Saturday, February 8, 2014

Once again the swing theory goes unappreciated

Well might New Zealand captain, and man of the match, Brendon McCullum breathe deep after the 40-run win over India in Auckland on Sunday.

New Zealand's historic inability to mount reasonable third innings totals remains a bugbear for the side as the 105 registered at Eden Park shows.

But, in reality, his team need not have been in the position they were had McCullum enforced the follow-on.

Having won the Test, McCullum might well say any consideration of his choice is irrelevant. But that is to deny the benefits to be had from reviewing every performance.

What is worrying about his decision is whether there is an understanding of 'The Wilkins Theory'?

Brian Wilkins was the New Zealand scientist who worked out what made the ball swing, and it was clear listening to commentators, yet again, during the match they continue to get it all wrong.

At one stage, one commentator said New Zealand were bowling without the cloud cover they started with and were not getting as much swing as a consequence.

This is rubbish but it has been proffered for so long it has become accepted fact.

What those statements don't take into account is the fact that on third morning, in bright, sunny conditions, and later on the fourth afternoon, when the second new ball was taken, again in sunny conditions, the ball swung.

So cloud cover is a misnomer.

Wilkins believed the swing effect was induced more by evaporation, just like those shimmering scenes seen in movies based in the desert where characters in the distance ripple their way into the action.

That movement in the air was what helped create swing. Wilkins said that was why the ball could swing in hot, sunny conditions, in Adelaide or Karachi, where there was no cloud cover.

And the best conditions were when there was heat around after overnight rain, especially. 

What we saw in Auckland on Friday night was a terrific downpour.

The sun came out on Saturday morning and the fact play began at the earlier proscribed start time was evidence of just how much heat was around.

That meant swing was always going to be available and the discomfort it caused India was immediately apparent.

McCullum's bowlers had hardly worked up a sweat when India were all out for 202. The obvious thing was to put them back in again because the conditions were all in New Zealand's favour. And the fact NZ were all out for 105 shows just how much that was correct.

The game could have been all over by stumps on the third day had New Zealand's bowlers retained a sense of their direction during the third afternoon.

The concern is that by a seeming lack of appreciation of the theory of swing, as studied by a New Zealand scientist, New Zealand were required to reinvent the wheel and deny themselves an even more convincing Test win over India than has been achieved.

New Zealand's brains trust do not have enough resource to play with to continue to deny this method of attack which stands up to almost any scrutiny anyone could wish to apply.

Cricket could be so much easier to play if better use was made of the intelligence at hand. 

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