March 2002: Openers - Spread

Straighten the law

The most remarkable response to Bishan Singh Bedi's fulmination against chucking in the February issue of this magazine has been silence. There could be two reasons. Either Bedi's charges are so frivolous and so soaked in malice that they deserve no acknowledgement. Or, more likely, he has reopened an issue so sensitive, so uncomfortable and so potentially disruptive that silence suits everyone - administrators, former players and opinion-makers.

Chucking is such an awkward issue that almost everyone is two-faced about it. In private, most cricketers would admit it exists, yet they would turn vague and ambiguous if you pushed them to take a position. The ICC would prefer the issue wasn't raised at all. The only definite stand on the issue has been taken by cricket boards of countries which have had their bowlers reported. Sri Lanka threatened to sue the ICC if Muttiah Muralitharan was called again and now Pakistan has warned that it will pull out of a match if Shoaib Akhtar is reported one more time.

Cricket is much more than a game these days. It is a multi-billion-dollar show business that rewards everybody involved: the ICC, the member boards, players, ex-players, television channels. Everyone stands to lose if the apple-cart is upset. The profit-motive is what binds the cricket world together, inspite of the deep-rooted suspicion and antagonism among member nations. It was almost with relief and alacrity that the ICC accepted medical reports which said that Muralitharan was incapable of fully straightening his right arm. A similar explanation has been used to defend the controversial bowling action of Shoaib Akhtar.

But shoving a difficult problem aside does not make it disappear. Allowances made on the basis of medical certificates challenge the very core of sport as we know it. At the heart of every sporting encounter lies the fundamental principle that there needs to be a fixed set of rules. It cannot be a sporting contest unless all the players are playing under the same rules. The laws of cricket are quite categorical about the legality of a delivery. They state that once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint must not straighten from that point until the ball has left the hand. Bedi's contention, and it is difficult to argue with, is: should a player be allowed to break the rules and derive unfair advantage on account of physical deformity? Bedi's illustrious contemporary Bhagwat Chandrasekhar had a withered wrist, but it must be pointed out that he bowled with a perfectly straight arm and his action was 100% legitimate. Murali's and Shoaib's actions cannot be deemed legitimate without making allowances for their unnatural physical conditions.

Should cricket make such allowances? Bedi argues, and it is an opinion shared by many cricketers, that Murali's unusual action is responsible for the phenomenal turn he derives off the wicket.

It is nobody's case that Murali is a cheat. He bowls the only way he knows and with the only means available to him. But the question remains:?should the rules of the game be bent to accommodate his bent arm?

Why not? There is a precedent in golf. American golfer Casey Martin, who has a degenerative circulatory disorder that makes walking painful, won an American Supreme Court battle last year that allowed him to use a golf cart at PGA tournaments where walking is mandatory.

The possibilities are immense. Why not allow physically handicapped batsmen a permanent runner and exemption from fielding? What's wrong with aluminium bats for players who are of slight build? Or with lighter balls, like the ones they use in women's cricket, for the slender?

Over to the men who should know.

Bob Woolmer Former South Africa coach, is currently ICC's high-performance manager I agree with Bishan Bedi, in that Muralitharan's action is false for a finger-spinner and that he uses excessive wrist action which is only possible with a straightening of the arm. Whether it can be classed as a genuine throw, I am not sure. Describe Muralitharan as a reverse wrist-spinner, a backward-thrower or whatever: he gets such prodigious turn because of his action. Muralitharan is in a class of his own because he is so devastatingly accurate. But I doubt that his disabiltity is the sole cause of his bowling action. The ICC's throwing committee should take a more technical stance and study the actions of all offspinners who bowl special deliveries. I believe that Harbhajan (Singh) and Saqlain (Mushtaq) wouldn't be able to bowl the away-going ball without bending the arm. I have spent hours studying it on videos and there is definitely a break/jerk of the elbow. But is it a throw? Does it add to the interest of the game? There are so many variables. What I do know is that if a fast bowler chucks his bouncer, there could be death.

Mudassar Nazar
Former batsman and current coach, Pakistan
Bishan has always had very strong views. If somebody is handicapped, you cannot tell him that he has no place in society. If the law is silent on people with medical histories, then the rules need to be changed. Obviously, the rules did not foresee such circumstances, but now that there are bowlers with problems, there is a need to take a fresh look at amending the rules. I just don't subscribe to Bishan's extreme views.

Michael Holding
Former West Indies pace bowler and member of ICC's Advisory Panel on Illegal Deliveries
I read Bishan's interview in Wisden Asia Cricket and I am in 110% agreement with him. I agree totally with his views on bowling actions and what needs to be done about it. The laws are very specific: a bowler's arm, once it gets to shoulder height, should stay straight until delivery. If it's bent, then it should remain bent to the same degree and should never alter. The law says nothing about hyper-extended bent or abnormal bent.

Dav Whatmore
Sri Lankan coach
The team were astonished and disappointed to hear such comments come out of the blue. It's like living in the past. This issue has been dealt with in detail before and experts have cleared Murali's action. It's sad, really, that a fellow who was a good bowler in his day, wishes to avoid the indisputable facts. It's a negative for cricket in general. Muralitharan has a disability in his right arm. He has no option but to live with it. However, the defect doesn't mean anything other than that he can't fully straighten his arm. Murali is frustrated that this has been dragged up again. But this has all been scrutinised in much detail before and he is free of guilt having been cleared by experts. He has the full support of the team, coach, physio and management and will just get on with his cricket.
Dav Whatmore spoke to Cricinfo.com

The suspects


Rob Smyth presents a brief history of chucking

Long before bottle-tops acquired more sinister uses than in post-match celebrations, throwing was the exclusive preserve of the cricketing pariah. The first man to be called for throwing was John Willes, for bowling round-arm for Kent against MCC. But round-arm bowling was soon legalised, and in 1864 over-arm bowling became the legitimate norm.

At the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1897-98, Australian quickie Ernie "Jonah" Jones became the first person to be no-balled in a Test for chucking, but nobody else was called in a Test until England spinner Tony Lock in 1953-54. Then came the 1960s, which weren't just memorable for swinging, jangly pop and loose morals: they were a golden age for the disjointed members of the cricket fraternity.

South African Geoff Griffin was called at Lord's in 1960, a summer in which seven other bowlers were cited in first-class cricket, including Derbyshire's Harold Rhodes, the first of the hyper-extenders. He was called six times in a tour match against South Africa in 1960, and five times on two other occasions.

Then there was Australian Ian Meckiff, who was called in what turned out to be his last Test in 1963-64. When Meckiff bowled at Brisbane in 1958-59 in tandem with alleged chucker Jim Burke, the great England offspiner Jim Laker said that it was "like standing in the middle of a darts match."

Most of those cited struggled to put the problem right: Lock cut out his quicker ball, Griffin resorted to bowling underarm, and Meckiff announced his retirement immediately after being called.

The laws were tightened in 1969, and all was well for a while, but it has kicked off again in the last few years: Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Grant Flower, James Kirtley, Shahid Afridi and Henry Olonga have all had problems. Many others have been accused without being cited: Sylvester Clarke, Karsan Ghavri, Courtney Walsh and Darren Gough (for his offbreak) to name but four. Rajesh Chauhan spent 18 months on cricket's Death Row before the Indian board decided he was eligible for selection again in 1997, while Sri Lanka's Kumar Dharmasena spent a year remodelling his action.

The most notorious instance is that of Muttiah Muralitharan who has been called by Australian umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson. Emerson's action so infuriated Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga that he took his players off the field. Hair later described Murali's bowling action as "diabolical" in his autobiography.

Certainly, no mud sticks quite like that thrown at a so-called chucker. But some people just don't care for the consequences. When New Zealand needed one to win the Trent Bridge Test of 1986, David Gower cut to the chase and threw his first delivery deliberately to end the match.

Then there's the most unlikely chucker of all. Amazingly, Curtly Ambrose was no-balled for throwing once, in only his second first-class match. It didn't do him much harm.