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Physics of Bowling

We talk a lot about inswing, outswing, reverse swing, and seam movement. But do we actually know about the physics involved in this?

Let's start our analysis by listing down the factors that impact the fore mentioned varieties of bowling.

  • The condition of the ball
  • Seam (Threading at the center of the ball) position and release.
  • The speed of the ball
  • External factors
Let us discuss our different types of bowling with respect to the above factors and also considering that the ball has been bowled to a Right-Handed batsman.

Swing bowling: The Lateral movement of the ball in the air before pitching on the surface.
Seam bowling: The lateral deviation of the ball after pitching on the surface.

The movement of the ball into the batsman in the air is called as inswing. Inswing can be achieved with both new and the old ball, but the way the ball comes into the batsman is what makes it inswing or reverse swing.

The new ball, when bowled with the seam pointed into the batsman, further directed towards fine leg at a considerable speed (110kmph and above) on a green surface with a bit of wind in most of the conditions will move in the air swinging into the batsman.

The movement of the ball away from the batsman in the air is called as outswing. Outswing can be achieved with both new and the old ball, but the way the ball moves away from the batsman is what makes it outswing or reverse swing.

The new ball, when bowled with the seam pointed away from the batsman, further directed towards the slips at a considerable speed (110kmph and above) on a green surface with a bit of wind in most of the conditions will move in the air swinging away from the batsman.

The physics behind both Inswing and Outswing:
The laminar boundary layer along the bottom surface of the ball separates itself from the top surface of the ball, but the boundary layer along the top surface is tripped by the seam into a turbulent state thereby making the separation delayed. This difference in shape results in a pressure difference on the ball due to the wind across it and hence the side force makes the ball swing in the same direction that the seam is pointing inwards.

Green pitches have a bit of moisture on the surface, thereby having a lot of air molecules in the surroundings, which eventually have an impact on the movement of the ball in the air.

Reverse Swing:
This type of swing is generally achieved with an old ball due to the difference in the texture on either side of the ball.

In conventional swing (Inswing and Outswing) it's the angle of the seam that mostly decides the movement of the ball; in reverse swing, it is the speed along with the texture of the ball that decides the movement of the ball

At higher speeds with an old ball, the ball seems to move away from the rough surface thereby pushing the ball towards the softer side/shiny side; that is when the shiny side is pointed into the batsman and the ball in angled towards the slips the ball still comes into the batsman. This time of movement is called as reverse swing.
However, any physical law has limitations; it is believed that few balls cannot be swung at all
and they mark them as a manufacturing defect.


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