May 5, 2013

Beware an epidemic of chucking

Lax laws and a complicated reporting process mean the threat is all too real

This week I had an entertaining lunch with former South Australian fast bowler Peter Trethewey. Known to his mates as "The Claw", Trethewey had his Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame in the late 1950s when English cricket writers depicted him and his opening partner Alan Hitchcox as "Trethrowey and Pitchcox".

It was a period when doubtful actions were rife in Australian cricket, and the Fleet Street press was convinced bowlers of this ilk were responsible for Richie Benaud's team cruising to a 4-0 Ashes victory. To be fair to England's fourth estate, Sir Donald Bradman, then a selector and an Australian Cricket Board member, started a purge to eradicate dubious actions from Australian cricket. This resulted in Australian fast bowler Ian Meckiff being made the scapegoat when he was no-balled from square leg at the Gabba Test in 1963-64. He never played Test cricket again.

That cut-throat approach is a far cry from the modern stance. The officials got themselves in a bind when they misguidedly bent over backwards to accommodate Muttiah Muralitharan's unorthodox action. This shortsighted approach has resulted in all kinds of bends and flexes being allowed in bowling actions. This will lead to an escalation in the epidemic that will eventually force the administrators to either take drastic action or declare the game an elongated form of baseball.

Instead of looking to simplify the law regarding bowling actions, administrators have complicated the process. It has reached the point where it's a barrister's dream and it doesn't take a Rumpole of the Bailey to keep serial offenders playing the game. Even worse, the current drawn-out process surrounding dubious actions doesn't give the batsmen the appropriate protection in the middle.

It's a nightmare for a batsman when someone chucks the odd delivery. That makes it difficult to adjust, and often a batsman becomes so aware of the dubious delivery, he's fooled by a legal one. No batsman wants a bowler thrown out of the game but he is entitled to be protected by a call from square leg when a bowler transgresses. Under the current law, with all the piffle about 15 degrees of flex and a long drawn-out notification process, this isn't possible.

A bowler is no-balled when he oversteps the front line by a fraction, which makes absolutely no difference down the other end. Yet a batsman isn't protected when a dubious delivery (that gives a bowler a huge advantage) abbreviates his innings. This is a denial of a batsman's basic rights.

The law needs to be modified to something really simple so the legal people can't get their teeth into it in a court. This way the umpire at square leg will feel comfortable calling a no-ball on the field, knowing he won't finish up in court defending his judgement against a barrister who doesn't know the difference between a no-ball and no man's land.

Any modification of the law will require a 12-month lead-in time so the current crop of bowlers can iron out any kinks in order to comply with the new regulations. In the meantime, officials need to be vigilant and strict in youth tournaments, and any bowler with a doubtful action should be told to fix his delivery or find another profession.

If these remedies aren't adopted soon, the copycat syndrome will ensure the market is flooded and then it'll be difficult to tell the difference between the delivery of a bowler and that of a baseball pitcher. If that occurs, the stormy late '50s-early '60s period will be looked back on as one of relatively pure bowling actions.

These days the mild-mannered Trethewey is a successful businessman, living in California with his charming American wife, Peggy. That means he's mostly quarantined from modern quirky bowling actions, but ironically his wife's name conjures up thoughts of the baseball term "pegged out", meaning to throw out a base runner. Wouldn't today's English media have a ball with that: "Trethrowey pegged out at home"?

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist