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Testing methods hold back England

George Dobell

October 23, 2012

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

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...

Posted by birdz_eye on (October 24, 2012, 8:17 GMT)

Yea n I'm sure when you do learn about the "Doosra" English & Aussie premier blowers will be praised for executing the delivery so "Artistically" just as they say about reverse swing now. Huh licking what they spit before. Grow up the game mates since the game has grown up now.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (October 24, 2012, 8:10 GMT)

@ landl47 on (October 23 2012, 16:07 PM GMT) England lost their last 2 home series against South Africa, & they most definitely did not lose to mystery spin, or to much spin at all - they lost to pace and seam. The big hoopla that England can't play spin is not accurate. In reality, they can't play ANY good bowling, even the type they are used to in their own backyard. England's batting is dodgy, just like your faulty reasoning that because England and Australia are NOT on a list made by George Dobell they therefore ARE the only two countries who still play 'real' cricket! Really? Do you believe everything you read on the internet? If SA truly trains mystery-spinners, why is it that the cadre of South African born and trained batsmen who play for England CAN'T PLAY SPIN? Surely they should be seasoned players of spin if they learned their cricket facing SA's legions of mystery-spinners-in-training? Paul Harris the mystery spinner? Ha ha ha

Posted by pvwadekar on (October 24, 2012, 4:14 GMT)

wonderful ECB .. a self goal ..rather than embracing new things and developing youngsters who can become impact players.. to win games in the subcontinent.. all u want to do is restrict and play boring English brand of cricket .. seams and medium pacers who will get the ball to swing and seam a bit .. and batsmen who will be fed on this diet of bowling .. just wonderful ..

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 20:30 GMT)

It's ironic that England is the country which invented the googly, but there seems to be a general mistrust of spinners in the county game, with young spinners squeezed out by medium pacers on green wickets. When a county does prepare a spin-friendly wicket, they get the pitch inspectors round and points are deducted. Remember that both Atherton and Hussain were leg-spinners when they were young, but were never given the encouragement to improve and hone their craft, with more emphasis being placed on their batting. Maybe the ECB could encourage young spinners like Rashid, Borthwick, Beer, Waller, Briggs etc to play first-class cricket in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, against batsmen who are adept at playing spin, surely they would learn more doing that than going to some performance centre?

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 18:49 GMT)

This whole 'mystery' spin business is overrated. Apart from Ajmal what other 'mystery' bowlers have had that much of an impact in international cricket lately? Mendis's test record has tailed off very badly after a brilliant start, Narine looked ordinary when playing in test matches and that new kid from Sri Lanka looks very raw. Except in T20 were bowling 5 different balls an over is key the old virtues of hard spin, flight, length and length still hold sway in first class and list A cricket.

The two greatest orthodox spinners of them all Warne and Laker only really had two balls. The accurate and fiercely spun stock ball and the straight ball that carried on with the natural drift of the action. Swann bowls in a similar fashion and has been very successful. At the other end of the spectrum Kumble bowled variations of top spinners with devastating effect. He didn't do anything magic he was just accurate and put a lot of over spin on the ball.

Posted by cheats on (October 23, 2012, 18:38 GMT)

Thank god... nobody is compliaining Indian cricket board for not providing a mistry spinner to practice with..

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (October 23, 2012, 18:25 GMT)

@Stark62: Un huh, and where was Narine bowling at that time ? IN ENGLAND ! and we all know English pitches don't favour spinners. So your logic doesn't apply to the MASSIVE weakness English batsmen have against spinners in conditions that are conducive to spin bowling.

Posted by whatawicket on (October 23, 2012, 17:38 GMT)

ctp m that said when you arrive in the uk thats a problem with yourselves but its against the moving bowl. so can we swop you a few seamers and you lend us a few spinners

Posted by JG2704 on (October 23, 2012, 17:17 GMT)

What I do hope England do is learn to use their feet more and not get so trapped in the crease - like earlier in the year. Come down the track a bit more - you don't have to play a big shot , it just gives the bowler some more to think about. I don't honestly feel we will have learnt any lessons. Flower said last time out , about being undercooked etc in UAE. I don't see any extra tour matches or any of our players being encouraged to play any club cricket in SC. In fact I notice that some of our guys - when given the opportunity to play some cricket - have been withdrawn at ECBs request

Posted by JG2704 on (October 23, 2012, 17:10 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster on (October 23 2012, 15:56 PM GMT) I'd agree with most of your post however I'd say Ajmal has developed as a spinner rather than been born a world beater.

Posted by Stark62 on (October 23, 2012, 16:09 GMT)

Eng didn't have much of a problem against Narine this summer.

Posted by landl47 on (October 23, 2012, 16:07 GMT)

It doesn't matter what method they use and how much testing they do. The fact is that being tested in a controlled setting only shows that a bowler CAN bowl without throwing. It does not show that a bowler in a match setting DOES bowl without throwing. With the greatest respect to the UWA, Loughborough University, the ICC and ECB, the best evidence would be still photographs taken during a match when the bowler isn't trying to pass a test. I love the euphemism that 'young spinners in Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Pakistan and India are encouraged to improvise'. In other words, they are being encouraged to see how close they can get to throwing and still get away with it. I see that Australia, like England, is not on that list. That's one reason why the Ashes mean so much- it's a contest between two countries who still play cricket, not modified baseball.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (October 23, 2012, 15:56 GMT)

I think the English batsmen simply don't know how to play ordinary spin bowling, let alone mystery ones. It's reflective of how poor the spin bowling is at the county level along with the fact that English conditions don't favour spinners. So it's a traditional problem and something which I can't see them rectify any time soon. They will struggle in India big time even against the likes of Ashwin and co who are young and relatively inexperienced. Plus, the fact MS Dhoni has ordered 'spinning' tracks won't be good news to them. I also strongly feel that mystery spinners are born, not made. Ajmal, Mendis, Narine are naturally talented, they weren't manufactured by some university.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (October 23, 2012, 15:41 GMT)

There are various factors at work here. The thing we cannot do anything about is our appalling climate, and the various techniques and styles it favours-ie playing the ball late, and the culture of medium pacers who move it around. That and the culture within which our cricket works- somewhat stuffy and overformal. We do not trust strange methods, though the dearth of legspin might just as easily be attibuted to conditions. But in 1993 greg chappell pointed out that in Australia if a bowlers has spinning ability he is allowed to really work on that, and same for real pace whereas here the tendency is to demand at all times the rigours of length and line over other features- hence the culture of grey uniformity and medium pacers and spinless spinners. Also English players play with stiff bodies, muscles taut, whereas Asians play with looser more relaxed limbs. The ramifications of this are obvious when it comes both to producing mystery spinners and combatting them.

Posted by whatawicket on (October 23, 2012, 15:02 GMT)

we may not be good at playing spin. but we have plenty of things to be proud of other than that.

Posted by YorkshirePudding on (October 23, 2012, 14:36 GMT)

spot on barath, most counties produce seem up bowlers, with the odd containing spinner, who can twirl away for 20-30 overs allowing the seamers to have a break, as a result the spinners dont learn flight, drift or how to put rotations on the ball. Add on that covered pitches in damp conditions dont make for great spinning wickets, take the covers off and allow them to become sticky dogs, that will get the batsmen learning to play spin as the ball spits and bites.

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 14:24 GMT)

I don't recall saqlain's action being questioned.. Doosra will come with time like reverse swing did...

Posted by pb10677 on (October 23, 2012, 14:23 GMT)

MyUserName - fair point - but there have been enough overseas spinners floating around for people to practice against.

Harbhajan, Kumble, Murali, Warne, Ajmal, Kaneria, Shakib al Hasan have all been in the county circuit over the last few years. Plus the numerous other spinners that come as part of A tours (India A have been here twice in 3 years, they have people like Chawla and Ashwin who is now in the India test squad) and not to mention other visiting teams like Afghanistan - they have decent spinners.

England producing one mystery spinner isn't going to make much of a difference. After all, he can't be everywhere at once, espcially when playing international cricket! The main issue I have is the batsmen won't acknowledge there is a weakness when there clearly is. They continue to refuse to do so despite the ever increasing no. of test matches lost due to poor play against spin. I think that stupid use of the sweep shot has single handedly cost us 30 test matches since 05!

Posted by   on (October 23, 2012, 13:42 GMT)

if you look at the past few series then u c that our batsman cant face spin. but if they practised lots then they would be fine. the only batsman who hasnt struggled against spin is trott because he practises lots the other batsman need to learn from him

Posted by FRRR on (October 23, 2012, 13:33 GMT)

England does not have the ability to produce good spinners. A good approach might be to include more Pakistan players in counties and then learning from them. Mystery does not comes from actions but from the ability to ball something new and innovative.

Posted by MyUserName on (October 23, 2012, 13:28 GMT)

But the lack of mystery bowlers is part of the problem Barath - if you don't have a "mystery spin" bowler to practice against how can you properly develop the technique to bat against it?

Posted by Front-Foot_lunge on (October 23, 2012, 13:22 GMT)

Hardly news here to find yet again, we english, and the administrators of the game have got it all wrong. Its like a scratch on an old 45 rpm vinyl, the same thing happening again and again. It seems domestically, we're unadventurous, probably not wanting to develop any decent spinners as we know we don't have the batsmen to face them.

Posted by barath_narayanan on (October 23, 2012, 11:53 GMT)

The problem is not england having a mystery spinner, Its their batsman struggle to play against them.. Its better they develop their spin facing techniques to the batsmen instead of developing a mystery spinner of their own

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