Book review: The science behind swing and spin


A book to make you a better cricketer. For Brian Wilkins, praise had come from the legendary Richie Benaud for his work on the art of spin, swing and swerve. This is the culmination of research and experiments over a period of time. In ‘Cricket, The Finer Arts Of A Great Game,’ he brings to us lesser-known nuances of the game he has loved so much.

Wilkins says, “This book draws on the experience of cricketers — they speak to us from many pages. The adventurous early days are central to the history of the game. The days when players experimented and discovered things that have become part of the game we know today. Now we can add modern knowledge to two centuries of history.”

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Wilkins taught chemistry at an institute that also taught aircraft engineers, who used a wind tunnel for their studies. Wilkins used the wind tunnel to measure the forces on cricket balls in the air. His efforts led to this interesting book on a fascinating course and a document that explains the way the cricket ball moves through the air and off the pitch.

According to Wilkins, “Everyone who plays the game — from the young amateur player to the seasoned professional — will gain immense benefit and enjoyment from this lively book. Generously illustrated, this book also revisits and revitalises many of cricket’s greatest players and moments, telling new stories about how these players were able to succeed.

Whether you’re a bowler or a batter, you’ll want to have the facts to improve your control and your skills. The cricket watcher and listener will also learn new ways to appreciate the sport. If you’ve ever been puzzled by TV and radio commentators’ loose talk about why the ball deviates in the air and off the pitch, this is your reliable and entertaining guide to greater understanding and clarity.”

There are passages that explain the dynamics behind many aspects like swing, the reverse swing, the impact of the atmosphere with grips explained through visual graphics. There is an interesting chapter titled ‘Mainly About Batting Against Swing’ where the author aims to help batters apply a few basic ideas.

Movement and air pressure

Turn is explained very well by Wilkins. “At the core of cricket is the changing directions of the ball when it hits the pitch. Direction change needs a push or a kick. Sideways movement in the air from swing and its close relative spin swerve relies on the air pressure being higher on one side of the ball than on the other. On the pitch, the ball can change directions only because of a force on it during the movement of contact. We need to be clear about this interaction between pitch and ball.”

There is a chapter on the stitching of the ball but the one on grip is most enlightening, with examples drawn from comments of some former greats. He throws light on the big and small handed bowlers and also the finger runs who suffered lacerations during their long career. A standout chapter deals with the mystery that marked Sydney Francis Barnes’ skills with the ball. It is a must for the modern students of the game.

In the chapter, ‘The Spectrum Of Spin’, Wilkins takes us on an insightful journey on the art that was celebrated by some of the greats. He discusses their grips and highlights their techniques to succeed from Grimmett, Ramadhin, Gupte, Benaud, Chandrasekhar to Kumble, Qadir and Warne.

The author concludes on a significant note, the role of a captain. “Captains can make or break a bowler. At best, they provide an acceptable framework within which both batters and bowlers feel free to operate.”

The book is a tribute to those who have preserved and improved upon the technical aspects of the game.

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