England news October 23, 2012

Testing methods hold back England

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