No. 47 August 7, 2011

The 15-degree rule

After tests proved that even those with visibly clean actions bowled with bent elbows, the ICC had no choice but to alter the laws


There was a time when a charge of chucking involved more stigma than almost anything else a player could do wrong. It was easily more serious than not walking, or claiming half-volleys as catches, or running out a batsman who had been tripped over. It was more humiliating too. From backyards to international venues, bowlers who couldn't bowl were looked down upon, their place in the game questioned.

Nowadays umpires don't call anybody for throwing during a match. While a batsman given out lbw even after he has hit the leather off the ball is punished immediately for standing his ground for five seconds, chuckers cannot be asked to stop operating. There are various tests, reporting processes and remedial measures that have attached a sense of mystery to the process and watered down the stigma. The umpire retains the power to call a bowler for throwing, but that's just to prevent misuse - say, baseball-style pitching, or a part-time bowler deliberately chucking at a crucial juncture of the game.

Frankly the game didn't have much choice. For years, decades, centuries, the umpires relied on the naked eye - some still consider it the best method - to call bowlers for throwing. Not in recent times, though, after biomechanical tests revealed it is humanly impossible to bowl without any flex in the elbow. The actions most orthodox to the naked eye were found to be technically illegal. The ICC had no option other than to assign limits for the straightening of the elbow after it passed the shoulder in the delivery action: 10 degrees for fast bowlers, seven and a half for medium-pacers, and five for spinners.

Also in the '90s came Muttiah Muralitharan, whose unique elbow, wrist and shoulder challenged the veracity of what we saw. More startling revelations surfaced from retrospective biomechanical tests in 2004. Some of the cleanest bowlers from the past seemed to have been flexing their elbows beyond the limit, and finally, in November 2004, the ICC set a uniform 15-degree limit for all bowlers.

Given all the complex calculations involved, the umpires only name the suspect actions in their post-match reports, following which various tests decide the offender's future. Most come back with improved actions, and stay under scrutiny. Some are asked to not bowl a particular delivery; for example, Johan Botha and the doosra.

For the time being that has settled the issue and made room for the doosra, the offspinner's googly, which experts reckon cannot be bowled without chucking. The world today is more tolerant of suspect actions. Bishan Bedi is not pleased, Murali is. To Murali and other modern offspinners the doosra is an art form. To Bedi and other traditionalists, among them Australian coaches who want the teaching of the doosra banned, in their country at least, it is an act of cheating. There is reason enough to believe both sides have cricket's best interests at heart. Both have reason to believe what they believe. Whoever said cricket was a simple game?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. This series was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on August 10, 2011, 3:14 GMT

    How ridiculous are the tests to see if a bowler is legitimate. It's like the police department ringing me and saying "sir, someone has told us you speed when driving, please come down and show us how you drive!". As faulty as that is, end of story.

  • Navin on August 8, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    Instead of getting carried away with technicalities, the emphasis should be put on the principle of the rule. Bending of the arm was prohibited to provide some consistency in how people bowled, and to take away the advantages associated with 'throwing' baseball style.

    There was a reason for the rule, and now that we know the 'original' way this rule was defined was 'physically impossible'; we need to try and find a way to preserve the objective of the rule, not the actual word of the rule, without disadvantaging a particular type of bowler (such as Murali).

    It seems the current position of the ICC is the most 'in the spirit' of the rule it has ever been. Perhaps it can be improved further, but we should move on from the 'naked eye' assessment, and the simple 'no bending arm' definition, as we know just how much of a failure such a definition and method of testing is. If anything, such a system only goes to provide certain types of bowlers with an unfair advantage over others...

  • Satyajeet on August 8, 2011, 13:13 GMT

    Nowadays, Spinners are wearing full-sleeves or 3/4th sleeves purposely to hide their actions while bowling (Harbhajan, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Razzak of Bangladesh, Shoaib Malik, Hafeez, etc.)... And even fast bowlers such as Shoaib Akhatar and Shabir Ahmed used to wear them... It should be made mandatory for all bowlers to wear half-sleeves while bowling, so that the Umpires, match Referees and also the ICC could take proper actions against the offenders of the 15% rule by easily watching them on the slow motion replays...

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2011, 12:37 GMT

    @Proteas123 what makes you think Murali would have gone beyond the 15 degree rule if he was tested in match conditions when your own Johann Boatha couldn't reproduce the doosra in lab conditions under 15 degrees? The truth is that with the technology available, there is no way to do it in match conditions. If there was Murali would have been the first to ask for it. He is the most tested bowler in cricket history and he willingly participated and even asked for himself to be tested live infront of cameras. If you want to take cheap shots at people with your flawed assumtions please atleast read about the subject first. People with PHD's have tested him in the lab made him bowl the same speed he bowls in the match and measured turn and bounce as well. Atleast try to build your opinion on the basis of facts, scientific inquiry, and logical principles, independent of any logical fallacies or intellectually limiting effects of confirmation bias, cognitive bias, prejudice and other dogmas.

  • Don on August 8, 2011, 12:34 GMT

    When they still had the services of Shane Warne and Stuart McGill, the then Aus captain Ricky Ponting commended the ICC's tough stance on the doosra, and even suggested that they view the Pakistani spinners' bowling actions very closely. Now Nathan Hauritz has started practising the doosra in a desperate attempt to improve his bowling arsenal. Hypocracy?

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    Saw Andrew Hall bowl on Sky the other day - looks fine with the naked eye, but a few slow motion shots showed him to have a very bent arm in delivery! Looked about 25 degrees.

  • Wolver on August 8, 2011, 8:14 GMT

    @ Meety - You are correct that a lab and playing on the field are completely different enviroments. The players should be tested throughout the match using GPS technology. While Murali and others may have passed in the lab, when under pressure on the field I doubt they would pass at all and certainly Murali would not have achieved the same success.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2011, 1:40 GMT

    @swingit Everything is in an process of evolution and nothing is at a standstill including cricket. The cricket played today is not the same as what was played a couple of centuries ago. The key is to be able to differentiate between deliberate throwing and the inevitable and natural flexing of the arm on delivery.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2011, 1:18 GMT

    @yorkshire-86 first of all thanks for the almost correct explanation. But it's a bit more complicated than that. Read my other answer below. Since science has proved 99% of all bowlers have some degree of flex in their action isn't is right to conclude that under the old law it was infact impossible to bowl anything? let alone the doosra? Any bowlers in the world would have his accuracy suffered because of wearing a cast over his albow. Again not something remotely isolated to Murali. It's a shame that ICC didn't make the findigs of the report done during the 2004 champions trophy public. Well they did at first and then under huge pressure from the Indian and Australian cricket boards took it back. If anyone has a link to that love to see it.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2011, 0:56 GMT

    @yorkshire-86 It is not the elbow but the shoulder getting the wrist of murali's into a position that can deliver the doosra. How many people can tounch their forearm with their thumb? not many. Murali can touch the side of his forearm and front of his forearm with his thumb. Add to this amazing wrist his shoulder joint can almost come out and add a degreee of superhuman rotation to his shoulder. How far back can you turn your elbow back? In one of those tests the medical expert shown how much more flexible murali's joints are. Also search google for 'Hypermobility in cricket'. Research done on it shows Asians have far more flexibility in their joints than caucasians which might explain why the tests at the University of Western Australian by Prof Bruce Elliott has so far found no caucasian bowler who can bowl the doosra under the 15 degree limit while there are plenty of bowlers who have passed their doosra under his testing. @Guvner 99% of ALL bowlers straighten their arm under tests

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