TELFORD VICE, Hobart
THE clouds that scudded low and heavy over Mount Wellington here on Thursday brimmed with news both good and bad for bowlers hoping to take wickets in the second test between Australia and South Africa that starts at Bellerive Oval on Saturday.
If they bring rain – as they are forecast to do tomorrow and on Sunday and Monday – there will be no wickets for the taking.
But if the rain stays away the clouds should help the ball swing. Hello wickets.
Then again, clouds mean more moisture even if the heavens stay closed. Goodbye reverse swing.
And that’s bad news for South Africa, whose mastery of one of cricket’s less obvious, more subtle skills was a significant factor in them winning the first test by 177 runs at the WACA on Monday.
Despite being dismissed for 242 in their first innings, losing Dale Steyn to a broken shoulder after he had bowled only 12.4 overs in Australia’s reply, in which they conceded 166 runs before they took a wicket, the visitors found ways to earn one of the most dramatic victories in test history.
Among those ways was reverse swing, which can happen once the ball ages and one side becomes rougher than the other.
But achieving it is less an accident and more about managing the ball appropriately.
Teams are permitted to shine one side of the ball and allow the other to scuff from normal wear and tear.
They can accelerate the process by ensuring their throws from the outfield land on the wicket table or the pitch itself, which are more abrasive than the grassier deep.
“There are ways you can try and exploit it when you’re out there fielding,” Dean Elgar said on Thursday.
But Elgar denied the South Africans had crossed any lines in cricket’s laws.
“It’s definitely not a deliberate tactic of us trying to land the ball,” he said. “When you’re on the boundary, there are rules that you are allowed to bounce a ball in.
“All teams around the world use that tactic these days. You are allowed to use it to your advantage and all teams are welcome to do it. But obviously within the rules and regulations of the game.”
The South Africans’ skill in the reverse swing department has made the Aussies resolve to up this part of their game.
“They got it going pretty well in both innings, which is quite rare in Perth,” fast bowler Josh Hazlewood said on Thursday.
“We tried our best to get it going, and the bowlers usually can if conditions suit.
“It was frustrating only getting a little bit of movement here and there.
“Their ball seemed to keep its hardness for a lot longer and ours got that soft feel about it and became a bit tennis ball-like.
“The bowling department has a few things to work on, especially around the ball.”
Did Hazlewood think South Africa’s adeptness at reverse swing was a happy accident or the outcome of a deliberate process?
“A bit of both maybe,” he said. “They’re a well-drilled unit with the reversing ball and they bowled in great areas with it. It’s frustrating but we’ll keep working on it and try and get it going.
“They’re (getting) that side nice and rough and the other one shiny.
“We’ll continue to work on it and have a meeting about it and see what works.”
Former Australian fast bowler Ryan Harris had grudging respect for the South Africans’ ball skills.
“All we have to do is throw the ball on the ground more often, simple as that,” Harris told reporters in Brisbane.
“That’s what they (South Africa) were doing – pick the ball up, look at it and then throw it on the ground.
“That’s the trend these days. It’s no secret.
“We have to do it better. They utilised it very well, we just have to make sure we do it better.”
But preparing a ball to reverse swing is one thing. Exploiting what that ball has to offer is another.
“For a bowler to be able to bowl with the reversing ball is a massive skill,” Elgar said.
“We’re fortunate if that most if not all of our bowlers can bowl with the reversing ball, which works in our favour quite nicely.”
They might need to have other tricks up their sleeves in Hobart.