Swinging Stuart

Stuart Clark, Australia's find of the recent tour to South Africa, has obviously accepted that swing bowling is his main weapon.

Every now and then a cricketer slips through the radar of the game's grapevine and catches the cricketing community by surprise. This is no mean feat because the grapevine, which features the passage of messages and news within the community, has been in existence for quite some time. In the early days, of course, it was through personal sightings, then through newsreels with short grey slips, followed by local television and now the worldwide coverage of international matches on free-to-air and cable television.

The grapevine allowed batsmen, in particular, to gain early knowledge of a new bowling talent and how best to cope with him. Not many have slipped through this initial examination, but new Australian opening bowler Stuart Clark has, much to the surprise of myself and the rest of the cricketing world.

I feel somewhat embarrassed by this for I am contracted to the New South Wales Cricket Association and had met him many times, but had never seen him bowl. It is not as if Stuart is a spring chicken. He has made his debut only at the age of 30. Where did he come from? And why has it taken him so long to get the breaks?

Stuart is very much a product of Sydney grade cricket and has been around for about 10 years in first grade and later state cricket. He was once touted as a Glenn McGrath clone and in the early part of his career he played for the same club side. He was not explosive in pace, and I think he was somewhat of a sleeper in a cricket community obsessed with the search to find express fast bowlers.

Many quicks were given opportunities to parade their speed and most crumbled due to injury. Stuart was made to work for his place and he had the commonsense, in those struggling years, to study and pass the real estate examination to ensure he had an alternative profession in the property business lined up. With a future assured in the property industry, Stuart did not have the desperation of so many young cricketers today who put all their eggs in one basket — a future in the highly-paid world of international cricket.

This probably sub-conscious feeling of security, I believe, must have been a telling factor in Stuart's ability to grab the opportunity on his first attempt at Test cricket and to look so relaxed and confident in the process. Besides, he had great self-control and the belief that he had the bowling style and tactical nous needed to be successful at the top level. I must admit that I was highly impressed by his style and methods.

The readers of Sportstar will know that I have been suggesting for a very long time that good swing bowling would reap handsome rewards in Test cricket. This is because modern batsmen don't play this type of bowling well as few, if any, of the modern day new-ball bowlers can swing it consistently, pitching the ball in the area that makes it difficult for the batsmen. Stuart Clark, in South Africa, did it perfectly and gained his wickets in exactly the way that you would expect a fine swing bowler to do. Undoubtedly, the major reason for his success was his adherence to the old-fashioned principles of line and length. He has an undeniably wonderful action to swing the ball, but what sets him apart from most of the other new ball bowlers of today is that he bowls a fuller length. For some years, the length of the majority of fast bowlers — who mainly try to bang the ball into the pitch to extract extra bounce — is about one or two yards short of what was considered a good length when bowlers knew how to swing the ball. Stuart bowls an old-fashioned length and this allows the ball to swing and he sticks to the length that batsmen don't like.

I have always argued that the only part of batting that was particularly difficult and what set apart the good batsmen from the great was the ability to judge the length of the ball. The inability of the South African batsmen to handle Clarke was there for all to see, as was the simple but well executed tactics of Stuart.

Stuart's action is clear and pure. He has a great wrist, which is the key to swing bowling and he keeps the ball up and bowls at the stumps. Inevitably, he gets his wickets through the outswinger that leads to catches behind the wicket or through the delivery that moves in to the right-hand batsman and traps him in front or disturbs his stumps.

Stuart's style is simple and so is his bowling action and there is very little that should go wrong. At 6ft 6in, Stuart obviously gets lift out of the pitch.

He has a good bouncer but doesn't overuse it and catches most batsmen by surprise due to their pre-occupation with trying to counter the menace of the moving ball. While Stuart has a very balanced action and doesn't look quick, he still bowls at around 130-plus miles per hour and when he wants he can bowl faster. He has obviously accepted that swing bowling is his main weapon and he will continue to confuse and dismiss the best batsmen in the world if his priority does not change.

I can only hope that present day coaches — who seem to have a one-pointed agenda with pace bowling prospects; of turning them into tearaway quicks — take a good look at Stuart and absorb the lesson that swing can undo even the best batsmen.