August 30, 2014

We need sophisticated technology to deal with chucking

Darren Berry
Slow-motion 3D replays must be captured in the match environment in order to provide an accurate picture of bowling actions

The Muralitharan case is more complicated than your garden-variety dubious action, given his flexible joints, rubber-like wrists, and the "carry angle" of the forearm © AFP

Let's get one thing clear from the outset - almost every offspinner in world cricket has a bend in his bowling arm. It is unnatural to bowl offspin without some degree of (flexion) bend. It is the degree of bend that is the contentious issue.

In fact, it's not the bend but the straightening (extension) of the arm as it rotates to bowl that causes the headaches. It is a complicated topic, but given the increased scrutiny and subsequent angst it is causing around the world it's time for some explanation.

It should also be recognised that it's not just offspinners who have this problem. Daryl Foster, a biomechanics expert with the University of Western Australia, and a former state coach, was recently quoted as saying he has greater concern with the fast men who bend it more than the highly scrutinised offspinners do. Some would be surprised to know that even the most pure actions of Dennis Lillee and Richard Hadlee had a degree of straightening as they flung down the ball in the '70s and '80s.

The legal limit of straightening of the arm is 15 degrees. In biomechanical terms, this means the angle (flexion) at the elbow joint when the bowling arm is horizontal prior to delivery is measured, and the degree of extension that has taken place at the point of release is also measured. If the change in angle is greater than 15 degrees then a bowler's action is considered under current ICC rulings to be illegal. Sounds complex? Well, it gets worse.

The most famous name embroiled in this "chucking" controversy was and still is the Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan, who was called 19 years ago in a Test at the MCG. It strained relationships and threatened to bring a halt to the series at the time. It also elevated to the surface a talking point that still rages today as to the legality of many bowling actions around the world.

In my experience, none of the bowlers I have worked with who have come under scrutiny deliberately try to throw the ball to gain an advantage. It is usually a biomechanical defect and/or a technical issue

The Muralitharan case is even more complicated given his flexible joints, rubber-like wrists and another complex biomechanical term: "carry angle" of the forearm. This is the degree of angulation a person has in the forearm when standing in the anatomical position (upright with arms by the side, palms facing outwards). In most cases the greater the carry angle the greater the perception to the naked eye is of the appearance of throwing as opposed to bowling. It would take a biomechanist to explain this comprehensively, but I have learnt a lot in this area through necessity in recent times.

My coaching experiences in this area over the last decade have involved a couple of fast bowlers from the subcontinent, who came under severe scrutiny during my time at the IPL (with Rajasthan Royals) and more recently my involvement with the current South Australia captain and offspinner Johan Botha. In my experience, none of the bowlers I have worked with who have come under scrutiny deliberately try to throw the ball to gain an advantage. It is usually a biomechanical defect (very hard to rectify) and/or a technical issue that requires constant drilling and alignment to remedy. For the record, Botha has been reported on three occasions and on each of them found not guilty in testing and cleared.

Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal is the most recent high-profile offspinner to be called for a dubious action. This week, he was laboratory-tested in Brisbane to clear his action, or face a lengthy ban. We will know the outcome in a few weeks. Laboratory testing is the most contentious issue, as trying to reproduce exactly what happens in a competitive game environment is very difficult. Until we have sophisticated 3D technology that can be used in games, a true reflection of exactly what is taking place will never be attained. Scientists testing in a sports lab will never be able to replicate or reproduce exactly what players do in a highly competitive game environment, hence the great debate continues.

What exactly does an offspinner tend to do to give the perception that he is chucking, and more importantly how can it be rectified?

1. The jump or take-off position and finishing position in delivery stride is crucial. Any offspinner bowling right-arm over the wicket who jumps from wide of the crease and lands close to the stumps at the point of delivery has started the kinetic chain incorrectly. The results of this in the lower half of the body will greatly effect what happens in the upper half during delivery. To make matters worse, if the feet are in an open position when the front foot lands, this also tends to increase the lag of the bowling arm and ultimately exaggerates firstly flexion, then the dangerous forearm extension at the point of delivery.

2. The result of point no. 1 will cause issues with upper-body lean or hyperextension of the spine in delivery motion, and this impedes the arm's natural pathway in the bowling action. The result is a compromised action, where the body lays back significantly to allow natural arm path and consequently a bent arm inevitably results. The lower half of the body has jumped in too far and does not allow a smooth, clean action to be completed.

3. The non-bowling arm is a crucial aspect in a dubious offspin action. It is vital that it acts as a rudder to steer the mechanics of the action. It must remain strong and assist to align the body correctly in a side-on manner. The bowler must look outside the arm in delivery mode, otherwise the action will be too front-on, which generally results in bowling-arm lag time and often increased flexion and then extension in the elbow joint as the bowling action is completed.

4. Load-up position of bowling arm and hand. This has proved to be another vital component in a dubious action. Any offspinner who allows his bowling hand to rise above the mid-line of the body in wind-up generally then turns his wrist and forearm open too early before the hand passes the hip at the start of the delivery arc, and a bend in the arm occurs before the bowling arm reaches the horizontal. The action always looks ugly in these instances.

5. Finally, spearing the ball or firing it in at a pace greater than the normal arm speed of an offspinner causes all sorts of problems. The bowler endeavours to keep the batsman pinned to the crease and thus increases the velocity on the ball. The natural windmill arc of the action is lost and a javelin-type of action results. The introduction of T20 cricket has increased this tendency and created bad habits among many offspinners worldwide.

Smoothing out chinks in a bowling action is not an easy task and only constant remedial work with slow-motion video and ultimately 3D technology will assist. The naked eye can be a powerful tool but my experiences in ICC-approved testing labs around the world (Canberra, Perth and Cape Town) tells me that until we have 3D slow-motion replays available in games, the debate over illegal bowling actions will sadly continue to smoulder.

Darren Berry is the coach of South Australia and Adelaide Strikers and a former wicketkeeper-captain for Victoria

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on September 3, 2014, 7:41 GMT

    I watched an interesting Mark Nicholas presentation last year, in which Murali was allowed to explain and bowl his variety, on camera. On three further occasions during that show, historical footage of him bowling in International matches was shown. The difference this time, was that the camera was placed at square leg/mid-wicket. Let's just say, that anyone viewing footage from this position - the view that the square leg umpire would have seen - would have absolute sympathy with Ross Emerson's and Daryl Hair's original decisions. One rather dry wit, euphemistically referred to it as 'elbow bowling'. I wonder how this footage hasn't been shown more often. I have an enduring love for the history and honour, bound in the game of cricket, that W.G.Grace described as promoting 'the manly virtues'. Cricket is an ambassador for the character of a nation and exceeds its stature as a mere sport. If one is to convey attributes to youth, let them be based on timeless intelligence & quality.

  • faiz on September 3, 2014, 7:29 GMT

    if there are restrictions for bowlers, why is reverse sweep and change of grip allowed for batsmen. these give undue advantage to the batsmen . it disrupts the bowler's line of attack. batsmen should be banned from doing it too.

  • Chatty on September 2, 2014, 18:37 GMT

    Some have suggested wiring up bowlers during matches. That is quite absurd. It will never fly. How can anybody focus on the cricket when there are wires hanging from the body? I think better technology is certainly a good thing. But I feel that given the breaks that batsmen have got with wider, heavier, (and using one's own bats!), the bowlers need a break too. We have already lost a lot of balance between bat and ball. These new developments like slightly bent arms and doosras are the natural reaction. We need to treat them as part of the evolution of the game. Sure, rules have to be adhered to. But the rule have to evolve too. The game would be far poorer without these great off spinners.

  • Android on September 1, 2014, 10:32 GMT

    Many of these problems are due to 1. Non of the ICC people nor I believe many spectators commentators hv an idea of what human anatomy & body physics-it differs from person to person & the decisions should be applied individually (do they know how much of a illusion can make by an wide carrying angle?) technology allowing everyone to record repeat zoom or slow motion bla bla bla & allowing to find out more & more errors of bowlers. If we hv full quality footages of yesteryears, i'm sure many more greats would fall in to this trap 3. If ICC wants to put this much of scrutiny on bowlers, why can't they laid strict rules on batsmen too, like nullifying the runs if non stricker take his run before bowler release the ball, or stricker not staying at the start of batting!-I am sure fans would come out with 1000 more reasons with regard to this

  • Dummy4 on September 1, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    There has been an interesting development this summer, when Saeed Ajmal has been sharing his technical knowledge with Moeen Ali, while both were playing for Worcestershire. There is no doubt that Saeed has been "helping" Moeen with a potential doosra, and initiating him into the advantages of a front-on delivery. Fortunately for Moeen and England, Moeen appears to have listened at least equally to the voices (including Ian Bell) who said that he would be a more effective Test bowler if he speeded up his delivery a bit, to get more drift. But it is clear that many current spinners work hard on maximising the amount of flexion that they can get within the 15 degree limit (for instance, by starting their action with a 30 degree bend). Michael Grey's suggestion that the Laws are reframed in terms of the acceleration imparted to the ball, rather than the biomechanics of the bowler, may be the way forward - less contentious and more objective.

  • ian on September 1, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    A quick thank you for the edit and the subsequent appearance of my posts. I understand the edit - in as much as the personalised comments might have offended some sensibilites. I'm always aware of what might be regarded as contentious. I thought the ICC/ maidan comment might also fall foul...I'm glad it didn't. So, thanks again.

  • ian on September 1, 2014, 9:04 GMT

    2nd post (continuing the first): if there is no* instantly* applicable rule re: bowling with a bent arm ('chucking' as it used to be called), then the bowler is flouting the Laws of the game (or, to put that more clearly, he's cheating) and we might as well all pack up and go home, because the game that is being played is no longer cricket. The ump must call it as he sees it - as the ref does in football (soccer) when he awards a free kick or penalty. The spirit of all games depends on the integrity and unbiassed position of the umps - the *universal acceptance* of those attributes in the appointed officials. All this begs the question: why did that amazingly inept organization, the ICC, decide to come up with something as absurd as a 15 degree ruling? The answer lies in the untutored and overwhelmingly illegal so-called bowling that is found on thousands of maidans in the Indian subcontinent. Check the umps have good eyesight and let the game continue without this absurd nonsense.

  • ian on September 1, 2014, 8:45 GMT

    Forget the analysis, lab. tests and esoteric areas of science & technology - use the commonsense approach - the one that professional umpires used for decades without being questioned. If a bowler appears to you, the umpire, to be throwing rather than bowling the ball, call: No ball! I'm quite sure that I'm a voice in the wilderness and will be dismissed, out of hand, as an old reactionary (which is well wide of the mark politically), but there is no doubt that, unless the law is clear and unambiguous, this contentious matter will rumble on.

  • adeel on September 1, 2014, 4:36 GMT

    @ Prabhakar Muthukrishnan & m0se - spot on! put some restrictions on switch/reverse hitting and limit on bats weights and thickness..just like ponting's bat sticker was deemed unfair advantageous.

    the elbow brace which can measure the angle, is a good idea. surly with technology available today, it can be developed.

  • Dummy4 on August 31, 2014, 14:23 GMT

    "In my experience, none of the bowlers I have worked with who have come under scrutiny deliberately try to throw the ball to gain an advantage. It is usually a biomechanical defect (very hard to rectify) and/or a technical issue that requires constant drilling and alignment to remedy."

    Interesting statement, but I've heard it said and seen it in "master class" videos on Youtube that spinners are being taught "to use the 15 degrees".

    Other factors: more cricket on TV so you can see all the chucking, the 3rd/TV umpire who can see it (umpire at the bowling end must find it hard to look for no ball and chucking at the same time), increase in limited overs cricket where offies are being driven to bowling darts on tight lines and increased use of part timers (e.g. Williamson and Samuels) who don't have impeccable actions in the first place, and rise of variations like the doosra and carom ball which encourage/make it harder to avoid chucking.

  • No featured comments at the moment.