Book Review: The Science Behind Swing and Spin

A book that will make you a better cricketer. Brian Wilkins was acclaimed by the legendary Richie Benaud for his work on the art of spinning, swinging and dodging. This is the culmination of research and experimentation over a period of time. In Cricket, The Finer Arts Of A Great Game, he brings us lesser-known nuances of the game he loves so much.

Wilkins says: “This book draws on the experience of cricketers – they speak to us from many angles. The adventurous beginnings are central to the game’s story. We know the days when players experimented and discovered things that became part of the game. 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 resulted in this interesting book about a fascinating course and document explaining how the cricket ball moves through the air and off the field.

According to Wilkins, “Everyone who plays the game – from young amateur players to seasoned professionals – will derive enormous benefit and enjoyment from this vibrant book. Lavishly illustrated, this book also revisits and revitalizes many of cricket’s greatest players and moments, and tells new stories of how these players were able to succeed.

Whether you’re a bowler or a batter, you want 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 wondered about TV and radio commentators’ ramblings about why the ball deviates in the air and off the field, this is your trusty and entertaining guide to greater understanding and clarity.”

There are passages that explain the dynamics behind many aspects such as swing, the backswing, the effect of atmosphere with holds explained through visual graphics. There is an interesting chapter entitled Mainly About Hitting Against the Swing in which the author aims to help batsmen apply some basic ideas.

movement and air pressure

Turn is explained very well by Wilkins. “The essence of cricket is the changing directions of the ball as it hits the pitch. Changing direction requires a push or kick. The lateral movement in the air from the swing and the associated spin-swerve depend on the air pressure being higher on one side of the ball than the other. On the field, the ball can only change direction because of a force acting on it during the contact movement. We have to be clear about this interaction between the pitch and the ball.”

There is a chapter on sewing the ball, but the one on grip is the most insightful, with examples taken from comments by some former greats. It sheds light on the big- and small-handed bowlers, as well as the finger barrels that have suffered lacerations throughout their long careers. A standout chapter explores the mystery that marked Sydney Francis Barnes’ skills with the ball. It’s a must-read for the modern student of the game.

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

The author concludes with an important note, the role of a captain. “Captains can make or break a bowler. At best, they provide an acceptable framework in which both batsmen and bowlers can roam freely.”

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

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