Celebrating the art of Chucking in Cricket! [Part-2]

Chucking finally finds a commonsense solution

Peter Roebuck

Everyone throws. No one throws. Take your pick. Cricket has never dealt satisfactorily with the issue of illegal actions. An inordinate amount of time has been wasted upon the subject.

An arriving alien could be forgiven for assuming it is the hottest topic in the game and that batsmen around the world were being battered by baseball pitchers in the guise of leather-flingers. In fact, willow-wielders are dictating terms and precious few have been taken to hospital this decade.

Nevertheless the problem needed to be sorted out because it had caused unnecessary conflict. Emotions run high whenever throwing is mentioned.

Accordingly a group of past players including such luminaries as Angus Fraser and Michael Holding met recently in Dubai with instructions to produce a solution that protected the game, reflected the facts revealed by the scientists and capable of surviving the scrutiny of the lawyers. In other words it had to be objective and contemporary.

By and large the experts have succeeded. Their overriding purpose was "to prevent bowlers from throwing the ball". Unfortunately it is not as simple as that. Throwing is hard to define.

In the days before high-powered cameras and slow motion replays, it was possible to draw the line at straightening the arm. Now it has emerged that almost all bowlers straighten the arm in delivery, most of them more than the 10 per cent tolerated under the recently rewritten and swiftly out-dated rules.

As much was confirmed by biotechnicians in a secret report prepared for the ICC and submitted to them a few years ago. Using the latest technology, Dr Mark Portus and colleagues revealed that under the existing laws almost every bowler was illegal.

Holding admitted as much after the meeting in Dubai. Previously a sceptic, Holding studied the evidence and realised that "when bowlers who appear to have proper actions to the naked eye are thoroughly analysed, they are shown to straighten their arms by 10 or 11 degrees. Under the strict rules of the game they are throwing". He said that "cricket needs to deal with this reality".

Confronting reality has been the inevitable and correct course of action. Those pining for the old days are whistling in the dark. Rather than ignoring the facts, the experts took them into account and concentrated on simplifying procedures.

Their starting point was appearances. It was an attempt to return to common sense. Jerky actions demand a closer look. Smooth actions can be left alone. It is not supposed to be a witch hunt.

Realising that the matter had become slow and bureaucratic, the past players recommend the removal of several stages of investigation and correction. They suggest that reported bowlers are referred immediately to the ICC without reference to their board. Further offences, they advise, should result in suspension.

Responding to the evidence, they suggested that the toleration level be raised to 15 per cent for all types of bowlers, thereby abolishing the bias against spinners. Previously spinners were set more stringent standards than fast bowlers whereupon Murali's supporters pointed out that his arm swung through at the same speed as any paceman.

Furthermore the experts recommend that bowlers capable of hyperextension are allowed to continue playing, which means that Shoaib Akhtar, whose elbows can bend far beyond the horizontal, has nothing to fear. Bowlers whose arms or wrists twist should also be tolerated.

Sri Lankans will celebrate this conclusion because it removes the question mark beside the name of its greatest bowler. Murali has been made legitimate. He keeps within the 15 per cent limit and anyhow his arm twists rather than straightens. Even his doosra has passed muster.

Sooner or later cricket had to recognise emerging facts. Sooner or later a pragmatic way had to be found of dealing with the game's most emotive issue. No game wants to be dragged through the courts. Cricket is a struggle between bowlers and batsmen pursued in a much changed world. Nothing can go through on the nod.

At least throwing has been defined. At last offenders will be helped and not merely and belatedly thrown out of the game. Harbhajan Singh and Akhtar might have been lost or condemned; instead they have been helped. Only the shamelessly sentimental will reject the report. Everyone else will be relieved that finally the matter is to be put on a proper footing.

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