The throwing controversy

Imperial conference tackle many problems, 1961

The throwing controversy

Leslie Smith

November 3, 1960, will go down as a momentous day in cricket. It was the day when England and Australia announced details of the agreement on throwing for 1961; a day on which the Laws were partially amended to permit throwing without penalty for a period of five weeks; a day on which the very small number of offenders temporarily gained the upper hand over the vast majority and the day on which English umpires were instructed to hold in abeyance their interpretation of what constituted fair and unfair bowling.

A day, in fact, which, to my mind, reflected no credit on the authorities of the two senior cricketing countries.

For years throwing had become an increasing menace to the game and it was obvious that firm action had to be taken. In 1959 English umpires received a definite assurance that they would be given support in their efforts to stamp out evil of throwing.

This came in the statement issued by M.C.C. on March 17, following a meeting of the Advisory County Cricket Committee: The part of Law 26 which deals with throwing and jerking has been under discussion between M.C.C., the county committees and captains, and the first-class umpires since the winter of 1957-58. In the autumn of last year, it was unanimously agreed by the umpires that the action of certain bowlers in this country was, on occasion, suspect. The counties concerned have undertaken to warn these bowlers. The umpires have again been assured of the fullest support of M.C.C., the counties and the county captains in any action they may feel it necessary to take.

Taking M.C.C. at their word, the umpires set about their task, reluctantly but, in most cases, fearlessly. This led last season to the no-balling of Geoff Griffin, the South African, and several English bowlers.

Instead of continuing with their policy, which unpleasant though it may have been, would certainly have put a quick end to throwing, at least in England, M.C.C., at the suggestion of Australia, partially relaxed their determination and reached the following compromise:-- M.C.C. and the English counties have agreed with the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket to the following application of Law 26 during the Australian Tour to the United Kingdom in 1961:--

English umpires will be instructed not to call on the field for a suspect delivery (throwing) any Australian bowler on the 1961 tour prior to June 7, 1961. Up to that date every umpire who officiates in an Australian match and who is not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery of any Australian bowler will, as soon as possible after the conclusion of each match, complete a confidential report on a form to be provided and send it to the President of M.C.C. -- a duplicate copy to be sent through the Secretary of M.C.C. to the Manager of the Australian team. From June 7, 1961, the umpires will be instructed to implement Law 26 on the field in the normal way, according to their own judgment; and the Australian bowlers will become liable to be called for any infringement. At no stage of the tour will a bowler be, as it were, declared illegal and he will be free to play as and when chosen at Australia's discretion.

In view of the new definition of a throw and the agreement referred to above, the M.C.C. and the English counties will consider whether or not to adopt the same procedure in all first-class matches prior to June 7, 1961.

The Umpire's Report is set out thus:--

CONFIDENTIALUMPIRE'S REPORTFORM A

To the President,

M.C.C.

I beg to report that I officiated at the match Australia v. ... played on ... (date) at...

In my opinion the Australian bowler ...(name) infringed Law 26 (Throwing) in this match to the following degree:--
Basically--that is every ball.
Frequently.
Occasionally.
Very rarely.

(Please mark category thus [X] and make any comments you may wish and especially any which you think may help the bowler concerned.)

Yours faithfully,

At the Advisory County Cricket Committee on November 16, it was agreed that the same truce period should apply to English bowlers in matches against the Australians. At the same time the counties stated that they did not intend to have anything to do with it for Championship matches. They were quite happy with the position as it stood.

It was difficult to see what benefits either side could derive from a five-week truce period. If umpires thought every Australian bowler had a fair action he would not no-ball him either in May or after June 7.

On the other hand, should an umpire believe that the action of any bowler was doubtful he would, in all honesty, have to call him in June, irrespective of what happened in May unless his action had been changed in the meantime. The Australians, whether they had adverse written reports in front of them or whether umpires had taken action on the field, had the same amount of time to consider what move they would make, if any were necessary.

Let me make it clear that I am not for a moment suggesting that English umpires are always right or that the English interpretation of the Laws is necessarily correct. Indeed, to do so would be to condone the very thing which is helping to damage cricket -- the increasing Nationalism and the win-at-all-costs attitude which has developed.

Indeed, all around us we can see examples of such Nationalism and the bad feeling it causes. Almost every International sporting occasion is riddled with it and the public must be getting heartily sick and tired of the perpetual squabbles on and off the field. Dwindling gates in practically every major sport reflects the public reaction. First-class cricket, confined as it is to a handful of countries within the Commonwealth, ought to rise above such pettiness.

I can well see the point of view of the Australian Board of Control. The man most concerned was Ian Meckiff, the left-arm fast bowler, whose action had aroused considerable controversy. Now, I have not seen Meckiff in the flesh although I have watched him on film, both at normal speed and in slow motion. Therefore I must reserve my final opinion although I felt that there was, at the very least, a doubt about his action.

Many of those who have seen him and whose views are not those of hot-headed sensationalists (the favourite term used by people who see no wrong in Meckiff) are convinced that on occasion he has thrown. They include several past and present Australian cricketers. Meckiff was not alone in having a suspect action and one of Australia's greatest cricketers has gone on record as claiming, cynically, that he was the last of the fast straight-arm bowlers in that country.

Keith Miller stated many times that Meckiff's action was definitely questionable and so did Jack Fingleton, the former Test player and a respected journalist. These were only two of the several.

But the point remained that Meckiff had not been no-balled by any umpire in Australia, nor in South Africa, New Zealand, India and Pakistan, where he has toured. So what could the Australian Board do?

Should they not select him, purely on account of his action, they would be condemning the umpires of five countries. On the other hand, by choosing him they stood the risk of losing a valuable man if English umpires thought otherwise.

This was their dilemma and they saw the problem long before they had a tackle it. This may well have led to the compromise agreement, but personally I cannot approve of it. As it happened, Meckiff lost form during the West Indies' tour and he was not chosen for the visit to England. Nor was any other bowler whose action had been queried. So the compromise, after all, should be proved unnecessary.

Surely, the sensible thing for the authorities of any country to do would be to free from all possible doubt in their own minds that a bowler's action was absolutely fair before sending him on tour and placing the onus on the home country. It could be that one or two bowlers in various parts of the world would have to be sacrificed, but would that not be better than ruining the entire game? Is the winning or losing of a Test series so much more important than cricket itself?

The spread of throwing in recent years has been alarming. Ten years ago I went to India, Pakistan and Ceylon with the M.C.C. team. In India, M.C.C. played a match at Poona where a bowler was no-balled for throwing. The umpire concerned told me that he knew for a long time that this bowler's action was unfair, but he felt it better to wait until M.C.C. arrived before bringing it to a head! I also saw several other instances of doubtful actions, not only in the tour games themselves, but by youngsters in the nets.

In 1959-60, on my visit to West Indies, there were again instances of bent elbows among fast and off-break bowlers. Indeed, in British Guiana, one leading umpire resigned rather than give an assurance that he would not no-ball Stayers, a fast-medium bowler, for throwing. Yet Stayers played against M.C.C. and was not called although practically every English batsman thought his action, on occasions, highly suspicious. So did I.

The attitude to this was summed up by one West Indies writer who, when I suggested that in the best interests of the game he ought to oppose such bowling, replied: "Why should we do anything while you permit Tony Lock to throw?"

That is nationalism and how it encroaches in cricket. He knew very well, and so did many others actively concerned in the game in West Indies, that Stayers was at least suspect. Yet because he was one of the leading bowlers in British Guiana, it was being over-looked. So a courageous umpire was kept out of the game and the man who caused the problem continued in it.

In many parts of West Indies I again saw youngsters, many of them schoolboys, using an exaggerated bent elbow, either to impart more spin on unresponsive turf or to get added lift to the ball. These youngsters were the future cricketers and unless checked ruthlessly the increase in throwing would get out of all proportions.

Take South Africa. They were fully aware of the problem and not long ago took the trouble to announce that they would never include a bowler with a suspicious action in their teams. Griffin had been called twice in their own country before they sent him to tour England. Almost inevitably he ran into trouble and the entire season was dominated by the unfortunate no-balling incidents which occurred. It also led to bitter feelings between the South African and English public.

Apparently Griffin was, after Neil Adcock, the bowler considered most likely to succeed under English conditions. Again I ask -- was the chance of winning Test matches worth all the unpleasantness which arose?

As for England, they have by no means been free of criticism. Tony Lock, the Surrey slow left-hander, for a long time had a suspicious action, particularly when sending down his faster ball. Indeed, he was no-balled for throwing by Fred Price in 1952, yet in 1953-54 he was chosen to tour West Indies where he was again no-balled, three times in one day against Barbados and also in the first Test at Kingston.

To Lock's credit he realised his problems and set about remedying them. Twice he changed his action completely and he obviously made a tremendous effort to put himself right. Other suspect bowlers could follow suit and stay in the game free from suspicion. Reports from Australia stated that Meckiff had smoothed out his action and that he would pass English umpires, but apparently in doing so he lost effectiveness.

Whatever the circumstances, could not their Board of Control have told their umpires that while they had complete confidence in them, there apparently was a doubt about some bowlers and in the desire to avoid further awkwardness they had decided not to risk them on tour. That is, of course, if there was any doubt at all. Somebody has to take a firm lead and England and Australia are best qualified to put the game in order.

Throwing is no new problem. It began way back before the turn of the century and continued until about 1903 when strong action eliminated it. Only one more case of no-balling for throwing occurred before 1930, but with increasing competition and as the emphasis on winning became paramount, the epidemic started again in the 1950's.

In 1959 English umpires, with the assured support of M.C.C. behind them, no-balled three bowlers. Unfortunately this get tough announcement was badly timed, for it happened shortly after England had lost the series in Australia and after the storm about Meckiff had broken. It was difficult to avoid the accusation of retaliation on the part of the English authorities.

In 1960 a further purge resulted in bowlers being called for throwing in twelve separate matches, one of them in Australia and the others in England. Griffin suffered most. After considerable controversy about his action in the early matches, Griffin was first called in the game against M.C.C. at Lord's. Subsequently, he was no-balled against Nottinghamshire and Hampshire.

Despite this, he was chosen for the second Test at Lord's where he was called 11 times in all. That was the end of Griffin as a bowler on the tour, although he remained with the party and played occasionally as a batsman. It was a great pity that it had to happen to Grifffin, but one could not get away from the belief that he should never have been sent on tour and placed in such a position.

The particularly unfortunate outcome was that Sid Buller, the Test umpire, became a central figure in the trouble. Buller had earned for himself a reputation as a strong and fearless umpire and had been on the Test panel since 1956. It was noticeable in the Lord's Test that McGlew, the South African captain, did not put Griffin on to bowl while Buller was standing at square leg. Despite that, Frank Lee, the other umpire, frequently called Griffin for throwing.

With the match ending early on the fourth day an exhibition game took place and during this Buller, now at square-leg, called Griffin four times in his opening over. After McGlew had spoken to Buller, Griffin was advised to finish the over underarm. With the South Africans raising an objection, Buller did not umpire again in the series.

Most people were furious that an umpire should suffer because he had attempted to carry out his duties conscientiously. Fortunately in December the county captains showed their confidence in Buller and nominated him for the Umpires' Test panel against Australia in 1961. The fee he lost at the time for missing the match with South Africa was paid to him.

Umpires have a very difficult time already and when they hear of such things happening and when they are told to hold Laws in abeyance, no one should be surprised if they take the easy way out and let things slide. After all, in England, their living is at stake and if authorities cannot find the solution why should they throw themselves open to abuse and possible loss of earnings? That is a very real danger.

Throwing is only one of the problems which has bedevilled cricket in recent years and in July 1960 a highly important Imperial Cricket Conference took place at Lord's. Instead of having their usual English representatives at the annual Conference, countries sent from home. Australia were represented by their President, W.J. Dowling, and Sir Donald Bradman.

It was recalled that at the 1959 Conference, the important and difficult problem of doubtful bowling actions was discussed and the following decision was reached and recorded:--

It was unanimously agreed that throwing and jerking should be eliminated from the game and that each country would do everything possible to achieve this end.

The 1960 Conference resolved to reaffirm this declaration but went further and unanimously recommended that the following experimental definition be adopted:--

A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if, in the opinion of either umpire, the bowling arm having been bent at the elbow, whether the wrist is backward of the elbow or not, is suddenly straightened immediately prior to the instant of delivery.

The bowler shall nevertheless be at liberty to use the wrist freely in the delivery action.

It is considered that the pregoing definition will result in a more uniform interpretation of what constitutes a throw and should assist greatly in achieving the object all have in mind. The question of throwing is, however, a complicated and difficult problem, especially for the umpires who are solely responsible for interpreting the Laws. The whole problem has been complicated by modern methods of publicity resulting in a danger of prejudgment.

The Conference, therefore, having reached a unanimous conclusion in a most amicable spirit, hope that all those who may be concerned with the future welfare of cricket will do all in their power to assist those whose admittedly difficult task is to adjudicate on this problem.

Bouncers

The Conference recommended that instead of requesting the captain of the fielding side to take a bowler off, if, after a caution, he persists with short, fast-pitched bowling at a batsman, the umpires should be directed to do so.

It was also resolved that the controlling bodies in each country should do all in their power to discourage, through their captains and players, the excessive use of this practice as detrimental to the game and to good relations between the players.


Time Wasting

The Conference recommended that:--

Umpires should direct and not request the captain of the fielding side to take a bowler off at the end of an over should, after a caution, he continue to take an unnecessarily long time to bowl an over.


Drag

The Conference were of the opinion that the present experimental Law for drag was to some extent achieving its object. They were unanimous in recommending its adoption by all member countries. They felt that the ultimate solution might be to judge the bowler on the position of his front foot in relation to the popping crease. With this in mind, they recommended that member countries considered this problem with a view to the possibility of the adoption of the front foot principle as an experiment starting not before September 1962.


Leg-side Limitation

The Conference resolved that some form of leg-side limitation was desirable, especially as it concerned two fielders behind the popping crease.

The Conference thought that this would materially discourage negative leg-side bowling and the excessive use of bouncers, and would make for brighter and more attractive cricket.


Points for Consideration

The following points were discussed and it was agreed that they should be considered by the individual Boards of Control:--


Damage to Pitch

It was generally agreed that the umpires must intervene and prevent players from causing damage to the pitch which may assist bowlers.


The Bowling Crease

It was suggested that in-slant bowling might be less prevalent if the width of the bowling crease were shortened.


New ball

In order to assist in bringing the spin bowlers generally more into the first-class game, it was suggested that the fielding captain should have the opportunity of taking a new ball after, say, 250 runs had been scored off the old one and that the practice of giving the fielding captain a choice of 75 overs or 200 runs should be discontinued.

(NOTE.--Four months after this meeting the English counties decided that in the County Championship in 1961 the new ball should be taken only after 85 overs had been bowled.)


LBW Law

It was suggested that the LBW Law might be changed so that a batsman could be out to a ball pitching outside the off-stump, which would have hit the wicket, provided that the batsman concerned made no stroke at the ball.


The Follow-on

In view of the fact that the present Law provides for a follow-on in a one-day match of 75 runs, in a two-day match of 100 runs, and in a three-day match of 150 runs, it was suggested that it was logical to provide for follow-on for a match of more than three days by increasing the number of runs -- say 250.

It was also suggested that consideration should be given to abandoning the follow-on law altogether.

(NOTE.--There will be no follow-on in the County Championship in 1961.)

As can be seen, the problems of cricket are many and varied, but not beyond solution. In past years the game has been upset by bodyline bowling, pitches that have not been up to standard, excessive bouncers, gamesmanship, umpiring squabbles and throwing.

To some extent the Press has been blamed for sensationalising the difficulties. That may be true in a few cases, but the Press did not originate the troubles. Cricketers and legislators have done that themselves and but for publicity bad habits might continue. Personally I would have liked to have seen a far bigger outcry in the 1950's when throwing began to get a hold once more. We may not have found ourselves in this position now.

I am assured that despite the truce, which I understand has been adopted solely with the idea of avoiding the high-pressure publicity which arose over Griffin, M.C.C. are determined to stamp out throwing. Thank goodness for that, but I still fail to see how appeasement helps.

Surely cricket authorities must realise the harm they are doing by worrying more about the result and so-called prestige than about the way cricket should be played. Only by complete sincerity and a determination by everyone to keep trouble and trouble-makers out of the game will cricket lift its head once more.


© John Wisden & Co