Cricket can lose reverse swing to COVID-19, says Sarfraz Nawaz

Former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz, who pioneered reverse swing, admits the rule change of not shining balls with saliva will have an impact on the art.

Sarfraz Nawaz featured in 55 Tests and 45 ODIs for Pakistan.   -  The Hindu Archives

Will cricket lose reverse swing to COVID-19? An ICC panel recommendation to ban the use of saliva to shine the ball has left the practitioners of the art worried.

Former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz, who pioneered reverse swing, admits the rule change will have an impact. “I understand that it is a temporary measure but the bowlers need to forget about reverse swing for now. If you cannot shine the ball, you cannot reverse swing. The batsmen will have the edge till this new rule is in place,” Nawaz told Sportstar from London.

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For a fast bowler, swing is one of the major weapon, especially in red-ball cricket. When the ball is new and shiny, the bowlers usually extract the conventional swing. Creating asymmetry in the ball -- where one half is shinier than the other -- is crucial to get the reverse swing going.

But nearly four decades ago, it was Nawaz, who realised that swing could also be extracted with an older ball. The idea was simple -- keep shining one side of the red cherry from the beginning and letting the other side get rough.

While Nawaz mastered the craft, he passed on the knowledge to Imran Khan, who improvised it further.

Challenge for the quicks

“The main problem now would be that the ball is not going to get rough on one side and shiny on the other half. Because of that the fast bowlers will definitely suffer and taking advantage of that the batsmen will pile up runs. Towards the end, when the ball is older, the fast bowlers shine the ball on one side and reverse viciously. The tail-enders, in particular, can’t play those sort of deliveries. But now, that’s not going to happen,” Nawaz said.

File photo of Sarfraz Nawaz, who was considered to be the pioneer of reverse swing bowling.   -  Special Arrangement

 

It is the conventional swing the pacers now have to rely on. “Now the thing is if the ball gets older after 10 overs, it will remain like that. Just using sweat won’t be of much help because that will only make the ball wet and that shine will be missing -- that’s the most important thing for reverse swing…”

The 71-year-old, who featured in 55 Tests and 45 ODIs for Pakistan, feels that the impact will be more on the ODIs and the T20Is. “When there are rough pitches, they will only be able to cut the ball and cannot swing in the air. They can try out slower deliveries and might as well need to come up with newer ideas,” Nawaz said.

More of dull draws

With the bowlers losing out on the advantage, Nawaz believes that the chances of Test matches ending in dull draws could be more. “The ICC was thinking of reducing Test cricket from five days to four days. But now it looks like, they would require six days to get results. Since the bowlers will not get much benefit, the number of dull draws will go up,” the former pacer said.

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This scenario is going to throw up a challenge for the fast bowlers, and Nawaz believes that the pacers, who are good with the new ball need not worry much. “People who could bowl with the new ball or semi new ball, they will survive. But players who rely majorly on reverse swing and wait for the ball to get old, will struggle,” he said, adding that youngsters like Shaheen Shah Afridi will be more effective now.

“If you look at Naseem Shah, he is injury-prone. But I think Shaheen Afridi will be more effective because he has the ability to scalp wickets with new balls, and he doesn’t rely on reverse swing. He can be the most successful Pakistan bowler now,” Nawaz said.

When cricket slowly crawls back to some sort of normalcy, new methods to shine the ball may become part of life for the fast bowlers across the world. But as Nawaz puts it, “people can forget about reverse swing for at least two years now”.

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