November 20, 2009

Three cheers for the crackdown on chucking

India seem to have made a start to combat illegal actions by allowing umpires to call bowlers on the field

So umpires in India have started calling bowlers for chucking, and it is nice to see a forgotten law being implemented. Some bowlers, especially those who have played first-class cricket for eight or 10 years, might choose to disagree with the current practice. They are entitled to be a bit confused, but really, in our part of the world we have no alternative. In law, in spirit and in fairness, bowling has to be a straight-arm exercise, and that definition has been mutilated over the years. I suspect the reason umpires have started calling bowlers is not because, during an off-season revision, they discovered a law that seemed abandoned, or because they feel very strongly about it, but simply because there is now a list of offenders and umpires have been given the freedom to call them. It is a welcome change.

Bowlers might complain that they were fine all this time and that it is a bit unfair to call them now. But the law hasn't changed, merely the tools for its implementation. With fixed cameras at every first-class game, there is no place to hide anymore, and in any case the argument against unfairness suffers when confronted with the number of wickets that have been obtained with illegal actions over the years. In truth it had become an epidemic and had reached a stage where if we saw a finger spinner, rather than look at how good he was, we were overjoyed that he actually bowled with a straight arm. That is exactly the feeling I had when I first saw Shakib Al Hasan, the talented Bangladeshi cricketer. That he was a good bowler was almost secondary; that he didn't bend his arm was a surprise.

The idea of calling a bowler on the field is sound for at least a couple of reasons. The current procedure at the ICC is cumbersome and has an in-built failure mechanism. Umpires can only report bowlers, and if they report them frequently enough (and they can keep bowling till then), the bowlers have to, after undergoing remedial action, demonstrate the legality of their action before cameras, in an artificial situation. That is easily done. Now umpires are looking at what a bowler does in tense, sometimes desperate, situations, and that is the best indicator of how clean his action is at that moment. A bowler might bowl five clean deliveries and let one slip through. Only the on-field umpires can catch the moment.

Now umpires are looking at what a bowler does in tense, sometimes desperate, situations, and that is the best indicator of how clean his action is at that moment. A bowler might bowl five clean deliveries and let one slip through. Only the on-field umpires can catch the moment

India has actually done a commendable job by shortlisting bowlers with suspect actions, based on video footage, inviting them to the National Cricket Academy for remedial action and warning them that future transgressions will invite a no-ball call from an umpire. Bowlers therefore are aware that they are under the scanner, and that, in effect, takes much of the sting out of their argument. Now if everybody took care of this at domestic level, we would have few problems at the international level, where currently bowlers seem to enjoy greater latitude.

What this tells me is that intent is often the starting point, and therefore the stumbling block, for change. Intent has led to this action against one of the two epidemics in our cricket. Now we must look at the second - the problem with cricketers' ages. When I see the age against a player's name on some of the graphics, I cringe. It is embarrassing. In all fairness, once players are playing international cricket it shouldn't matter what number goes against their name in the age column, since it is one player's ability versus another. And irrespective of what a certificate says, the body knows its real age and so it knows when to send out the right signals. The problem is at the Under-19 level and lower, where you see players of every vintage on the field.

So either we crack down on players very early - difficult because local administrators and doctors are pretty strong and willing accomplices, or we reduce the importance given to Under-19 cricket. Today, because of the attention, and the resulting monetary benefit, there is a temptation to stay 19 for just a little while longer! It is unfair on genuine 17-year-olds because a two- or three-year age gap can be very large at that level.

I'm waiting to see a news report that says an Under-19 cricketer was banned for three years for being found over-age.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vidyadhar on November 22, 2009, 17:27 GMT

    Harsha is absolutely right. It is time that BCCI and other boards started doing this. Live footage from matches (tests ) with the ultra slow motion in multiple angles could be presented to the same Laboratory analysts of the ICC. This will conclusively show who bowls what and how many times.

  • Harish on November 22, 2009, 16:31 GMT

    @longmemory murali can't straighten his elbow. Watch video on youtube. The elbow is always bent but the arm is perpendicular to the ground before the ball leaves the hand.(i think that is what you meant, but you should watch the video and you will see the elbow is still bent). Watch the video on youtube where murali bowls with plaster so that he can't bend it for proof that he doesn't chuck.

  • sachit on November 22, 2009, 5:40 GMT

    @nelrod03- dear sir get your facts straight before making a comment. Observe Lasith malingas action. It is legal in every sense.Have you sean Shaun Tait bowl? Read the rules.Learn more about the game. If you still think he chucks a visit to the doctor will do you a world of good.

  • S on November 21, 2009, 23:04 GMT

    For all those hyper-active conspiracy theorists out there, go back and read the article. Nowhere does Harsha mention Murali or Afridi. Not even obliquely. You guys must harbor doubts about these things yourselves, and so you see it even where it isn't there. For all the scientific tests, slo-mo cameras, permittted angles of bending etc., the truth is I cringe when I watch certain bowlers at the international level. In my school days, they would have been called for 'chucking' - pure and simple. I understand some of them have physical deformities and their elbows are bent at an angle even when at rest. Yet, their arms do seem to straighten at the point of delivery -usually when they are trying extra hard: a bouncer or a fast yorker in the case of a fast bowler or more spin or the doosra for the spinners. Despite all the technology, I feel the best solution is to leave it to the square leg umpire to do it the old-fashioned way: to call it as he sees it.

  • John on November 21, 2009, 22:39 GMT

    "The law was made for a reason." What exactly was the reason? What would be the consequence to the game if deliveries were allowed to be thrown? I've read that back in the 19th century the great Australian bowler Spofforth suggested allowing deliveries to be thrown. Wouldn't batsmen be able to adjust to batting against thrown deliveries?

  • luwie on November 21, 2009, 17:49 GMT

    wait a minute hasn't murali proved him self enough already? also the 15 degree rule was not written to facilitate murali. first of all it only came about after 2003 and murali was cleared of chuking by the ICC (and Australian university) after 1995. yes Cris broad calling muralis dusra promoted the icc to look into the actions of all the bowlers after which they decided the 10 degrees given to spinners and medium pacers was arbitrary and decided to bring them on par with fast bowlers (give evry1 15 degrees). also Malinga doesn't chuk if he has a different action but any one who thinks having a slinging action is tantamount to chucking should get there heads examined

  • srikant on November 21, 2009, 16:51 GMT

    Though overaged boys should not be allowed to play in junior matches, i don't think there is a fool proof method to know the exact age. We can't go just by the looks, because some look much older than their age and some much younger. some boys are strongly built, some can get a decent facial hair by as early as 11 years of age, some go fairly bald by 14. In fact there is more chance of younger looking boys to cheat because nobody is going to doubt them.

  • Peter on November 21, 2009, 16:21 GMT

    Very timely given the current chucking contest between Harbajan and Murali - though why a nation should be applauded for following a common-sense and important law is beyond me [can only assume that this article is tongue-in-cheek].

    Occasional throws are if anything more dangerous due to the surprise factor e.g. Lock's faster ball, Griffiths bouncer and yorker.

    Key, I think, is the amount of lateral elbow movement not bending beyond the horizontal.

  • Anu on November 21, 2009, 14:26 GMT

    Nelson said Malinga is a chucker. Joke of the year.It's better than Anand Ramachandran's jokes.Please understand the meaning of the chucker before commenting.

  • Yash on November 21, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    Chiligonzales - In the late 90s and probably early 00s, Afridi's faster ball was quite clearly illegal. His arm bent and straightened generating quite a bit of pace. He was reported and subsequently remedied the fault. I agree that his action is clean now but it was wasn't always tha case.

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