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Testing methods hold back England

George Dobell

October 23, 2012

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Saeed Ajmal bowls, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2nd Test, SSC, Colombo, 4th day, July 3, 2012
The chances of England producing their own Saeed Ajmal could be inhibited by the testing methods employed at Loughborough University © AFP
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England could be putting themselves at a disadvantage in international cricket by applying different testing procedures to bowlers with suspect actions than other international teams.

An investigation by ESPNcricinfo has unearthed important differences in the testing procedures and found that the ICC do not currently recognise the results of the tests conducted by the ECB. Instead, any England international in men's or women's cricket is obliged to travel to the University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth for definitive testing. Jenny Gunn was the last player required to make the journey.

With England's batsmen struggling to come to terms with the emergence of "mystery" spin at international level, the chances of their batsmen being exposed to similar bowling at domestic level may be rendered less likely by what seems to be a stance - if not an officially-stated policy - in favour of what are regarded as purer, more traditional actions.

After a tormented year against spin bowlers in Asia, they depart for India on Wednesday for a four-Test series and two Twenty20s before Christmas with five ODIs to follow in the new year.

Young England-qualified bowlers attempting to bowl in the style of Saeed Ajmal or Muttiah Muralitharan are highly likely to find themselves reported for illegal actions, leaving English cricket reliant on orthodoxy just as the rest of the world embrace innovation. There are currently no bowlers in English domestic cricket regularly delivering the "doosra". The last to do so, Maurice Holmes, left the game at the end of the 2011 season after the ECB warned him not to use the delivery.

The ECB outsource their testing procedure to experts in the school of Sport, Exercise and Health Science at Loughborough University. Dr Mark King, a senior lecturer and the man who runs the testing procedure for the ECB, believes his methodology, which differs from the ICC-approved method, provides more accurate results. While the ECB have asked for the Loughborough tests to mirror those of the ICC, King refuses to oblige.

"I have refused to copy the University of Western Australia approach because I feel it is not as accurate," King told ESPNcricinfo. "We think our approach is more appropriate. I feel the ECB have their house in order on this issue. We have published a validation of our procedure and we do not believe UWA have."

King's research was published in Issue 30 of The Journal of Sports Science. The piece is called: Quantifying elbow extension and hyper-extension; a case study of Jenny Gunn.

The current testing procedure in both Perth and Loughborough involves placing reflective markers at key points on the cricketers' bodies and measuring the movement after the players have been filmed bowling. The difference comes in where the markers are placed.

"At UWA they place the sensors over soft tissue, while we place them over the joints," Dr King said. "And if you put the sensors in different places - wrong places - you end up with different numbers. You end up with wrong answers.

"The ICC do not fund our research, but they have encouraged us to continue our work," King said. "We hope that, in the next six months or so, we'll be able to publish a follow-up paper that provides further evidence."

"The ICC are trying to do the right things. It is just that there is some discrepancy between the methods we apply. We continue to do what we do and the ICC are comfortable with what UWA do."

The ICC also admitted that the ECB's tests were different, though they disputed the suggestion that they were necessarily more stringent.

"It would be wrong to say that the results are more stringent," a spokesman told ESPNcricinfo. "The current regulations are based on the University of Western Australia's methods and measurements so any change to that would require different parameters."

King reiterated that view. "No-one has demonstrated that the numbers are bigger or smaller with our methods or the UWA methods," King said. "The numbers are different, yes, but not necessarily bigger."

A quick glance at the actions of young England-qualified spinners compared to those from other countries suggests this is more than an academic distinction, however. While young spinners in Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and India are encouraged to improvise, the Loughborough testing method could well be another impediment to the development of England-qualified mystery spinners.

Pitches that favour seam bowlers - and pitch penalties imposed if they favour spinners - coaches that distrust new methods and umpires that are rooted in the past may all be unwittingly conspiring to hold back English cricket as it attempts to cope with the emergence of unorthodox spin bowling.

The ECB initially provided a statement insisting that their testing procedure was "identical" to the ICC's but then withdrew the claim after being presented with the evidence in this article. They have yet to accept that their methodology places them at a disadvantage.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Hammond on (October 25, 2012, 11:54 GMT)

@jmcilhinney - mate the original rules had it right. This is not a new problem ever since overarm bowling was legalised in 1864 it was left up to the umpire to determine if the ball was "bowled" or "jerked" or thrown. It was a eye sight thing always, and the 15 degrees that is in the current vogue is about the human eye tolerance for the perception of throwing. No-one can tell me in a game that every ball that an Ajmal or a Murali delivers is under the 15 degree tolerance. Herein lies the problem. 15 degrees becomes like a speed limit with most people operating above it. Not until we have live in game testing from suspected players (I'm sure the technology does actually exist) are we going to be able to eradicate this problem. As I have always said, there is no way that throwing will ever be actually legalised, because of the benefit it will give to pace bowlers, which will not suit the sub-continental countries.

Posted by Thandiwe on (October 25, 2012, 11:53 GMT)

This article contains several good facts but the opinions and issues are disappointing. The ECB and the University should be praised for the work they are doing with respect to the measurement of the elbow flexion. The technical shift from soft tissue (muscle) to Bone is simple but remarkable. Keep up the good work. The scientist is in now way trying to change the rules of 15 degrees but trying to give clarity and accuracy in its measurement especially from "know" violators. To move from that position to used this as a causal factor in England not producing mystery spinner is absoluteness recklessness, baseless and highly emotive. If you check the emergence of the mystery spinners you'll see why they don't emerge from conventional cricket. Mutiah and Ajmal each has a deformity/abnormality in the elbow and shoulder. So to those AKthar. Mendis and Narine emerged from beach and soft ball cricket and were seamers turned to spinner. They both had little or no early coaching in spin.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (October 25, 2012, 6:15 GMT)

While it would be nice if everyone would try to bowl with as straight an arm as possible, we now know that it's basically not possible to bowl with an absolutely straight arm. Even fast bowlers whom we assumed were bowling with a straight arm have been shown not to be. The convention has been to bowl with a straight arm but I'm not sure that the laws of the game actually require it and certainly ICC regulations don't. The reality is that some sort of tolerance for a bent elbow has to be written into the rules and we have what we have. Rather than holding themselves to a higher standard than the rest of the world and hurting themselves in the process, ECB should simply look for someone else to conduct their testing if the incumbent refuses to test as instructed. Not to say that raising a few "mystery" spinners is a panacea for England but it's one more tool in the box.

Posted by Stark62 on (October 24, 2012, 16:10 GMT)

@ Cpt.Meanster You are completely WRONG!!

Ajmal played 3 Tests in Eng and picked up 12 wickets at an average of 29.41, whilst Narine played 1 Test because he was playing IPL but went for 70 runs in that match without a wicket.

In ODI's, Ajmal took 9 wickets at an average of 25.88, whilst Narine took 1 wicket with an average of 101.00 and these statistics prove, that Eng can play spin well but not quality spinners.

Also, I am backing Eng to beat Ind because Ind don't have quality spinners and their batting line up isn't as formidable with the departure of Dravid and Laxman, plus with Tendulkar nearing his retirement.

Posted by   on (October 24, 2012, 16:00 GMT)

The reason we don't really have mystery spinners in the English game is that coaches still try to inculcate an action that is based on the idea of a straight arm (in other words, they try to make them bowl). The mystery ball almost always requires some combination of wrist rotation and elbow flexion, which pays off in terms of a high elbow extension angular velocity at the moment of release. As Ferdinands and Kersting argued in their 2007 paper, the mystery can be achieved in ways that pass the Western Australia flexion test, which measures the angle (not its rate of change). It is possible that the Loughborough test also rules out a number of "mystery" actions that can pass the Perth test, but it seems likely that it will pass many that fail the Ferdinands criterion.

By the way, the darting action, with which we are all so familiar (and is unfortunately often legal under the 15 degree rule), mainly misleads batsmen as to length, rather than spin.

Posted by Haleos on (October 24, 2012, 13:08 GMT)

@ pvwadekar - well said. And they call Indians flat track bullies.

Posted by ObjectiveCricketism on (October 24, 2012, 12:19 GMT)

English cricket failed to embrace reverse swing for many years, preferring to label great bowlers like Waqar and Wasim as cheats. Now it is refusing to fall in line with the ICC by accepting the testing procedures for innovations like the doosra, preferring to label the likes of Murali and Ajmal as cheats. I see ignorance and arrogance in this recurring behaviour pattern. How about you?

Posted by guptahitesh4u on (October 24, 2012, 11:50 GMT)

@ Greatest_Game:Spot on mate...the problem is that English batsmen cant paly against quality bowling!! And bigger problem is they don't want to accept this fact..I am sure , this england team can't win against Bangladesh in bangladesh

Posted by   on (October 24, 2012, 11:02 GMT)

I don't think testing alone holds the key to Murali. Murali has elbow deformities that allow him to bowl the way he does. Mohnish Parmar modelled his action on Murali and was not allowed to bowl for a few years before his action was altered and finally cleared by the BCCI. The examples of Warne/Kumble have already been mentioned in the comments. It appears as if English batsmen play spin off the pitch and not off the hand and that may be the real problem. In the World T20, they found Chawla too hot to handle and he was roasted by most other teams.

Posted by yorkslanka on (October 24, 2012, 8:35 GMT)

spin is only a mystery if you cant read which way the ball is spinning..that is a deficiency in ability not due to any mystery. Its fair to say that England struggle with spin just as most Asian teams struggle with swing bowling...its just the nature of the beast... @landl47- i disagree with your comment(which you are obviuosly entitled to) as long as a bowler is within the limits set by the ICC then that is LEGAL simple as that, dont hide your own teams failings in that area of the game behind lame excuses..i enjoy watching the ashes but there is also plenty of other special match ups in the world...

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