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Seam bowling is generally classed as a subtype of fast bowling, although the bowling speeds at which seam can be a factor include medium-pace bowling. Although there are specialist seamers that make deliberate use of off cutter and leg cutter at the expense of bowling slower than regular fast bowlers, most bowlers employ the seam to some effect and so the terms "seamer" and "fast bowler" are largely synonymous.
A cricket ball is not a perfect sphere. The seam of the ball is the circular stitching which joins the two halves of the cricket ball. Hence, the seam joining the pieces of leather is circumferential and the stitching is noticeably raised. If the ball is bowled in such a way that the seam hits the pitch when it bounces, this irregularity can cause the ball to deviate sideways in its path. It may move in any direction, or just go straight. The batsman has to see how the ball moves after pitching to select his shot.
In order to achieve this effect, a seam bowler usually delivers the ball with the seam held upright, with rotation about a horizontal axis. This keeps the seam aligned vertically as it travels towards the batsman, making it likely that the ball will bounce with the seam on the pitch. Consistently hitting the seam is not as easy as it sounds. The seam has to be held upright between the index finger and the middle finger at the time of the delivery of the ball and, most importantly, the wrist has to be dead straight when the ball is delivered. The seam and wrist position of Australia's Glenn McGrath are arguably a perfect example.
The direction and degree of deviation from a straight path are dependent on the small-scale alignment of the seam and any irregularities in the pitch surface. This means that deviation caused by seam is chaotic and unpredictable.
However, it is also possible, by holding the seam at an angle and rolling the fingers over the surface of the ball, to produce a deliberate off cutter in which the ball veers away from the off side when it bounces on the pitch, or leg cutter in which it veers away from a right-handed batsman. Former Australian bowler Dennis Lillee employed a leg cutter of this sort to considerable effect; however, deliveries of this kind will be slower than if the bowler simply bowls with the seam upright, hoping for movement one way or the other. Some bowlers deliberately use cutters more for their surprise slowness than the deviation off the pitch.
Often the deviation caused by seam is not large enough to cause a batsman significant problems with playing the ball. Occasionally, however, the ball can deviate far enough to hit the edge of the cricket bat instead of the middle, producing a catch for nearby fielders. Swing bowling is a way of getting greater deviation, but is harder to control.
Australian fast-medium bowler Glenn McGrath has used his seaming ability to great effect in his career. The ball 'seams' at its best at the start of a team's innings, when the ball is new. A pitch which has cracks in it may assist a seam bowler as well. The genuine 'Yorker' may be used by seam bowlers, but bounces ('pitches') so close to the batsman's feet that it has no opportunity to deviate from its original line.
Another good example of seam bowling technique are the fast bowlers Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose. Close-up camera work of the following descriptions can be viewed for example at:. Both Walsh and Ambrose used a forward wrist flick that imparted back-spin to the ball as it left the hand. However, significantly, their choice of finger position causes the ball to exhibit precession (similar to a gyroscope), with the seam remaining broadly upright but oscillating repeatedly between a 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock position (if viewed from the bottom of the seam). This effectively destroys seam induced swing (as the ball is constantly changing between outswing and inswing seam positions through the air). Thus, the ball travels straight onto the pitch (in theory allowing the bowler to be more accurate). However, when the seam of the ball contacts the pitch at the 5 o'clock position, the result is movement to the left (away to the right-handed batsman), when the seam of the ball contacts the pitch at the 7 o'clock position, the result is movement to the right (in to the right-handed batsman). It can be seen that only rarely would the ball be at the purely 6 o'clock position to continue completely straight after pitching. This aligns with the unpredictable nature of seam bowling, but appears primarily driven by the technique of the bowler, rather than irregularities in the pitch surface.
- "Swing and seam – the basic grip". BBC. 2005-09-06. Retrieved 2015-07-16.
- "100th Test Match at Lords, England Vs West Indies in 2000, A thriller". Retrieved 19 October 2013.