Sri Lanka v Australia – Day 1: What about cut


Galle, Sri Lanka v Australia,

Day 1, 4 August 2016


By Bernard Whimpress


I tuned into the game after lunch,  Sri Lanka 3-160 or thereabouts, and  Mitchell Starc into the attack for a spell bowling round the wicket.

Can you believe the commentators?

Well, you’re expected to.

They blather on about reverse swing when it’s nothing of the kind.

According to the dynamics of physics you have to be able to bowl above 140 kph to achieve this. Starc can do it but it’s not what he was doing.

His first delivery was a rip-snorter. A magnificent ball with a low arm aiming at off stump, cutting away and which went within millimetres of drawing an edge from the bat. No doubt he had similar intentions with some other deliveries but had not the same control.

In the nineteenth century in the days when cricket balls scarcely had seams worth mentioning, and these were well worn down because only a single ball was used for an entire innings, bowlers had to employ various crafts to extract a batsman on a good wicket.

Cut was one of these. A pace bowler cut his fingers down one side of the ball to produce deviation off the pitch. The great English fast bowler Tom Richardson was noted for his break-backs as was Australia’s Fred Spofforth. The term ‘break-backs’ gave way to off-cutters and among other bowlers to employ the delivery at lesser pace were the Australian trio of Charlie Turner, George Giffen and Monty Noble.

The off-cutter was produced by sliding the fingers down the outside of the ball while the opposite effect (a leg-cutter) resulted from fingers cut down the inside of the ball. Exponents of the latter have included England medium-pacer Alec Bedser and even fast bowlers such as Dennis Lillee and New Zealand’s Richard Hadlee late in their careers.

Left-arm pace bowlers have often employed what for them is a fast orthodox leg break by cutting their fingers outside the ball. One has read of Ernie Toshack in a post-war Test against India proving unplayable and his contemporary Bill Johnston regularly dropping his pace to bowl quickish cutters.

Pakistan’s Wasim Akram opened a day’s play at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the 1990s bowling an over like this to Ian Healy. Healy was beaten five times in a row before being dismissed by the final ball.

The phrase, ‘It was wasted on thee’, came quickly to mind.

Starc’s tactic today reminded me of several occasions when Mitch Johnson dropped his arm to bowl fast leg-cutters, once in an SCG Test against South Africa when he knocked over the tail to win the match. Johnson, of course, may have tried the tactic too often and his career fell into decline when his arm fell too low too often. One trusts Starc will control his experiments better.

I’ve got nothing against the use of the term ‘reverse swing’. The great Pakistani trio of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis got the ball (and the cricket world) talking with reverse swing in the 1990s and Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones used it with great effect against us in the 2005 Ashes, especially by going round the wicket to our left-hand batsmen.

My complaint is not with reverse swing, my gripe is with commentators and reporters who can’t make the distinction in the bowler’s intention between cut and swing, reverse or otherwise.

It’s time cut was given its due.

Second Test, Galle.   Sri Lanka 281. Australia 2/54.  Full scorecard.


©4 August 2016

About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) who has just written his 40th book. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Among his most recent books are George Giffen: A Biography, The Towns: 100 Years of Glory 1919-2018, Joe Darling: Cricketer, Farmer, Politician and Family Man (with Graeme Ryan) and The MCC Official Ashes Treasures (5th edition).


  1. Nice one Bernard. Agree, it’s been nothing but reverse swing this and reverse swing that ever since a bottle top was first used to scuff up a ball. Strikes me some of these reverse swing balls are just plain old inswingers too.

  2. Worth looking at where the shiny side is. That’s the indicator.

  3. Very well said, Bernard.

    Over the past few years it seems there has been a clamouring by commentators to be the first on any given broadcast to mention “reverse swing” or “reversing”. I think the record is held by one of the Channel 9 “experts’ who detected a hint of reverse in about the eighth over a Test match! I personally cannot remember the ball EVER reversing in Australian conditions.

    Reverse swing continues to be some sort of bowling holy grail. Among commentators, coaches and players.

  4. bernard whimpress says

    Thanks Hillsy, JTH, Smokie
    If I was a cool dude explaining the game to a Yank I might say ‘Ain’t got no swing, it’s all in d’cut man.’ Then again Starc might’ve got the ball swinging, reversing later but it’s not what he was doing at the start of his spell. I should add that Hazelwood earlier bowled a superb off-cutter which almost bowled Mendis but the term wasn’t used then either.

  5. Spot on Bernard it s well and truly the in words n cricket broadcasting

  6. Citrus Bob says

    We have got so scientific in a game that has been made magical by the ability that everything is being lost in translation.
    The Australians in particular have so many people running the game at the top level (science dept) that the natural player at 21 is being lost. I bet players such as Kohli, Mendis and co have not had the bullshit that goes on in Australia throughout the year.
    Our young champions are being lost completely with the scientific analysis of their game.
    Don’t get me started! Australia all out 106. I bet they blame the pitch!!!
    Citrus Bob

  7. Roger that, Citrus.

    Are you there? I think Marvin Vaas is.

  8. My bleating pertains to the TV coverage.

    It said coverage would commence @ 2-15 pm Melbourne time. Being on A/L I settled back on the couch to watch it. However a Caribbean BBL was being televised. It went on to the final delivery , then the post game commiseration and celebrations. The coverage then crossed to Galle in time for the second ball of the test. WTF !?!

    Yep we missed Mitchell Starc taking a wicket with opening ball of the test. One of the few highlights of the test was not shown. No apologies from the network for this lack of, nay, non coverage.

    We pay for Pay-Tv for live sports coverage , yet the opening ball of the test is not shown. Not happy Jan !


  9. Citrus Bob says

    Unfortunately not at one of my favourite cricket grounds. What a beautiful setting with all the Monks sitting in the free seats on the garrison wall.
    I am busy curating THE ART OF FOOTBALL probably the biggest exhibition of football paintings et al ever witnessed in Australia. Well middle Australia anyway.
    Mildura August 31st – September 19th
    The Riverland September 21st – October 6th
    Marvin Vaas would be there and I know where that betting shop is.

  10. Interesting observations, Citrus Bob.

    Good on you re: THE ART OF FOOTBALL. Best wishes with it all.

  11. bernard whimpress says

    WTF CB in your second comment and ER. Marvellous how we get from discussions of Cut v Swing to The Art of Football? Why not faction fighting in the Liberal Party or farnarkling in Arizona?

  12. Aaron Owen says

    You would have hoped former cricketers cum commentators would know about, and be able to distinguish cut from swing, and in turn pass that illumination onto viewers. Instead they prefer to hype-up the unwarranted, reminisce too much, speak in cliches, and, generally, talk shit. Tis a pity people with knowledge and an eye for an analysis aren’t required in broadcasting anymore.

  13. bernard whimpress says

    Precisely Aaron. If the ABC had employed me when I enquired about a cadetship in 1968 I might’ve done 500 Tests by now. Cheers.

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