Speed thrills but ultimately it is swing that kills

“Both Shami [Ahmed] and Bhuvaneshwar [Kumar] swing the ball both ways and that has troubled our batsmen. They not only swing it in the air, but also get late swing, which is difficult to gauge ... the two have been a problem for us in this series” – Ian Bell on India’s latest new ball pair.

India has long grappled with the question of why the country does not produce out and out fast bowlers. Across the border, Pakistan has had no trouble unearthing a succession of strong shouldered men who can hurl the ball at toe-crushing pace. Yet speed has always proved elusive in Indian cricket. Even when raw pace is discovered – as in the case of Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron – it is often interrupted by injury, and then eventually lost altogether (think Munaf Patel).

 Speed thrills but ultimately it is swing that kills

Bhuvneshwar has had a splendid start to his career. PTI

The craft that Shami and Bhuvaneshwar practice therefore offers a more realistic option for India, and a more incisive one. Pace by itself does not trouble most batsmen. At the international level, players adjust quickly. If pace is all a bowler possesses, a batsman will adjust his timing and combat it. And the multitude of pads, arm and chest guards and helmets has all but taken the element of fear out of the game. A bowler needs to have guile more than pace to succeed.

That is not to say pace is not important. Slow swing is just as easily countered as high pace. But swing allied to a certain minimum level of pace – say around 135 kph – will always have batsmen pushing and prodding.

Shami and Bhuvaneshwar have also been able to get late swing, in addition to being able to move the ball both ways, as Bell points out. This creates uncertainty in the mind of an opposing batsman, which makes him tentative. Bhuvaneshwar’s ability to set a batsman up with a succession of away swingers followed by the big inswinger is the reason many of his victims have been bowled or trapped leg-before. The batsman is effectively searching for the ball, and that makes him vulnerable.

In his column for ESPNcricinfo on January 19, former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar explains why swing is the way to go for India:

“Batsmen around the world today hit the ball harder than ever before, but they are also more susceptible when the ball is pitched up and it swings late than batsmen of earlier generations were. This is India's chance to seize, to find bowlers who do just that. If an Umesh Yadav comes along, bowling at 145, that is a bonus, but it would be more pragmatic for India to look for more bowlers like Bhuvneshwar.”

Around the world, we are seeing evidence of Manjrekar’s assertion that batsmen are more vulnerable. South Africa’s Vernon Philander made possibly the greatest start to his career of any fast bowler, all because of his ability to move the ball. England’s, James Anderson has turned into the leader of their attack because he can move it both ways and Pakistan’s Junaid Khan bamboozled India’s top-order in the recent ODI series by maneuvering the ball around at pace.

In third ODI between Sri Lanka and Australia in Brisbane, Nuwan Kulasekara, who is not exactly known for his ability to run through sides, demolished Australia for 74 in conditions that encouraged swing bowling. ESPNcricinfo’s match report describes deliveries that “began about a metre outside off stump, and only began to move around halfway down the pitch, when the batsmen were already committed to the stroke”.

Many, years ago, the great Dennis Lillee was forced to shorten his run-up and cut down his pace because of a serious back injury. No longer a tearaway, but still bowling quick, Lillee began to move the ball around and became an even more dangerous bowler. Speed thrills but ultimately it is swing that kills.

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Updated Date: Jan 23, 2013 11:51:37 IST