May 30, 2014

Chucking: the debate rages pointlessly on

For some reason, many among us seem unable to accept scientific explanations that account for so-called dodgy actions

Ajmal shouldn't hold his breath waiting for an explanation or apology over Stuart Broad's comments © PA Photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, the cliché goes, but sometimes a picture serves other purposes: it reopens a thousand debates, all of which have been done to death, and none of which are ever likely to change pre-existing biases. No wonder this stuff is so popular on Twitter.

One such picture doing the rounds on the interwebs is of Saeed Ajmal during his rout of Essex. And lo, Pandora's box was opened. Cue hysteria, name-calling, and those who said much without saying anything. It was time to discuss "mystery bowling" again.

But through all the bovine feces there was very little new information added. Here is what we know: the 15-degree rule applies to the flex, or the straightening, of the elbow while bowling, rather than to just the bend in the elbow. The pointlessness of using a single still photograph as evidence is apparent immediately.

Twenty-eight months after George Dobell explained the intricacies of Ajmal's case, the number of debaters still ignorant of the facts is striking.

We know that bowlers have repeatedly been warned or banned following tests (as Johan Botha, Shoaib Malik and Shane Shillingford will attest), to the point where their careers have been altered. So again the idea that no one is being punished for dodgy actions or that testing is useless ought not to gain traction. And we also know that Dr Paul Hurrion, the ICC's head biomechanics analyst, says regarding lab tests: "There are stumps to aim at but no batsman, and we use synchronised footage of the player bowling in a match to check that they are not just going through the motions or altering their style. They have to replicate the speed of a delivery from a match, the deviation and the revolutions of the ball." And I do find it a little odd that the two bowlers most often accused, Murali and Ajmal, are also two who were cleared after testing, unlike many others.

Eventually every such conversation tends to bring to the fore someone who believes it is all an ICC conspiracy, initially designed to keep Murali in the game. This school of thought believes that there is collusion within the ICC about something that at least two of the Big Three countries are quite clearly against. The opposition argues that, in fact, the altering of the rules occurred as we began to realise the limitations of the human body when it came to assessing bowling actions: there are instruments far better placed to do so than the naked eye. I find the latter argument more convincing.

In a way you could compare it to the case of the off-side rule in football. Slight changes in the rules through the '90s (mostly to do with whether a player is active during a passage of play or not) seemed to confound many pundits, who refused to understand the new rule just because it wasn't the one they were accustomed to. For years the co-commentator saying he didn't understand the new off-side rule - followed inevitably by a chuckle - became an irritating norm in most matches. Bizarrely these ex-players also seem to be the ones who continued to propagate the idea of the off-side rule being one that women "can't fathom". The irony, quite clearly, is lost on them.

Returning to the cricket issue: it reinforces bowlers' status as second-class citizens. More than a century ago Bernard Bosanquet called his invention, the googly, "not unfair, only immoral". These are not words that ever seem likely to be applied to changes in bat technology and other ways that batsmen have benefited over the past quarter century or so, but every bowling innovation is considered unfair or immoral till proven otherwise. And as we have learned, sometimes even proving otherwise is not enough.

The last few decades have seen the rise of bouncer barrages, reverse swing and the doosra - each of which has been maligned and castigated until it was adopted by those who suffered from it. Then the term "cheat" is not applied to the practitioner; instead, he becomes an artist.

Last weekend Saeed Ajmal asked for an explanation from the ECB over comments made by Stuart Broad. Wasim Akram asked for an apology nine years ago, and he is yet to receive one. I'd tell Saeed and Wasim to take inspiration from another genius who took on the establishment and its preconceived biases and suffered for it; a man who showed that the naked eye might not see the truth. Galileo did receive an apology from the Catholic church: 350 years after his death.

The debate also shows a difference in attitude between cultures towards the rules. There's a reason why the football establishment in northern Europe differs so much from that in Latin America in its views regarding diving and "cheating". The first world views rules and regulations differently than the third world. In the former, systems are paramount, almost sacred; in the latter, the rules exist as guidelines, to be bent occasionally but not broken. It's no surprise that most of the better practitioners of modern offspin bowling come from the third world, and most detractors from the first world. Make of that what you will.

Galileo may have received his apology, but that doesn't mean the science-versus-sense "debates" have ceased. There will still be those who believe global warming isn't real because last winter was really cold. And there will still be those who can determine the extent to which an elbow straightens from a still photograph, or with their naked eyes. I think I'll continue to side with the guys in the lab coats.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2014, 8:52 GMT

    There are a lot of people placing FACT as a word to prove their point. Well why dont we just talk about Cricket as a whole. Bowlers have been heavily doubted over years for chucking, roughing up the bowl or miss using the pitch. But all that is a desperate attempt to win over the funny and unfair bias towards Batsmen.

    Over the past few decade Bats have become bigger, thinker and wider. Shots have been invented where bowlers cant even bowl a proper yorker, Boundry lines have been pulled in, 2 different bowls are used to avoide revearse swing as much as possible and yet we give the doubts benefit to the Batsmen?

    I am not saying bring in proper CHUCKERS in the game but at least have the decency to accept the fact that we dont have many good bowlers anymore and the ones still playing will retire in the next 2 or 3 years.

    or rather rent a bowling machine and lets just finish this fine art of bowling.

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2014, 8:41 GMT

    just watch a cricket video from the 80's and the quality is so bad you would never know even if anyone was blowing the same way

  • Greg on June 1, 2014, 20:41 GMT

    The changes to the no-balls rules were not changed to accommodate Murali, they were in response to the terrible umpiring of Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson. Murali's action was controversial, with camps divided as to whether he threw it or not. It was then determined scientifically that he did not, and that the effect of throwing was an optical illusion. Hair and Emerson had the technical right to call the no-ball, but the role of the umpire is to settle problems not cause them, correct calls only secondary to that main role. Hair consistently failed at understanding this concept. Issues such as Murali's had historically been sorted at the board level. Looking at old videos in slow motion it is now clear how many fast bowlers actually straightened their arm with no-one noticing, less so for the slow bowlers. A formal system has now been forced to be introduced. This allows for matches to proceed graciously and bowling standards to be upheld.

  • David on June 1, 2014, 13:14 GMT

    @ nareshgb1 writes "LOL - looking at that piucture of Ajmal - it looks close to 90%. God, even if you say there is a difference between 2-D and 3-D, there's no way its less than 45%."

    I do not understand your post, and am interested to know what you are telling us. At what point during his delivery was the picture of Ajmal taken? Also, what measuring tools or system did you use to confirm that "there's no way its less than 45%." Quite honestly, I don't understand what 'it' refers to, or what you mean by 45% ? Percentage is a measure of proportion - a number or ratio expressed as a fraction of 100. What is 'it' a fraction of, and how do such fractions relate to Ajmal's bowling action.

    You must have used a scientific method to measure details in this picture, but your analysis is not expressed in any terms I can understand. Are you able to post a more detailed explanation of your interesting observations? That would be great for us non-scientists grappling to understand this question.

  • David on June 1, 2014, 12:09 GMT

    @ Hammond claims "The fact here are this- the rules were changed to accommodate Murali's bowling. Fact."

    Before the ultimately incorrect accusations were leveled against Murali, no one really had a clue how much bowlers flexed during delivery. The laws always allowed for a BENT arm, but the angle of the bend was not allowed to change. Flexation is NOT bend at the elbow. Flexation is CHANGING the angle of the bend during delivery - that is, straightening the arm.

    Tests conducted on Murali & hundreds of others showed it is essentially impossible f NOT to flex when bowling, & that quicks flex MORE than med pacers, who flex MORE than slow/spin bowlers.

    Once these FACTS were established, the laws HAD to be changed or umps would have to no ball EVERY bowler. Ironically, Murali's degree of flex was LESS then Lee & McGrath. The changes most benefitted quicks! Research this. Read the Wikipedia entries. Learn the TRUTH.

    FACT. The changes accommodated not just Murali, but ALL bowlers. FACT!

  • Luke on June 1, 2014, 4:52 GMT

    It is clear that some people in this comment section are just unable to read. As explained in the article, the laws state that the arm cannot bend or flex buy more than 15 degrees; therefore it does not matter if the arm is bent when the action begins, if it remains the same (or within 15 degrees) for the entirety of the action, it is legal. For people say 'why don't they make it 0 degrees', the reason the ICC made it 15 was because during the late 90's they investigated the norms of peoples bowling action in order to create a guideline and found that all bowers bend and flex their arm a bit, and even the most traditional of bowlers ie Pollock and McGrath bend their arms by just over 10 degrees. Stop trying to find a conspiracy where there isn't one.

  • Francis on June 1, 2014, 4:10 GMT

    Thommo never contravened any chucking rule. If you ever saw him you'd know. He had the straightest arm in cricket. I'm sure he's on youtube. Have a look.

    As for science. Most do not recall (or choose not to) but when Prof. Bruce Shepherd first tested Murali all those years ago he said Murali had a permanent 12" bend in his arm and could NOT straighten it! Science, folks. Many years later, the same Prof. Shepherd tested Murali again and found that Murali could bend the arm up to 14%????

    Two way of looking at it. If Murali can contravene the laws of physics he is probably God. Or, a certain australian scientist is fibbing. Occam's razor is my answer.

  • Anurag on June 1, 2014, 2:57 GMT

    The fact is that even after being cleared by a so-called expert lab after extensive testing, there is nothing stopping the bowler to throw a few of those illegal ones in his spell.

    The easiest way to get rid of throwing is to identify chuckers and rectify them before being allowed to play any form of international cricket. And the home board also being held responsible along with the individual if a player is found to be in breach of the 15- degree rule.ICC needs to make provisions just to ensure the rules are followed in letter and spirit.

  • Phillip on May 31, 2014, 10:04 GMT

    Ah but Galileo wan't completely right,was he?I love how everyone trotts out the Galileo example but his view that THE SUN IS STILL while the earth revolves around it is also incorrect.

  • sunday on May 31, 2014, 9:11 GMT

    This article and all excusing throwing are nonsense. Whatever the laws/rules we all know the spirit is not to throw it. End of.

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