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May 26, 2011

Bowling actions

Ire in Babylon

Kamran Abbasi
Jun 1983: Michael Holding of the West Indies in action during the World Cup cricket in England.
Michael Holding's ill-judged words on Saeed Ajmal was a sorry whimper that diminished the image of a bowler the world had loved in his pomp  © AllSport UK Ltd
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First there was fire, when West Indian pacemen torched the world's best batsmen, breaking bones and turning stiff spines to jelly. Those fearsome fast bowlers didn't talk much--they didn't need to--pace, swing, bounce, and a wickedly intimidating line and length sufficed. There was no talk, only walk. Michael Holding was the prince amongst those athletes, Whispering Death they called him, in homage to the effortless grace of his sprinter's run and deathly lightning bolts.

Where was once there was fire, now there is ire. West Indian fast bowlers are making a healthy business out of whispering into television and radio microphones; Holding, Ian Bishop, and Colin Croft the most prominent voices, and good luck to them, it's a reward they richly deserve. But there is something quite disheartening about hearing Mr Whispering Death whispering bitterly.

When ICC changed the bowling law to allow for the scientifically proven variation in flexibility of human joints, it was a sensible end-product of detailed biomechanical analysis of a wide variety of bowling actions in nets and in match conditions. All bowlers were flexing their elbows. High performance cameras were picking up joint movement that was previously undetectable by the naked eye, and fifteen degrees was established as the level at which the naked eye could detect a throw. Of course, a simple cut off wasn't enough because the shoulder and elbow joints move through various planes during a delivery and what seems like a throw with the naked eye isn't always one after biomechanical analysis.

Holding, who was part of the ICC bowling review committee that set the fifteen degree rule, remains confused about the change in the law. You might argue that a complex law is bad for the game, and it should be easily interpretable by all cricketers. But that would be missing the point. The change in the law was an attempt at fairness and a cut-off did make it simpler. By creating well defined criteria for ruling on the legality of bowling actions, even though technical expertise is required to pontificate definitively, the ICC lessened any suspicion that certain umpires were making prejudiced calls against particular countries. Agreement on consistent and replicable criteria also ensured that bowlers would not be deprived of their livelihood by arbitrary decision making.

These are points lost in the mists of time. They are certainly lost on Holding, whose assault on Saeed Ajmal was an act unbecoming of a man of his repute. When Holding urged his commentary colleagues to judge Ajmal's action from a front-on angle, with the use of a clumsy protractor graphic, he belittled a fellow professional whose action was cleared by ICC in 2009, but he did a grander job of belittling himself and the status of ex-cricketers as commentators.

No bowler is 'cleared' forever, and any suspicion of Ajmal's current action is the umpires' responsibility to report. It certainly isn't the business of Holding to launch an attack live on air. When Holding implied that Ajmal's long sleeve shirt served to obscure his bent arm, he was casting suspicion on the character of a fellow professional. In that moment, there was shame for Holding and the television producers who allowed such zealous attacks throughout the series.

The real story at the end of the second Test should have been the dismal failure of Holding's countrymen to play any kind of spin bowling, crumbling to a sorry defeat. West Indies were once a great side, the best I have ever seen. A team I loved like my own. Their results and performances spoke for themselves. Defeat was rare and quickly avenged with a fiery comeback. But, as Whispering Death whispered his ill-judged words to a global audience, this ire in Babylon was a sorry whimper that spoke volumes about the collapse of a mighty cricketing power and diminished the image of a bowler that the world had loved in his pomp.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Keywords: Commentary

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Rohili on (November 10, 2012, 9:27 GMT)

Stuart Clark is a great cricketer and we are all the poroer for not seeing him play. He was starting to do a good job leading the Blues.I still hope he will play for Australia again and show the selectors what a good consistent team player he is. He is a real gentleman and a great husband and father.Hope we will still see lots more of him in the future and his back will be OK soon.

Posted by Jabeer on (June 19, 2011, 19:15 GMT)

well said sir......... infact it is not about saying honestly or dis honestly..... it is about his job..... this is not mr. holding's duty to say such things....... or decide for it...

Posted by Nustian on (June 5, 2011, 19:13 GMT)

what was ramiz raja doing out during this time of period????? he should response on foolish comments like these and one during WC 2011 by Graig Chapel about Afridi.. if commentators will not neutral during commentary then who it will be???

Posted by joy on (June 1, 2011, 7:50 GMT)

Hi Kamran,

Your next blog potentially/already has a very good story.. The Afridi "Re-retirement" and PCB sacking Afridi ! Can't wait to read your post on that. The name of the post could be "Afridi quits crickets -- like quiting smoking!!"

Joy

Posted by Mumtaz on (May 31, 2011, 16:37 GMT)

I dont think that any ICC inquiry be put up unless ajmal's action iz criticised by field umpires.......n regarding mr holding,to me he n other commentators have equal rights to give their opinion...surely ajmal is a class bowler of this era.

Posted by Nasir on (May 31, 2011, 14:31 GMT)

I agree with Haroon here, Holding is entitled to air his opinion, that's his job. I would much rather have commentators speaking their mind than spouting the same old cliches every game (ala Ramiz Raja). I'm Pakistani as well and frankly find it a bit embarrassing that we go up in arms about every single piece of crticism directed our way. Let the ICC test Ajmal again and if they clear him, who cares what any one else says.

Posted by Almas on (May 31, 2011, 13:36 GMT)

The action of the bowlers is always under observation especially slow bowlers from the sub continent. Commentators do give their comments on these bowlers. One of the most biased commentator I have heard is from a great fast bowler of yesteryears, if a bowler is performing well against West Indies team and their batsman are not able to play him adverse comments dropping out on the bowlers action. What about the action of Lasith Malinga, he bowls at what degree, its bowled like a side arm throw, nobody has objected to that action. But when some bowler from Pakistan starts performing well the biased comments and objections start blubbring out why this biased attitude in my opinion people dont have the guts to say straight and just things.It is about time the people should start changing their crooked thoughts and come out with straight talk.

Posted by Ani on (May 31, 2011, 12:38 GMT)

I hope the "big hearted" Pakistanis will forgive Michael Holding. Holding should have consulted the "big hearted" Afridi before commenting. Maybe Afridi might have already left for USA after retiring for the 5th time.

Posted by A west indian on (May 31, 2011, 12:19 GMT)

I notice every one on here is either from Pakistan or of Pakistan decent.Now i am talking up for my fellow country man.Holding is own man who speak is mind, it is either you love or hate him.I dont like some commentators who suck for their country, man who is chucking with his long sleeve to hide it.We had Shillingford, who has been banned for bowling the Doorsa when he wears a long sleeve. If Ajmal has nothing to hide let seem bowl in short sleeve. This is one reason why Pakistani cricket is always in the lime light for the wrong reason.Every one on the Caribbean web who posted during all the cricket matches that Pakistan played posted says he was chucking even before Holding said it.I dont care where that person is from i just love cricket and it should be played fair.If Ajmal was a West Indian Bowler we should say he is chucker and thats it. West Indians like to play hard and fair but when some trying to hide the fact that he is a chucker then it not cricket

Posted by nomi on (May 31, 2011, 9:55 GMT)

I also agree with kamran and few of the writers above that why the hell on earth Mr. holding opposes the action of saeed ajmal during the first test. Its only because the windies were sailing to easily towards victory and even at that particular match saeed ajmal took 10 wickets but nobody to notice, but in second test when the team Pakistan was on a winning track Mr Holding suddenly realized that Ajmal's action was incorrect and against 15 degrees law. So this is just a mere coincidence or complete hypocracy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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