Tuesday 25 September 2012

the shane warne effect: how cricket has shaped the tossing of oranges

No man has truly lived until he has put forth an original theory.

It doesn't need to be groundbreaking, like Einstein's theory of general relativity.  It doesn't need to inspire controversy, like Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.  But to come up with a theory is to participate in the grandest yet simplest of human experiences—to attempt to better explain the workings of our mysterious universe.

I now present to you my life's theory.
The amount of spin applied to a tossed orange is directly proportional to the tosser's familiarity with the game of cricket.
Don't worry, I'll explain.  We'll begin with some background on oranges.  After all, I am somewhat of an expert on fruit.

Eating an orange is a real shit of a task.  No matter how good your method of peeling, cutting or biting might be, eating an orange inevitably will leave a mess at some point or another.  You will be left with sticky, acidic citrus juice all over your face, hands or kitchen.

But where the orange fails for eating, it excels for tossing.  Tossing an orange into the air and catching it again is one of the best ways to spend two to five minutes of your day.  From the way the orange fits neatly into the palm of the hand, to the texture of the orange's grippable-yet-smooth surface, to the soft yet satisfying "pat" sound made by the orange as it falls back into your hand, the orange is nature's most tossable creation.

Studies have shown that cities with chronically late trains can alleviate customer complaints not by fixing the trains, but simply by placing a basket of oranges on each platform for commuters to toss.  The commuters have so much fun with the oranges that the lateness goes unnoticed.

But not all oranges are tossed equally—and sport has something to do with this.

In the game of cricket, the role of the bowler is to deliver the ball (via arm and wrist, not via registered post) to the batsman at the other end of the pitch.  There are two basic types of bowler: the pace bowler, who uses speed and bounce to try and defeat the batsman, and the spin bowler, who bowls at a slower speed but imparts spin onto to the ball in order to cause the ball to dip, drift and turn on its way to the batsman.

Pictured below is Shane Warne, professional poker player and (arguably) the greatest spin bowler in cricket history.  Whereas young cricketers once dreamed of causing as much injury to batsmen as possible by way of pace bowling, Warne's exploits over the last two decades helped make spin bowling cool again.

Spin bowling, however, is a notoriously hard art to master, requiring great precision and dexterity in the fingers and/or wrist in order to impart spin onto the ball.  Therefore, as with any sport, it is much easier for fans and wannabes to pretend to know how to spin bowl than it is to actually do it.

Have a look at this video of Shane Warne preparing to bowl, and pay close attention to how he tosses the cricket ball about as he readies himself.  Look at those flicks, flips and spin!

Now, hand a cricket ball to any person who's been exposed to the game, give them no further instructions, and you'll see the same thing start to happen—almost reflexively. They'll begin to flick, spin and toss the ball about.

This, of course, is where the humble orange comes in.  As oranges (nature's most tossable object) are much more readily available than cricket balls across the world, the cricket fan is never short of a prop to demonstrate his or her alleged skill in the art of spin bowling. 

And the more familiar the fan is with the game of cricket, the more likely they are to impart greater levels of showmanship and spin onto a tossed orange.

While I plan on applying for a research grant from the University of Melbourne to further my study in this field, I have personally observed spin being imparted to oranges almost as a matter of course in Australia, New Zealand, England, and South Africa—all of which are proud cricket-loving nations.

Now, you might not be sold on my theory or my observations.  You might think I've proven nothing—that everyone imparts spin to oranges, regardless of sport, race, or creed.  Wrong.

Q: Of all the peoples of the world, who has lots of oranges but almost no cricket?

A: Americans.

Pictured here is American scientist Linus Pauling, the father of molecular biology.  Early in his career, Pauling travelled to Copenhagen and worked jointly with physicist Samuel Goudsmit, who was best known for positing the idea of electron "spin" within quantum mechanics.

Have a look at Pauling's toss.  Despite his orange being partially composed of the very electrons Pauling knew to be spinning about (in a quantum sense), you can clearly see from Pauling's flat hand that almost zero spin (in a cricketing sense) has been imparted onto this particular orange.

Or have a look at this unnamed American stock-photograph model—tossing an orange with a hand that is so flat that, ironically, it would be perfect to play cricket on top of.

While I have no doubt my theory will soon be confirmed as a universal law of nature, please send me your orange-tossing observations from around the world.  Are they Pauling-esque or Warne-esque?  I need some data to analyse before my research grant arrives.


  1. Funniest thing I've read today. You're awesome

  2. As an American by birth, cricket-loving Brit by marriage, I can assure you I have *always* tossed any ball-shaped object with spin. I would wager neither Dr Pauling nor the stock model dreamt of becoming a feared breaking-ball pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Therein lies the unchecked variable.

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