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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Arun on May 8, 2013, 6:32 GMT

    @irishwolfhound: A few things: The "doosra" was never mentioned, only long sleeves. That list has non-offspinners in it. Graeme Swann has played with half sleeves; google image search is your friend. Check out the INdia vs England at Nagpur game, or photos. He did so in many other India-England games. Finally, even if you were right about Swann (which you aren't), one swallow (or swann, in this case) does not a summer make. Now, coming to the doosra: I'm hard pressed to think of one bowler who bowls the doosra without flexing their elbow more over their standard offspinner. I don't care whether it can be bowled without flexing, it probably can. But it isn't, likely because you get a little more turn and bounce if you do chuck. In another age, Murali, Ajmal, Saqlain, Harbajan would all be banned. Luckily for them, the ICC chose an arbitrary 15 deg flex (impossible to enforce on field under current technology), and now umps have no way of being sure if it was 13.5 or 17 degs.

  • Jay on May 8, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    Even former PM John Howard - the "cricket tragic" - got into the fray by calling Murali a "chucker"! The Aussie crowds heckled him with "No Ball" jeers! Still Murali - arguably the best spinner ever - stood his ground. He passed the biomechanical tests & ICC was forced to issue the 15-degree rule in 2004. Cricket has moved with the times. Bowling has evolved, progressing from under-arm to round arm to over arm. And now the 15-degree system is working under the constant scrutiny of umpires. Their post-match reports are useful: many have improved their actions while some have dropped a dubious delivery. A high-profile case: John Botha dropped the doosra. Is that why John Inverarity disses the legal doosra? But where's the "epidemic of chucking"? Ian's paranoid about chucking as if it's like pitching in baseball! Flip-flopping is a lot like Switch-hitting: It's "patently unfair" to bowlers. Wouldn't today's media have a ball with "Chappelli shouldn't Switch-hit, or he'll be called out"?

  • Jay on May 8, 2013, 4:16 GMT

    Ian - Flip-Flopping? In a 2004 column on simplifying the 'crooked' law, Ian asserted: "I also don't believe it's right to penalise Muralitharan (or any other player) because he's physically able to do things others aren't capable of achieving"! He felt it was OK as it did not give Murali "any unfair advantage" over "any other finger spinner"! And, importantly, if Murali's arm going "bent to straight" is questionable, then "virtually every bowler is in some doubt" (like Shane Warne)! So why is Ian now turning Murali into his punching bag for this "epidemic of chucking"? Epidemic? Really? It's simply fear-mongering speculation by Chappelli. Or maybe it's this Aussie paranoia about dubious throwing actions. The late Peter Roebuck pointed out these questionable calls are "often publicly and mostly by a particular brand of Australian umpire" (eg Darrell Hair & Ross Emerson)! Gideon Haigh also confirmed "the vast majority of complainants about the tolerance limits have been Australian"! TBC

  • Dave on May 7, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    While Murali's bowling action, and no-balling by Hair in the 90s may have instigated the studies into bowling actions, there is no way that 15 degree policy was designed to accommodate Murali's action. They studied lots of different bowlers, including many with very traditional straight-arm actions and many got very close to the 15 degree limit. Murali was found to be within it, and no more bent than anyone else.

    A lot of people are ignorant of the law (both the modern version and original) where there is nothing that states you must bowl with a straight arm. What you mustn't do is straighten a bent arm. Bowling with a fixed bent arm is fine and always has been. Sadly many people (even some umpires) aren't aware of this. Murali's problem was that he's got a deformed arm with a natural kink, so it can appear to flex as his arm comes over. He's also very flexible wrists which can also give the impression of chucking.

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2013, 20:55 GMT

    Sonny Ramadhin has admitted that he 'threw', he said that's why he always kept his sleeves buttoned up.

  • John on May 6, 2013, 19:20 GMT

    Just a small point: Greatest_Game, although Bradman knew cricket, at the time Murali was no-balled by Darrell Hair, The Don was 87 years old. I'm not sure by that time he was the most reliable authority on who Murali was, let alone the legality of his bowling action. If you want support for your position, I think you need to call on an Australian captain with more recent experience- perhaps someone like, say, Ian Chappell?

  • Dummy4 on May 6, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    I thought the biometric tests showed that bowlers with actions which looked like they were completely clean, were actually bending it a bit. So what is Ian Chappell on about. If everyone bends a bit, then most likely those remodelled actions in the 1950s were also bending it a bit; its just that they didn't have that bio metric analysis available to them at that time. Then what is the point of this article ? All bowlers bend. Thats the end point.

  • Shakti on May 6, 2013, 15:17 GMT

    I really can't see how the ICC could possibly prevent this becoming an epidemic.Kevon Cooper regularly has a bent arms at the time of delivery & the ICC hasn't done anything really.The ICC will find it difficult after the Muralitharan situation,they can't exactly go back & scrutinise each of the 800 wickets or the wickets of any other bowler.There was a story just after Muralitharan retired that many umpires,umpired in fear of calling him for chucking & they just let him retire & avoid a situation.

  • Anand on May 6, 2013, 14:41 GMT

    A a layman, it would seem that use of technology in this case has only been a deterrent to the policy. Unless there is a real time sensing device which can count for the 15 degrees allowed this theory is going to be flawed, as a bowler in international cricket, one would have enough experience to alter their action during the tests. I don't know the specifics of the test and so cant comment on the legitimacy of the test, but if you think you don't see something correct about the action then chances are there is something wrong. The whole theory that about 70 % of the bowlers bend their arm over 12 degrees in an ICC analysis is blown out of proportion. How many of those bowlers had doubtful actions? I think Arjuna Ranatunga some time back came out seeing "he may have created a monster".ICC has to simply empower the umpires with the responsibility of calling something as they see it. Captians should not be given the option of walking-off and should be charged if they threaten to walk off

  • Jonathan on May 6, 2013, 14:31 GMT

    The question isn't whether Murali could bowl a legal doosra with a straight arm, as I'm satisfied he can: the question is whether he could bowl an *unpickable* one. Or whether the rather obvious jerking motion that he makes when bowling -- and evidently did NOT make in the test with his arm in a splint, because it could not have been made - is what is necessary to disguise his doosra from his conventional offbreak.

    Another note: Legal doosras have been done with an action that clearly passes muster. Saqlain Mushtaq, for starters (although he should have been no-balled for overstepping more often than he was.) There is an argument that Sonny Ramadhin - also an offbreak finger-spinner who could make the ball go the other way - also bowled what we now call a doosra, before it was given that name: and again there were no complaints about his action.