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PhysicsofCricket

Copyright2005.Thefollowingarticlescannotbereproducedinany
formatwithoutpermission.
InAustralia,asinotherpartsoftheBritishEmpire,boys(suchasmyselfhere)learn
toplaycricketatarelativelyyoungage.Cricketisasubtlegamerequiringagreat
amountofpatienceaswellasskill.Ittakes5daystocompleteaTestmatchsothe
grassneedstobemownandthepitchneedstoberolledasthegameprogresses.Itis
notsomethingthatiseasytolearnandappreciateasanadult,especiallybyNorth
Americans.

1.HeavyvsLightBats
Thecrowdlovesabatterwhocanhitsixes.Ifyouwanttohittheballasfastandfaras
possible,shouldyouusealightorheavybat?That'sanageoldquestionwithplentyof
answers,butwhichisthecorrectanswer?Lightbatscanbeswungfasterthanheavy
bats,butonlyabout10%faster(fortheusualrangeofbatweights).Imagine
hypotheticallythatthebatweighs10gramslightasafeather.Ifyouswingitasfast
aspossible,youmightgetthetiptotravelatsay160km/hr.Nowdoubletheweightto
20gm.Thistimethetiptravelsatabout159km/hr.Theproblemhereisthatyour
armsweighabout8kgallup,sotheextra0.01kgishardlynoticeable.Mostofthe
effortneededtoswingabatgoesintoswingingthearms.That'swhylightbatscanbe
swungonlyabout10%fasterthanheavybats.
Ifalightbatwasswungatthesamespeedasaheavybatandbothhitthesameball,
theheavybatwouldpackmorepowersinceithasmoreenergyandmoremomentum.

Butlightbatscanbeswung10%faster.Ifabatisswung10%faster,theballcomes
offthebatabout7.5%faster.Thatalmostmakesupforthefactthatlightbatsare
basicallylesspowerfulwhenswungatthesamespeedasheavybats.Theendresultis
thatheavybatsareabout1%morepowerfulthanlightbats.Havingaheavybatisa
definiteadvantageifyouswingallbatsatthesamemediumspeed,butifyouneedto
movethebatquicklyintopositiontostriketheball,alightbatwillgettherefaster.
Heavyfora10yearoldmightbelightfora100kgcricketer,sotherealanswerfor
rawbatpoweristouseabatthatisasheavyasfeelscomfortabletoswing.

2.TheSweetSpot
Everybatterknowsthatthereisaspecialspotonabatwheretheshotfeelsbest.It
sometimesfeelssogoodthatthereisalmostnosensationatallthatthebathittheball.
It'sthesamewithabaseballbatoratennisracquetoragolfclub,sothereisnothing
specialinthisrespectaboutcricketbats.Twospecialpointsonabataregood
candidatesforthesweetspot.Technically,theyareknownasthefundamental
vibrationnodeandthecentreofpercussion.Thenodepointisconcernedwithbat
vibrations.Mostimpactpointsonabatwillcausethewholebattovibrate,including
thehandle.Thosevibrationspersistwellaftertheballhasleftthebat,andtheytellyou
whetheryouhittheballcleanly.Thebiggestvibrationsresultwhentheballstrikesthe
tipofthebat.However,thereisaspotabout150mmfromthetipwhereanimpact
causesnovibrationsatall.Thatisthenodepoint.Astheimpactpointmovescloserto
thenodepoint,batvibrationsgetweakerandtheshotfeelsnicer.
Animpactnearthetipofabatwillgeneratebadvibrationsanditwillalsocausethe
handletojerkforwards(towardsthebowler),pullingyourhandandarmwithit.An
impacthigherup,nearthehandle,willpushthehandlebackwardstowardsthebody.
Inbothcasesthereisacertainamountofjarringthatfeelsunpleasant.Theresultisa
suddenshocktothearminonedirectionratherthanabackandforthvibration.There
isanimpactpointbetweenthetipandthehandlewherethereisnosuddenmotionof
thehandleatall.Thatpointiscalledthecentreofpercussion.However,recent
measurementsshowthatitistooclosetothehandletoqualifyasthesweetspotthat
batterstalkabout.

3.Verticalbounceofacricketball
Almosteverytypeofballusedinasportingeventmustbounceaccordingtotherules
ofthegame.Iftheballbouncestoohighortoolow,theplayerswillcomplainthat
somethingiswrongwithit.Thestandardtestforbounceistodropaballfroma
certainheightontoahardsurfacesuchasaslabofconcreteandthenmeasurehow
highitbounces.Whenatennisballisdroppedfromaheightof100inches(2.54m)it
mustbouncetoaheightbetween53inches(1.35m)and58inches(1.47m).For
officialuseinmajortournaments,tennisballsmustbeproperlytestedandapproved,
foramoderatelylargefee,butthefeeisonlyasmallfractionofthetotalvalueofballs
sold.Tenniscourtsthemselvesvaryinhardness,whichaffectsbounceheight,soa
standardsurfacesuchasconcreteisusedforthesetests.

Thereisnosuchofficialruleforacricketball.Thereissimplyatraditionthatis
monitoredbyumpires,andonethatisanindustrystandard.Whenacricketballis
droppedfromaheightof2.0montoaheavysteelplate,itbouncestoaheight
somewherebetween0.56mand0.76m.Cricketballsarealotlessbouncythattennis
ballsandthepermittedrangeofpossiblebounceheightsislarger.Ausefulwayof
specifyingthebounceistotaketheratioofthebouncespeedtotheincidentspeed.
Whenaballisdroppedfromaheightof2.0mitlandsataspeedof6.26m/s,
regardlessofthetypeorweightoftheball.Acricketballbouncestoaboutonethird
ofthatheight(0.67m),inwhichcaseitreboundsataspeedof3.61m/s.Theratioof
thesetwospeedsis3.61/6.26=0.58andiscalledthecoefficientofrestitution(COR).
TheCORofatennisballisabout0.75.TheCORdeterminesnotonlythebounce
heightbutalsothespeedatwhichaballcomesoffthebat.Thebattedballspeedalso
dependsonthespeedofthebat.

4.Battedballspeed
Supposethatacricketballisbowledat100km/hr,thebatterswingsthebatat60
km/hr,andhitstheballstraightbackoverthebowler'shead.Howfastdoestheball
comeoffthebat?Thisisasimplequestionbuttheanswerisnotsosimplesinceit
dependsonwhichpartofthebatismovingat60km/hranditdependsonwherethe
ballmakescontactwiththebat.Supposethattheballstrikesthemiddleofthebat
ratherthannearanedgeandsupposethat60km/hristhespeedoftheimpactpointon
thebatratherthanthespeedofthetiporthehandle.Wealsoneedtoknowthemassof
thebat,orbetterstillweneedtoknowhowfasttheballcomesoffthebatwhenthebat
isnotswungatall.Supposethatthebatisusedjusttoblocktheballandtheball
bouncesoffthebatat20km/hr.IfE=ratioofbouncespeedtoincidentspeed=
20/100=0.2thenthespeedoftheballwhenthebatisswungatspeedVis20+(1+
E)V=20+1.2x60=20+72=92km/hr.Formostbats,Evariesfromabout0.1near
thetiptoabout0.3halfwayupthebat.EissmallestnearthetipofthebatbutVis
biggesttherewhenthebattertakesahugeswingattheball.

5.Gripfirmness
Theeffectivenessorthepowerofanygivenbatcanbetestedwithoutswingingthebat
atall.Ifthebatisheldinafixedpositionandaballisfiredatthebatatsay100km/hr,
theballwillbounceoffthebatataspeedofabout20km/hr.Thatspeedgetsaddedto
thebatspeedwhenthebatisswung.Asurprisingresultisthatthebouncespeedoffa
fixedbatdoesnotdependonhowfirmlythehandleisheld.Itcanbegrippedinavice
oritcanbedangledontheendofapieceofstringandtheballwillbounceatexactly
thesamespeed.Forthatreason,thespeedofastruckballdoesnotdependonhow
firmlythehandleisgrippedinthehands.
Thereisasimplereasonforthisstrangeresult.Whentheballstrikesthebat,itcauses
thebattobendslightlyattheimpactpoint.Thatbendthenpropagatesalongthebatup
tothehandle,reflectsofftheendofthehandleandthentravelsbackdowntothe
impactpoint.Thebendtakesabout0.002secondstotraveluptothehandleandback

again.Buttheballisonthebatforonly0.001seconds,anditbouncesoffbeforethe
reflectiongetsbacktotheimpactpoint.Theballhasnowayofknowinghowthe
handlewasheldsoitbouncesoffthebatatthesamespeedregardlessofhowthe
handleisgripped.Thehandlecouldbeattachedbyahingeandtheballwouldstill
comeoffthebatatthesamespeed.

6.Forceonacricketball
Dropacricketballonacricketpitchandtheballbouncesupoffthepitch.Howlong
doestheballremainincontactwiththepitchandhowbigistheforceontheball?
Cricketballsarerelativelystiffcomparedtosayatennisball,andthecontacttimeis
shorter.Atennisballspends0.005secondsincontactwiththecourtorthestringsofa
racquet.Acricketballspendsabout0.001secondsincontactwiththepitchorin
contactwithabat.Theforceontheballhastoslowitdowntoacompletestopand
thenaccelerateitbackintheotherdirection,allinthespaceof0.001seconds.
Supposethata0.16kgcricketballhitsabatat100km/hrandthencomesoffthebat
at100km/hrinthereversedirection.Imagineacaracceleratingfrom0to100km/hr
in0.001seconds.That'salotofacceleration.APorshecandoitin5seconds,buta
cricketballdoesit10,000timesfaster.Theaverageforceontheballis8,800
N,enoughtoliftamassof880kgofftheground.Thepeakforceontheballisabout
doublethat,enoughtolifta1.76tonnecarofftheground.That'swhyithurtstoget
struckontheheadoranywhereelsewithacricketball.

7.Airresistance
Airplaysanimportantroleincricket.Apartfromallowingplayerstobreathe,it
causestheballslowdownthroughtheairanditcancauseaballtocurveorswing
awayfromthepathitwouldotherwisefollow.Airisheavierthanyoumightexpect.
Onecubicmetreofairatgroundlevelweighs1210gm.Acricketballweighs160gm.
Aroomfullofairweighsmorethanmostcricketplayers.
Ifyoudropacricketballoutofahelicopterhovering300mabovetheground,itwill
accelerateupto123km/hrinabout5seconds,havingfallenthroughadistanceof
about100m.Itwillthenfalltheremaining200mtothegroundat123km/hr,without
gaininganyadditionalspeed.At123km/hr,theforceofgravitypullingtheballdown
isequaltothedragforceoftheairpushingitupwards.Thetotalforceonthecricket
ballisthenzerosoitfallsatconstantspeedafterthefirst100m.Amoredramatic
effectwouldbeseenifyoudroppedacricketballintoaswimmingpool.Airhasthe
samebasiceffectaswaterinslowingtheball,butitisasmallereffect.
Aballbowledhorizontallyat123km/hrexperiencesabackwardshorizontaldrag
forcethatisequaltotheweightoftheball.Atworldrecordbowlingspeedsaround
160km/hr,thedragforceis1.7timesgreaterthantheweightoftheball.Regardlessof
thespeedoftheballwhenitleavesthebowler'shand,airresistancecausestheballto
slowdownbyabout12%bythetimeitlandsonthepitch.Itslowsdownbyanother
30%or40%whenithitsthepitch,dependingonthespeedofthepitchandtheangle

ofincidence.Aballbowledat150km/hrwillarrive0.46slateratthebatter'send,
travellingatabout85km/hr.

8.Collisionbetweenbatandball
Whathappenstoaballwhenithitsabat?Itcomesinataround100km/hr,reverses
direction,andbouncesoffthebat0.001secondslater.Butwhathappensduringthat
0.001seconditisonthebat?Assumingthattheballishitinthemiddleofthebatand
headsoffstraightbacktothebowler,allthathappensisthattheballsquashes,comes
toacompletestop,expandsbacktoitsoriginalshapeandthenleavesthebat.Ifthe
ballcomesoffatsomeotherangle,thenithitsthebatatanangleandstartstoslide
acrossthebat.Asitdoesso,itslowsdowninadirectionperpendiculartothefaceof
thebatanditslowsdowninadirectionacrossthebat.Inadditionitwillstarttorotate
ifithadnorotationtostartwith,otherwisetherateofrotationwilleitherdecreaseor
increasedependingontheoriginaldirectionofrotation.Thepartoftheballincontact
withthebatwillthengripthebatwithoutanyfurtherslidingorrolling,whiletherest
oftheballcontinuestorotate.Theballthereforegetstwistedoutofshapeaswellas
gettingseverelysquashed.Astheballstartstocomeoffthebatitexpandsback
towardsitsoriginalshape,itreleasesitsgriponthebat,thereisasuddenchangeinthe
rateofrotation,andtheballslidesbackwardsoffthebat.Mostlikely,theballwill
comeoffthebatspinningmuchfasterthanitwasbeforeithitthebat.

9.Wicketkeeping
Supposethatawicketkeeperneedstomoveasfastaspossibletotherighttocatcha
ball.Whichfootshouldmovefirst,andinwhatdirection?Itseemsobviousthathis
leftfootshouldstayonthegroundandhisrightfootshouldmovetotherightwhile
pushingashardaspossibletotheleftwiththeleftfoot.Thatway,hiswholebodyand
everypartofitmovesrapidlytotheright.Butsupposehepushestotheleftwithhis
leftfootandmoveshisrightfoottotheleft.Thatway,hewilltendtofallovertothe
rightandhisupperbodymovesevenfastertotheright.Suchastepiscalledagravity
stepanditiscounterintuitive.
Thesamesituationariseswhenatennisplayerisfacinga200km/hrserveandneeds
tomoveasfastaspossibletotheright.Highspeedfilmshowsthatplayerswhomove
theirrightfoottotheleft,beforemovingittotheright,gettheirracquettotheball
faster.Thephysicsexplanationisthatkeepingthefeettogetherreducesthemomentof
inertiaandtheupperbodywillthereforerotatefaster.Thesamesortofthinghappens
whenadiverwantstodoadoubleortriplesomersault.Tuckingthearmsandlegsin
reducesthemomentofinertiaandthediverspinsfaster.

10.World'sfastestbowler
Thecricketequivalentofa4minutemileistobowlaballat100mph(161km/hr).
AkhtarandLeehavecomeclose,butnooneknowsforsureiftheyhaveactuallydone

ityet.ThenewspaperssaidthatAkhtardiditin2002,buthowdoweknowthatthe
radargunwascorrect?Iknowforafactthatitwasn'tcorrectbecausetheyneverare.
That'sbecause(a)theballdoesn'ttravelstraightatthegunand(b)theballslowsdown
downthroughtheairby0.6mphafterittravelsthefirst1.0m.Ifa100mphball
travels5degreesawayfromthegunthespeedwillberecordedas99.6mph.Ballsare
bowledabout5degreesdownfromthehorizontalandanythingupto5degrees
horizontallyawayfromthemiddlestump.Thatcangiveanerrorofaround1mphin
therecordedspeed.
Inordertogetthespeedtothenearest0.1mph,thegunwouldneedtopointalmost
exactlyinlinewiththeballanditwouldneedtocapturethespeedbeforetheball
travels160mmoutofthebowler'shand.Thatmeansthegunhastobelocatednear
thestumps.Also,theballcan'trotatebecauseitmightgainanextra1mmiftheseam
comesintoview,soitcouldgainanextra0.6mph.
Ifsomeoneeverbowlsaballat101mphthentherewillbeagoodchancethatitwas
actually100mphormore.UntilthenAkhtar's161km/h(100.04mph)shouldbetaken
withagrainofsalt.Allrecordedspeedsshouldbequotedasplusorminus1mphor
whatevertheappropriatemarginoferrorhappenstobe.

11.Ballspin
Spinbowlershavelotsoftricksuptheirsleevesinceaballcanbespuninmany
differentways.Acricketball,likeanythingelse,hasthreemainaxesaboutwhichit
canspin.Eachspinaxishasadifferenteffectontheflightoftheballthroughtheair
andadifferenteffectonthewaytheballbounces.Thethreeaxesareperpendicularto
eachother.Thefirstaxisisvertical,pointingtothesky,andtheothertwoare
horizontal.Thesecondaxispointsalongthepitchtowardsthebatter.Thethirdaxis
pointsacrossthepitch.Aballcanalsobespunaboutanaxisthatisinclinedatan
angletothethreemainones,inwhichcaseitwillhaveacomponentofspinabout
eachofthemainaxes.
Aballthatspinsaboutaverticalaxiswillswervetotheleftorrightthroughtheair
(likeagolfer'shookorsliceshot)dependingonthespindirection.Thereisnokick
whenitbouncessincethereisnopreferreddirectioninwhichitcankick.
Aballthatspinsaboutthesecondaxisdoesnotswerveatallthroughtheair.However
itwillkicksharplytotheleftorrightwhenitbounces,dependingontheamountand
directionofspin.Theballkicksinthesamedirectionofmotionasthetopoftheball.
Dropaspinningballverticallyontothepitchandyouwillseewhy.
Topspinorbackspinresultswhentheballspinsaboutthethirdaxis.Atopspinball
divesdowntowardsthepitchfasterthanaballwithoutspin,anditbouncesata
reducedanglesinceitkicksforwardswhenitbounces.Abackspinballtendstofloat
throughtheairandkicksupwhenitbouncessinceittendstokickbackwards,causing
theballtoslowdownmorethanaballwithoutspin.Theactualresultdependsonboth
theamountofspinandtheangleofincidence.Ifanonspinningballisincidentatan

angleofabout20degreestothehorizontal,thenitwillslidealongthepitchuntilit
bounces,atabout22degreestothehorizontal.Iftheballhasbackspinthenthe
trajectorywillprobablybedifferent.Itdependsontheballspeedandlaunchangleor
onwheretheballlands.Ingeneral,aballwithbackspinlandingatthesamespotwill
beincidentatalowerangle,say18degrees,anditwillbounceupatabout20degrees.
Butifthebowlersendsdownaslowerbackspinballandifitlandsatanangleof
incidenceofsay40degrees,thentheballwillstarttoslidealongthepitchforawhile
andthengripthepitchbeforeitbounces.Thiswillcausetheballtoslowdownalot
duringthebounce,soitwillbounceupquitesteeply,sayat50degrees.Theformula
forthebounceangleis:
Slopeofbounceangle=(verticalbouncespeed)/(horizontalbouncespeed)
whereslopemeansthesamethingastangentintrigonometry.So,theeffectof
backspinortopspindependsonwhethertheballslidesthroughoutthebounce(asit
doesatlowincidentangles)orwhetheritgetsachancetogripthepitch,asitdoesat
highanglesofincidence.

12.Swingbowling
Acricketballcanswervetotheleftortherightasitmovesthroughtheair,either
becauseitspinsaboutaverticalaxisorbecauseitspinsaboutanaxisperpendicularto
theseam.Verticalaxisspiniscommonlyusedbyspinbowlersbynotbyfastbowlers.
Fastbowlersprefertoswingtheballbymakingsuretheseamisinclinedatanangle
ofabout20degreestothedirectionthattheballisheaded,insuchawaythatabout
3/4ofthefrontoftheballissmooth.Thatway,theairflowssmoothlyaroundthe
smoothhalfbutitbecomesturbulentontheothersidesinceithastoflowpastthe
seam.Turbulentairisatalowerpressurethansmoothflowingair,sotheballgets
pushedsideways.Itisalmostimpossibletoeliminatebackspinastheballleavesthe
bowler'shand,butifthespinaxisisperpendiculartotheseamthenitwillhelptokeep
theseamalignedatafixedangle.
Thesidewaysforceontheballpeaksatabout110km/hr,dropstozeroatabout120
km/hrandthenreversesdirection.Reverseswingarisesbecausetheairflowonthe
smoothsidebecomesturbulentatsufficientlyhighballspeeds.Thesmoothsidethen
becomesthelowpressuresidesotheballswingsintheoppositedirection.Normally,
thiseffectissignificantonlyatspeedsaboveabout140km/hr.However,theeffect
canoccuratlowerspeedsiftheballhasaroughenedsideandiftheroughenedside
facesforward.Conventionalswingbowlerspolishtheballsoonesideisassmoothas
possible.Reverseswingersliketomakesuretheothersideisasroughaspossible.The
bestballtoswingisthereforeonethatstayssmoothononesideandroughensup
duringnormalplayontheotherside.
Detailsoftheaerodynamicsinvolvedaredescribedonmyhomepageunderthe
headingBallTrajectorieswhereyoucanfindseveralpdffilestodownloadonthe
subject,includingonecalledSportsBalls.pdfandonecalledFluidflowPhotos.pdf.
Thesecretbehindswingbowlingliesinthewaythatthethinboundarylayerofair

neartheballsurfacecanseparatefromtheballeitherearlyorlatedependingon
whethertheairflowssmoothlyoverthesurfaceoristrippedintoturbulencebythe
seamorbyroughnessofthesurface,orboth.Thoseboundarylayerswererevealed
manyyearsagobythemarveloussmoketunnelphotosshowninthePhotos.pdffile.
HereisonetakenbythelateProfessorF.BrownfromUniversityofNotreDame
showinghowairflowsaroundaspherewhenpartofthebottomhalfiscoveredina
roughgrit.Airseparatesearlyoverthesmoothportion,becomesturbulentoverthe
roughportionandseparateslater,sotheairisdeflectedupward,resultinginanequal
andoppositedownwardforceontheball.Thatisthesecretthatliesbehindalmostall
aerodynamicflows,anditiswhatdeterminesboththeliftanddragcoefficientsacting
onanobject.Notehowairbackflowsintothelowpressureholeleftbehindtheball,
formingaturbulentwake.Thisphotoisprotectedbycopyright.