Pakistan’s masters of reverse-swinging a cricket ball have unanimously defended it as an “art” which can be achieved without the tampering that ended in shameful bans for three Australian players.
Steve Smith had to step down as Australia captain and David Warner as vice captain after they orchestrated ball-tampering through batsman Cameron Bancroft in the Cape Town Test against South Africa last week. Bancroft was found to have used a piece of sandpaper in an attempt to alter the condition of the ball while on the field to create swing for Australia’s bowlers and deceive the South African batsmen.
Cricket Australia came down hard, handing a one-year ban each to Smith and Warner and nine months to Bancroft for sullying the country’s sporting image.
In Pakistan, an internet meme swept social media appearing to show legendary pacemen Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis smiling over the incident—with a caption that accused the Australians of being “amateurs” in their efforts to create reverse swing.
Former Pakistan fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz—widely regarded as a pioneer of reverse swing—refused to accept the implication that the skill requires ball-tampering. “This is ridiculous to say reverse swing is cheating,” Sarfraz told AFP. “You can achieve reverse swing without tampering with the ball. There is a conventional swing which is done with the new ball and then there is reverse swing which is achieved with an old ball and it has been proved in laboratories that reverse swing is a scientific phenomenon.”
Sarfraz took 177 wickets in 55 Tests, including an amazing nine for 86 against Australia at Melbourne in 1979 that included a spell of seven wickets for a mere one run in 33 balls. “When I passed the art to Imran Khan he developed it and then taught Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and in those times everyone called it cheating but when the Englishmen started to reverse swing it became an art,” said Sarfraz. “It was and will remain an art, but resorting to tampering is cheating and that was what Australians did to beat South Africa and were deservedly punished. Conventional swing is simple—if the seam is angled toward the slip fielders it will swing away from the right-handed batsman, and if the seam is angled towards the leg side it will swing into the batsman. Reverse swing is totally opposite.”
Sarfraz passed the art to Khan, who achieved more success than his master but also confessed to ball-tampering by using a bottle top to roughen one side of the ball. Asked in a 1994 television interview whether he would have got 362 Test wickets had he not tampered with the ball, Khan, who played for the English Sussex country team, replied: “Yes, it’s a misconception that whoever scratches the ball can get wickets. The whole Sussex team knew I could reverse swing and I would swing at one end while other bowlers could not swing it.”
Khan passed the torch to Akram and Younis—regarded as one of international cricket’s most destructive new-ball pairings. The two ripped through England’s batsmen on Pakistan’s 1992 tour, but were also alleged by British media to have tampered with the ball. Akram excelled for English county Lancashire for a decade while Younis starred for Glamorgan and Surrey.
“Those allegations were hurtful,” recalled Younis. “Of course, reverse swing can be achieved without cheating. Nowadays most of the bowlers do that and get wickets and help their teams win.”
While Akram—nicknamed the “Sultan of Swing”—was never caught tampering, Younis was slapped with a one-match suspension and fined 50 percent of his match fee in a tri-series in Sri Lanka in 2000. Younis suggested only one brand of cricket ball should be used in international cricket, saying it would lead to a fairer contest.
“Why do we use different brand of balls in different countries?” Younis asked. “In my opinion the Duke ball is the best and the SG comes close to it. They are the best balls for swing so in order to have uniformity and better swing these balls should be used everywhere. This will help bowlers and this will also produce better batsmen. We should solve the problem and not indulge in the blame game.”