Loopholes remain in BCCI anti-chucking drive
Vishal Dabholkar was the most successful spinner in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy, with 39 wickets in nine games at an average of 26.76. Still, the Mumbai left-arm spinner was overlooked for the West Zone Duleep Trophy squad. If his omission wasn't intriguing on its own, then on Monday when Akshar Patel was asked to join the national team, the Gujarat left-arm spinner was replaced with Dabholkar's Mumbai team-mate Iqbal Abdulla.
No doubt Abdulla's record of 15 wickets in three games at 12.80 in the previous Ranji season was impressive but the fact remains that he was not the first-choice spinner for Mumbai. It is what makes Dabholkar's exclusion all the more intriguing. The truth is that there is a possibility that his could be the fallout of a letter he received during the off-season from the BCCI.
Dabholkar was taken aback when he received the letter saying he was "cleared" from a suspect action. He had, in fact, never reported by match officials throughout the last season. It is understood that the BCCI's specialist panel appointed for tracking suspect actions found a couple of Dabholkar's deliveries during Mumbai's Ranji quarter-final against Maharashtra to be suspicious but he was subsequently cleared since the flex was miniscule and well within the accepted limits.
Mumbai cricket is abuzz with the idea that the letter concerning an action that was first suspected and then cleared, is what may have cost Dabholkar a place in the Duleep squad. It would be an unfortunate turn of events. But the fact that the three-member specialist committee formed to identify illegal actions and pull up chuckers in Indian cricket remains vigilant is a welcome sign.
Ratnakar Shetty, the BCCI's general manager - game development, confirmed that the panel is authorised to report bowlers who have not been reported by match officials, which is what may have happened in Dabholkar's case. "Since there have been too many marginal cases, those which the on-field umpires were not sure to report with what they saw with the naked eye, the expert panel has been deciding whether to test bowlers based on footage from games," Shetty said.
The panel comprises S Venkataraghavan, the former India captain and ICC Elite Panel umpire, former Test umpire AV Jayaprakash and Javagal Srinath, the former India fast bowler who is now an ICC Match Referee.
The Champions League Twenty20 saw match officials reporting several overseas bowlers and suspending one of them from bowling further in India unless he is cleared by the BCCI panel. The crackdown on bowlers with suspect actions continued during last week's Under-19 zonal one-day leagues.
There were nine cases of bowlers reported for suspect action and they were asked to undergo tests at the newly set-up facility at Sri Ramachandra Medical College in Chennai, recently accredited by the ICC as an official testing centre for suspect actions. The CLT20 and ICC crackdown may have brought the issue of chuckers to centrestage only recently, the BCCI's campaign against illegal actions has been on for the last five years.
In an effort to improve umpiring standards, the BCCI started recording every match of the U-19, U-22 (now U-23) and senior category with its own six-camera set-up five years ago. Experts realized that chuckers were rampant in domestic cricket and the board appointed the Venkataraghavan panel to handle the problem.
Almost two-third of the bowlers in the first list of 130 were part-timers. For instance, Mohammad Kaif and Y Venugopal Rao, both of whom have represented India as batsmen, were found to be bowling with suspect actions during their rare spells in the 2009-10 season. Over the last five years, the ratio has tilted with at least half of the 35 reported last season being specialist bowlers.
Shetty attributed the dip to the Venkataraghavan panel's good work. He also said that besides encouraging umpires to report bowlers with suspect actions, the panel has been pulling up officials who fail to do so. "If the panel notices a bowler with dicey action who has not been reported, the panel not only asks the bowler to get tested but also recommends action against the umpires and referees who have failed to report the bowler," Shetty said. "The BCCI then sends a show-cause notice to such officials and takes a call based on their reply."
A BCCI panel umpire admitted that the confidence given to them by the committee has resulted in more vigilance. The problem has been tackled more efficiently at the junior level, he said. "Identifying the problem at a young age is important. If that can be done efficiently, we can tackle the problem efficiently," Shetty said.
Maharashtra fast bowler Sachin Chaudhari, who was barred from bowling last year after being called thrice in a Ranji match, went through the rigorous correction process during the off-season. "I had been working on correcting the action since I was called last season and it was heartening to see my action wasn't deemed illegal in Chennai," Chaudhari said. "It was a sigh of relief and I hope I can return to first-class cricket soon."
For Chaudhari to have been suspended from bowling early in his first-class career was a huge jolt. "At that time, I was very disturbed. Thankfully, the coaches and team-mates have been very supportive. Even the selectors have picked me in the probables this year, so I hope I will never have to live with the tag of being a chucker."
It took Chaudhari more than eight months to be tested after being called. Chaudhari was fortunate to have received expert advice from his home association. But for bowlers who get confused and start getting demoralised, the BCCI needs to enhance its drive with quicker testing and remedial processes.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo