the grounds.

(This I wrote to The Sunday Times and appeared in its 3 August 2014 edition)

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