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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK

Sport: Cricket

Red or white? Cheers for cricket's swingers

The white ball - one of cricket's bÍtes noires

It's been a tough few years for cricket traditionalists. And the next few weeks are not going to be any easier.

They have seen all sorts of changes in the game - pyjama-style strips, sunglasses, and women being allowed to join the MCC.

To say nothing of playing the game with a white ball - a controversial move, and now scientists have stepped into the field of argument.

The traditional red leather ball is still a fixture in Test cricket, but its white counterpart has become a permanent feature in the one-day game, and will be used in the forthcoming World Cup.

The white ball has been favoured because it is easier to see, particularly under floodlights and on television.

[ image: Red is the colour]
Red is the colour
But many cricketers say that white balls are just not the same as the red ones - and not just in the way they look. White balls are harder, some say, they hurt fielders' hands more, break bats and - crucially - behave differently when bowled. There has been resistance in the game for these claims to be admitted.

To the uninitiated, cricketers' habit of rubbing the ball on their trousers always looks strange. But all they are doing is polishing one side of the ball to make it "swing" or swerve in the air.

If a bowler can trick a batsman into thinking the ball is coming straight at him, and in fact the ball swerves, there is a greater chance that the batsman will "nick" the ball and give a fielder a catch.

Now a scientist in Wellington, New Zealand, claims to have proved that batsmen's claims that white balls swing more than red ones are true.

[ image: White showed to swing more than red, Mr Wilkins found]
White showed to swing more than red, Mr Wilkins found
Keen amateur bowler Dr Brian Wilkins, 73, has been spending his retirement perfecting a crossbow-based bowling machine which, he claims, is the first in the world accurately to mimic the action of bowling. (Other bowling machines do exist, but Mr Wilkins's can recreate the use of the seam and shine on the ball to affect swing.)

The mystery of reverse swing has been a previous subject for Mr Wilkins' research, as has the supposed effect of humidity on swing (complete nonsense, he maintains).

And test results shown on BBC One's Tomorrow's World echo what he has found in exhaustive experiments on white balls - that batsmen have been telling the truth. White balls swing more.

[ image: Brian Wilkins primes his machine at Wellington's Basin Reserve]
Brian Wilkins primes his machine at Wellington's Basin Reserve
Firing a mixture of balls, positioned in the machine to give a slight swing, showed white balls deviating from a straight path much more than red ones.

Former England captain Mike Gatting, who helped the programme assess Mr Wilkins' results, said it had confirmed his suspicions, and said he hoped it had laid to rest the claim that there was no difference between red and whites.

Dilip Jajodia, of British Cricket Balls Ltd which is making its white Dukes balls for this year's World Cup in its Kent factory, said he thought the claims over differences had been exaggerated. But he accepted that differences in the way balls were made could make a slight difference on the field.

[ image: Tests showed white balls swinging more than red]
Tests showed white balls swinging more than red
All cricket balls are made from cork and latex rubber on the inside with leather on the outside, he said. But on the white ball there was a polyurethane coating added to stop the ball getting dirty.

"Obviously the red ball doesn't have that requirement," he said. "So for the white ball we have to put on a harder wearing coating."

When the coating is intact, it could make the ball smoother. It could also make it feel harder, he said, but he dismissed claims that bats could be broken.

"If you go into the realm of aerodynamics, looking at what makes the ball swing more, obviously the smoother the surface of the ball, the more it's inclined to go through the air and deviate," he told BBC News Online.

Some bowlers found that, because of this, they could not control a new white ball as much as they would a red one. South African paceman Allan Donald had twigged to this, he said, and consequently did not open the bowling when a white ball was being used.

"In England the ball normally swings in May anyway, so in the World Cup it's going to swing more whatever the ball's like," he said.

He added that the nuances of the game - such as beliefs that balls swung more at some grounds than others - were what made cricket such a great game.

In any case, those nuances give Brian Wilkins and his ilk plenty to scratch their heads about.

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