July 6, 2014

Time to enforce Law 24

If umpires are allowed to judge every delivery on its merits, the problem of throwing can be solved

Law 24 is effectively defunct, but it shouldn't be © WICB

The ICC's Cricket Committee has been reviewing the current process of monitoring suspect bowling actions in international cricket.

The issue has been in the news thanks chiefly to the return of Shane Shillingford to the West Indies Test team. Shillingford was reported for a second time in late 2013 and was subsequently cleared conditionally in March 2014. One of his variations - the doosra - was found to be illegal. His offbreak and arm ball were cleared.

New Zealand, who faced Shillingford upon his return, were perplexed by this. Their coach asked the obvious, urgent question: "It's quite hard to see how they actually police that. It's all very well saying it, but do they call a batsman back if he bowls a doosra? It's going to be an interesting discussion with the match referee."

On the first day of that Test series, Jeffrey Dujon and Fazeer Mohammed were commentating as Shillingford first came on to bowl. They said on air that according to the officiating match referee, Chris Broad, should the umpires observe that Shillingford had bowled a doosra, they would "hand him his hat". Shillingford would not be allowed to bowl for the rest of the innings. Dujon wondered what would happen if a wicket fell on that first doosra.

This report of the match referee's view puzzled me, since the rules (see paragraphs 2.2.12 and 2.5) that govern the review process for a suspect bowling action do not contain any such provision. Law 24 governs the legality of a delivery. It includes rules for overstepping and throwing. The answer to Dujon's question is given here. Law 24 authorises an umpire to require that a bowler be withdrawn for throwing after two warnings. The umpire has to call the delivery on which the warning was given a no-ball. So the question of the batsman being dismissed off a doosra, in this instance, does not arise unless the umpire fails to spot it. Even so, this law provides no indication that such a bowler is to be treated differently from any other (and therefore, differently from how he was treated prior to being reported the first time).

The difference here, which was clarified to me by the ICC, is as follows. In this instance (a bowler who has partially failed a review and had a variation banned), the umpires are no longer checking to see whether or not each delivery is legal on its own terms. In the case of Shillingford, for example, they are simply looking to see if he delivers the doosra. This is how the rules govern a bowler who has been partially cleared.

As you must have realised, there are at least a couple of problems here. If an umpire is no longer examining the legality of the actual delivery but is simply looking for a specific variation, then is Law 24 actually being applied? The law allows any on-field umpire to rule on the legality of a delivery. How does a square-leg umpire identify a variation from 35 yards, if most batsmen can't identify it from 20? How does the umpire at the bowling end do this without performing the superhuman feat of simultaneously scrutinising the bowler's front foot and bowling arm? If the third umpire is to be involved, will he always be able to intervene in time? After all, for a bowler, it is an essential feature of a variation that it be as difficult to spot as possible. Realistically it seems far more likely that the present rules will only work if a banned delivery is bowled with regularity.

Let's consider a further scenario. Let's say Shillingford bowls a doosra, and at least one of the umpires spots it and calls a no-ball. Let's say that Law 24 is followed. Shillingford gets two warnings, bowls a third doosra, and gets thrown out of the bowling attack for the remainder of the innings. Remember, these are calls for throwing based not on the delivery itself but on the identification of the banned variation. Under the rules of review, a bowler called for throwing has to be reported for review. Two things are possible here. One, Shillingford fails the second review (in order for a report to be considered a second report, it has to occur within two years of the first report), and is banned from bowling for 12 months - not just the variation, but bowling altogether. Second, Shillingford passes the second review, in which case, his doosra will be cleared. In such an event, being thrown out based on the umpires identifying a variation would be unfair to Shillingford and his team.

There is, however, another sense in which Broad's reported approach may be reasonable. Law 42 governs unfair play in cricket. A bowler who deliberately bowls a variation that has been found to be illegal upon review is engaging in unfair play in the same way that a bowler who deliberately bowls a beamer is. Law 42 allows umpires to require that a bowler be withdrawn from bowling immediately if they conclude that the bowler had delivered a beamer deliberately. No warning is necessary. If Shillingford deliberately delivered the doosra, it could be viewed similarly.

There is one problem with this. The umpire is allowed to act against a deliberate beamer because such a delivery is deemed to be both unfair and dangerous (i.e. it can result in serious injury). It is hard to argue that a doosra is dangerous. Imagine a fast bowler's bouncer being banned in a similar way.

In practice, bowlers have not been called for throwing in international matches in recent years. According to an entry on Wikipedia, the last bowler to be called thus was Grant Flower in Bulawayo in 2000. It has been argued that umpires have stopped calling bowlers because the 15-degree rule makes any call of no-ball for throwing inevitably controversial. This is a misinterpretation of the 15-degree rule. Law 24.3, which defines a fair delivery, does not specify the 15-degree threshold. It only specifies: "A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand."

The 15-degree threshold only exists because it has been found (also see the relevant appendix in the review regulations) that it is not possible for humans to reliably detect that "the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely…" in real time with the naked eye if the straightening is less than 15 degrees.

This is the reason for the perception that most bowlers bowled with straight arms, when in fact they didn't. This threshold exists to provide a benchmark for technical review. There is no finding that says that bending the arm 16 degrees gives a bowler an unfair advantage, while bending it 14 degrees does not. In any event, the 15-degree threshold (much like the 15 overs per hour over-rate requirement) is a derived figure, not a measured figure. This threshold has to be met after the natural tendency of the elbow to hyper-extend along one or more axes has been taken into account. For some bowlers this tendency is more pronounced than it is for others. The obvious question a researcher looking into this problem might ask is whether something analogous to hyper-extension exists relevantly for sight? Are some people able to detect straightening much more readily than others? If one such person happens to be an international umpire, would he consistently call or report more bowlers than others?

Currently the ICC has basically set aside Law 24 when it comes to throwing. Under this Law, umpires must call a no-ball if they think a bowler is throwing. This might be easier if they could simply look at each delivery on its own terms and have their expertise in the matter trusted. Backed by the review process, this would be a better system.

Currently, a bowler who gets reported could well ask why he has been reported, given that he was not called on the field. Perhaps one way for the ICC to curb the perceived proliferation of bowlers with illegal actions in international cricket would be to actually apply Law 24 as it is written, and explain to the cricket-watching public that throwing is a technical violation and not a moral one. Chuckers are not cheats. Not until it has been established that they are in fact chucking. But they ought to be called for throwing if cricket wants fewer chuckers in the game.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • rob on July 8, 2014, 6:56 GMT

    ImonG: Everything you said! Amen brother.

  • Philip on July 7, 2014, 20:47 GMT

    In the years gone bye....Charlie Griffith was called for throwing. Now, this kind of bowling was what was considered to be throwing. To gain greater speed by way of throwing.

    To challenge the spinners for flighting the ball with a slightly bent arm (I use the word slightly intentionally) as it may exceed the 15 degree allowance a fraction is laughable.

    I wonder if the chinaman could be study further as that was a delivery that was hard to bowl and to perfect.

    It is mind boggling that the issue cannot be sorted out yet. Whilst various styles of batting and fielding etc is now being permitted and not allow the doosra is very strange. Tongue-in-cheek comment btw. Philip Gnana, Surrey

  • Jeff on July 7, 2014, 12:02 GMT

    Change the laws. 5 degrees for fast bowlers, 20 degrees for spinners, 25 for the doosra (since you can't bowl a doosra without a bent arm and cricket needs to do everything it can to promote more spinners into the game)

  • Cricinfouser on July 7, 2014, 9:49 GMT

    @Barnbarroch - No, I'm not. My point was that the law is unenforceable. There are certainly problems with the current system but they won't be solved by going back to one which was even less effective.

  • Arvin on July 7, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    Just make the bowlers wear an elbow band that does not allow bending/straightening of the arm by more than 15 degrees.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2014, 19:46 GMT

    I am sorry but I don't think the umpires these days are both competent and daring enough to call a no ball for throwing. Some of the modern day umpires can't even spot an easy run out and feel 'safe' to refer it to the tv umpire for assistance. With all the high technology introduced in the game and the media/critics always watching over the umpires, I don't think it would be a good idea to allow the on-field umpires to make this decision. One thing that actually can be done is that the on-field umpires can take a note of any such deliveries which might be over the 15 degree freedom and refer it to the ICC. The ICC can then take a look of the video footage of those deliveries and with the help of a panel of bio-mechanic experts, can deem that delivery legal/illegal.

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    Well why not use technology instead of an individuals judgement? Each degree of bend can be quantified nowadays

  • Jamie on July 6, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    shillingsworth and Sinhabahu, you can't be suggesting that the present system woks, can you? I mean, more and more spinners clearly throw some or all of their deliveries and so, I would judge, do number of fast bowlers. Cricket was never meant to be like that!

    Go back to the Laws of the game and stick there. If you call enough bowlers, they'll change what they're doing until it's legal.

  • Iman on July 6, 2014, 11:49 GMT

    If you say that umpires should be allowed to call no ball when they suspect an action, do you also imply that the Aussie umpires were correct in calling Murali when they did ? Because, he had a very iffy action to say the least. And who handles the media fiasco after that, cause more often that not umpires are hung out to dry in such cases. Why would the umpire put his career in jeopardy after seeing the outcome of making such calls faced by the two Aussies ? And look what happened after that fiasco, now u have bowlers playing international cricket in oversized full sleeve jerseys even in 40 degree heat, bowling doosras teesras etc. Soon they will feature among the cricketing legends, Bowlers whom their boards deemed not fit for international cricket, untill this 15 degree lifeline was thrown to them, along with a precedent of hounding 2 umpires out of their careers for doing the obvious. Shillingford is just another case, unless this 15deg rule is discarded, we will see more of these.

  • Jamie on July 6, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    Abolish the 15° rule; square-leg umpire calls no-ball every time he thinks a bowler has thrown a delivery.

    I don't see how this could cause any more controversy than the present complicated, inconsistent and unenforceable regulations.

    In other words, apply the Laws of cricket as they were written.

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