Celebrating the art of Chucking in Cricket! [Part-1]

This is what Wisden has to say:

Trust science, not your eyes

Analysis by Amit Varma

November 10, 2004

The smell of coffee beans is strong, and we are awake. That's the thing about science – it forces us to redefine our notions about reality. All these years we thought that chucking was a cut-and-dried issue, that either you threw or you didn't, that one could tell by looking carefully. Now it has been proved, conclusively, without a doubt, that the truth is different. Most bowlers, as this news report indicates, chuck. Now we must think about this again, and start at the beginning.

What is a fair delivery? This is an important question, and a difficult one. If chucking up to 10 or 12 degrees is common, we clearly cannot enforce a ban on that, because the game would have no bowlers left. But where does "unfair" begin? The 15-degree limit that the ICC is considering is an arbitary one. Is a ball a chuck when it poses a threat to a batsman? Is it a chuck when it goes beyond the bowler's control and becomes deliberate rather than involuntary? Is it a chuck when it goes beyond a certain level across which most bowlers' involuntary straightening does not take them?

These are tough philosophical questions, and we are in an early stage of grappling with them. Angus Fraser writes in an excellent piece in The Independent today that most bowlers do not merely straighten their arm, but they also hyper-extend, adduct and abduct. Fraser explains: "These are involuntary movements, caused by the force of the arm as it comes over, and suspending a player for something like this – even though it gives him an advantage – would be hard to defend if the player took legal action." It would be hard to police as well, as it is unlikely that the best available technology can measure all these things in match conditions.

It is becoming increasingly clear, with every revelation, that the world has been unduly harsh in dealing with Muttiah Muralitharan. I had blogged earlier ("Murali's redemption, and our arrogance") about how the documentary in which Murali had bowled with a brace around his arm to prove he didn't chuck was significant – not because it proved that he did not throw in match conditions, but because it demonstrated that there was an optical illusion involved in his bowling. He had appeared to chuck, blatantly so, even with the brace on, although that was clearly not possible. This proved that the evidence of our eyes was misleading when it came to an issue like this – and there is no other evidence against Murali. Even the 14 degrees of his doosra would now be legal under the new limits the ICC is considering.

The most important aspect of these new developments is that we now know that we cannot trust our eyes. Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock appeared to have lovely clean actions, but look what the studies tell us. Murali appeared to chuck with a brace on, when he clearly couldn't have been doing so, so our eyes were wrong again. We need to get over the arrogance of believing that what we see is how things are – a mistake people make regarding another crucial area of cricket, umpires and technology. Reality is more complex than what our eyes tell us, and we need science to guide us, and technology to help us.

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. He writes the cricket blog, 23 Yards, for this site.


ICC study reveals that 99% of bowlers throw

Wisden Cricinfo staff (Interesting byline that... )

November 10, 2004

Extensive research conducted by the International Cricket Council is set to reveal that 99% of bowlers in the history of cricket have been throwers. The study was undertaken in the wake of the furore surrounding Muttiah Muralitharan, whose doosra was banned earlier this year after Chris Broad, the match referee for the Tests against Australia, reported it to the ICC.

"The scientific evidence is overwhelming," said Michael Holding, the possessor of one of the smoothest bowling actions in history, and a member of the six-man panel of former Test players who have been gathered in Dubai to investigate the issue. "When bowlers who, to the naked eye, look to have pure actions are thoroughly analysed ... they are likely to be shown as straightening their arm. Under a strict interpretation of the law, these players are breaking the rules. The game needs to deal with this reality and make its judgment as to how it accommodates this fact."

According to Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph, Murali is no different from the vast majority of his fellow players. The current law states that there should be no straightening or partial straightening of the bowling arm during delivery, and in-depth research has revealed that even bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, usually considered examplars of the classical action, occasionally go over the prescribed tolerance limit, bending their arms by as much as 12 degrees.

The tolerance levels had been set at five degrees for spinners, seven-and-a-half for medium-pacers, and ten for quick bowlers, a situation that invited much criticism from past greats such as Ian Chappell. But the study, conducted by three prominent biomechanics experts, suggests that the human eye can only detect a kink in the action if the straightening is more than 15 degrees.

As Angus Fraser - another member of the six-man panel - wrote in The Independent, even the likes of Fred Trueman, Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and Ian Botham were found to have exceeded the straightening-limit set by the ICC.

The biomechanics men - Dr Marc Portus, Professor Bruce Elliott and Dr Paul Hurrion - used cameras shooting at 250 frames per second (ten times the speed of a TV camera) to illustrate phenomena such as adduction and hyper-extension, which can convince an observer watching with the naked eye that the bowler is chucking.

Research was also undertaken during the ICC Champions Trophy in England, where it was found that 13 of the 23 bowlers filmed straightened their arms more than the current permissible levels. Ramnaresh Sarwan, he of the fairly innocuous legspin, was the only man observed who didn't straighten his arm at all.

Based on these findings, the ICC is to extend the tolerance limit to 15 degrees for all bowlers, regardless of whether they bowl at Shane Warne's pace or Shoaib Akhtar's. Match officials will still be expected to note down suspicious actions, and pass on the information to the ICC. But unlike before, remedial action will now be the sole preserve of a new body to be set up to help bowlers with the rehabilitation process.

It will include former Test bowlers and biomechanics experts, and they will have the authority to fail a bowler. Those exceeding the tolerance limit will be on probation for two years, rather than the current one, but subsequent offences will result in a 12-month ban. It remains to be seen, however, if such a system will be introduced at first-class level.

The panel's proposals will now be considered by the ICC Chief Executives' Committee at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Melbourne, Australia, in February 2005. "The information and the recommendations provided by the Cricket Committee are valuable and important," said Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, "but this matter is still to be properly considered."

"I would expect that there will be a full and healthy debate," Speed added, "as the people who run cricket in each country consider the proposals put forward and determine whether this option provides a better solution than the system currently in place."


'About 80% of bowlers have some degree of flexion'

Wisden Cricinfo staff

November 10, 2004

The findings of the three-man panel that did in-depth research on bowling actions for the International Cricket Council will be greeted with immense relief and a sense of vindication by one man. Muttiah Muralitharan has always felt that he was a high-profile, soft target - and the revelation that 99% of bowlers throw under the current laws will come as no surprise to him.

In an interview with the Sunday Times last August, he questioned the wisdom of carrying out tests on individuals in isolation. "So many of the people who talk about this issue don't even know what a bowling action is," he said then. "There are cricketers who haven't gone deeper into the subject. They don't know what research has been done in the field. Why check only one or two bowlers? Why not check all? You take Harbhajan Singh, Saqlain [Mushtaq], you take [Ashley] Giles, all the spinners."

The double standards also appalled Murali, with the ICC allowing fast bowlers twice as much leeway – 10 degrees – despite the fact that Murali's own freakishly supple shoulder generates tremendous ball-speed. And when confronted with the accusation that his doosra was illegal, Murali calmly refocused the spotlight on the bouncer. "If you check the flexion for bouncers, I think it will be more than anything else," he said. "I think every fast bowler straightens his arm when he bowls a bouncer. They're not robots, your arm can only move a certain way. I can challenge anyone. Put every bowler to the test, and see what you get.

"I've been bowling like this for over ten years, and it's not appropriate to pick out only me. If you check, you'll find that 80% of bowlers have some degree of flexion. They should also be tested to see if their actions are correct."

The figure of 99% will shock those who have followed the game for years, and will no doubt elicit angry responses from former legends whose actions were considered beyond reproach. But for Murali, who was once even called a javelin-thrower by Bishan Singh Bedi, the figures back up what he has said all along, that very few actions are without some kink when subjected to high-speed cameras.

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