Will the summer of 1960 go down in cricket history as the season when the twin controversies of Throw and Drag, which have so long plagued the first-class game, were settled?
Is a solution in sight to the most troublesome problems in big cricket through the experimental rules sanctioned by the Marylebone Cricket Club, supported by the English counties, for this summer?
The years of thought and trial which have gone into these amended rules afford no guarantee of their success, but everyone concerned with the welfare of cricket hopes for a favourable outcome to the campaign for stamping out menaces to the traditional spirit of the game.
Throwing is no modern trend, as the Editor of Wisden pointed out in his review of the subject in last year's issue. Down the decades calls have been made for drastic steps to be taken by those in authority. In various parts of the world, umpires from time to time, including last summer, have no-balled bowlers for throwing, but the present operation is the first world-wide concerted effort to remove the stigma of unfairness in bowling from the game.
The other countries who make up the Imperial Cricket Conference are as eager as England and Australia to see the matter settled. South Africa have gone further than insisting that bowlers with suspect actions are corrected or kept out of first-class cricket - by declaring that they would not select any bowler for a touring team whose action was likely to cause controversy or embarrassment.
This is the attitude which, in the long run, will prove every bit as effective in rooting out unfair bowling as decisions by umpires. The umpires, again assured of strong support from their legislative bodies and with chapter and verse to guide them, will be encouraged to do their duty fearlessly.
Just as boldly those in authority must act. That M.C.C. were fully aware of their responsibility was shown in the spring of last year when, for the first time for over half a century, they acknowledged openly that the actions of a few English bowlers were suspect.
The following is a summary of a statement made on behalf of M.C.C. to the Imperial Cricket Conference on July 15, 1959.
In the autumn of l957, unofficial discussions took place at Lord's which led to the question of throwing or jerking being placed on the agenda of the M.C.C. Cricket Sub-Committee meeting which was held on February 3, 1958. At this meeting it was recommended that the Chairman -- Mr. G.O.B. Allen -- should express to the first-class umpires at their meeting in April M.C.C.'s concern regarding the bowling action of certain first-class cricketers; and to urge the umpires to look very carefully into this matter and to take such action as Law 26 demands.
This recommendation was confirmed by the M.C.C. Committee and was fully supported by the Advisory County Cricket Committee and by the county captains at their meetings held a month later.
At the meeting of the first-class umpires before the start of the season, M.C.C.'s concern was duly expressed and the umpires were reminded of their duties to the game; they were also assured of the full support of all concerned.
During the 1958 season, no bowler in first-class cricket in England was called, and, at the umpires' meeting on October 7 of that year, Mr. Allen expressed surprise and disappointment that no action had been taken. On this occasion the umpires unanimously agreed that, if asked to do so, they would compile a list of those bowlers in first-class cricket in this country whose actions, in their opinion, were doubtful.
In February of 1959 the M.C.C. Cricket Sub-Committee recommended that a meeting of the first-class umpires should take place as soon as possible in order that they might prepare the list of bowlers with doubtful actions suggested at the October meeting: further, that the names of those bowlers should be sent by M.C.C. to the county clubs concerned and that all counties should be informed that a list had, in fact, been prepared by the first-class umpires.
The question of a definition of throwing or jerking was also considered and members were asked to submit in writing any ideas they might have.
The action taken by M.C.C. in this matter was unanimously approved by the Advisory County Cricket Committee at their meeting on March 17 and the following statement was made to the press:
The part of Law 26 which deals with throwing and jerking has been under discussion between M.C.C., the county committees and captains, and the first-class umpires since the winter of 1957-58. In the autumn of last year, it was unanimously agreed by the umpires that the action of certain bowlers in this country was, on occasion, suspect. The counties concerned have undertaken to warn these bowlers. The umpires have again been assured of the fullest support of M.C.C., the counties, and the county captains in any action they may feel it necessary to take.
At their pre-season meeting in March, the first-class umpires again expressed the unanimous view that the law was clear and that a definition of a throw was not required.
They asked for guidance as to whether or not they should call a bowler whose name was not on the list. They were informed that on their own admission they had indicated that the law was perfectly clear and if, therefore, an umpire was at any time not entirely satisfied by the action of any bowler, he should call that bowler.
In April the M.C.C. Cricket Sub-Committee considered several definitions but none met with approval. It was decided to examine any others which might be submitted, as it was felt that overseas cricket authorities might consider it desirable to introduce one. The Sub-Committee were, however, unanimous that to provide a definition of throwing or jerking, just for the sake of doing so, was totally unacceptable.
Members of the Australian Board of Control held demonstrations and trials at Sydney University Oval and the Woolloongabba Oval, Brisbane, and there were also practical tests in the Indoor Cricket School at Adelaide, before they agreed to delete the words or jerked from Law 26. New South Wales framed a definition which was adopted by the Board for cricketers in Australia. Their experimental Law 26 and notes thereon were as follows:
For a delivery to be fair the ball must be bowled, not thrown; if either umpire be not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect, he shall call and signal no-ball instantly upon delivery. The umpire at the bowler's wicket shall call and signal no-ball if he is not satisfied that at the instant of delivery the bowler has at least some part of one foot behind the bowling crease and within the return crease, and not touching or grounded over either crease.
Note 7: A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if immediately prior to the delivery of the ball the elbow is bent, with the wrist backward of the elbow, and the arm is then suddenly straightened as the ball is delivered. This definition of a throw does not debar the bowler from any use of the wrist in delivering the ball. Umpires are particularly directed to call and signal no-ball unless they are satisfied the ball is bowled. The bowler shall not be given the benefit of the doubt.
Note 8: The difficulty confronting the umpire of simultaneously watching a bowler's hand and foot to determine the instant of delivery is realised. Should the umpire consider a bowler is transgressing, Law 26 by dragging over the bowling crease before delivering the ball, the umpire shall request the bowler to place his back foot in the delivery stride such a distance behind the bowling crease that it will, in the umpire's opinion, offset the advantage the bowler would otherwise gain. Umpires would use a white disc to mark the place behind which the bowler must land his back foot in his delivery stride.
The problems of throw and drag again came before the Advisory County Cricket Committee and the Board of Control at the meetings at Lord's on November 18, 1959. All the first-class counties were present and approved the decisions made by M.C.C.
Bearing in mind the belief of the Australian Board of Control that the law concerning throwing would be clearer if the words "or jerked" were removed, M.C.C. decided to introduce the following experiment in 1960. Remove the words "or jerked" in Law 26 and add this note: A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if, in the opinion of either umpire, there has been a sudden straightening of the bowling arm, whether partial or complete, immediately prior to the delivery of the ball. Immediately prior to the delivery of the ball will be taken to mean at any time after the arm has risen above the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing. The bowler will not be debarred from the use of the wrist in delivering the ball.
M.C.C. came to the conclusion that the Australian definition that a ball shall be deemed to have been thrown if immediately prior to the delivery of the ball the elbow is bent with the wrist backward of the elbow and then the arm is suddenly straightened, was not entirely satisfactory. In M.C.C.'s opinion, the Australian definition was acceptable in so far as bowlers who deliver the ball with their shoulder square on to the batsman, are concerned, but it was not entirely suitable to other types of bowlers.
To help the umpires not to miss calling a throw it was agreed to notify them that, when they consider it necessary to allow themselves time for reflection, they would be justified in delaying the calling of a no-ball.
It had been found that the umpires could not always judge a throw until the whole action was completed, by which time the ball was possibly past the batsman. It would be possible in future for a no-ball to be called even after it had appeared that a batsman had been dismissed.
What has all the bother been about? For as many years as the oldest of us can remember, the relevant part of the No Ball law -- currently Law 26 -- has been substantially the same. Here it is:
For a delivery to be fair the ball must be bowled, not thrown or jerked; if either Umpires be not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect he shall call and signal "No Ball" instantly upon delivery.
The experimental rule on throwing has removed the words "or jerked". They have been in the law for round about one hundred and fifty years and are a relic of the days of underhand bowling. Round-arm, then over-arm, bowling became the vogue but "or jerked" remained.
Umpires, at home and abroad, have been divided as to the necessity for a clear definition of throwing and jerking. English first-class umpires as a whole do not think one is necessary, but when I was in Australia with the 1958-59 M.C.C. team several of the leading umpires there told me that a universally accepted definition of the law would be of the utmost value to them in carrying out their duties.
The Australian Board of Control, who made their first public move to eradicate throwing after the heated arguments of that tour, stated that they thought the law would be clearer without the words or jerked, and, as an experiment, these words have been taken out by both countries.
Now it is a straight issue of throwing or not throwing, but on this specific point there is still slightlack of accord between England and Australia. Each, in a praiseworthy attempt to help umpires, has had the courage to define a throw, and clearly, when one reads the two versions, it would appear that some form of unofficial consultation took place.
The Australians used theirs experimentally during the past winter. When M.C.C. have had time to digest the lessons from the Antipodes and sum up the happenings of this summer, complete agreement about the definition of a throw will no doubt be reached.
There are so many points to watch that any umpire who feels slightly bewildered can be forgiven. Whether English umpires will appreciate the licence, which is theirs for this summer, of delaying the calling of a no-ball if they need time for reflection, remains to be seen, though I understand they are in favour of the experiment.
The other evil, drag, regarded by many as a lesser one than throw, is in the process of being curbed, with the eventual aim of eradication. This problem is a common one to all countries, and it is noteworthy that Australia and England, who have not previously seen eye to eye on this contentious subject, are working together in similar experimental rules requiring an offending bowler to be brought back the distance he would gain by dragging. As in Australia, a white disc will be used in England to mark the place behind which the bowler must land his back foot in his delivery stride.
Thus, for a while at least, ends the dispute caused by two widely differing viewpoints on dragging. Australian umpires permitted dragging, even though the ball was released from twenty yards or less, so long as the bowler, in his delivery stride, brought down his back foot behind the bowling crease. English umpires who stuck to the strict letter of the law regarded such deliveries as illegal and formulated their own scheme, on the lines now sanctioned by M.C.C., of compelling dragging bowlers to extend their delivery distance.
England, however, have gone a stage further than Australia by adding this experimental note: The penalty awarded by an umpire shall apply at both ends for the rest of the innings; either umpire may at any time increase this penalty, in which case the greater shall apply. In the event of a bowler indicating his intention of making a radical change in his type of bowling, the umpires, after observation and consultation, may reconsider the penalty previously awarded.
By introducing the white disc and officially empowering umpires to control draggers, M.C.C. and Australia hope that transgressing bowlers, chastened by the handicaps they will bring on themselves, will be cured of bad habits. Consequently, the appropriate part of Law 26 has been left unaltered:
The umpire at the bowler's wicket shall call and signal "No Ball" if he is not satisfied that at the instant of delivery the bowler has at least some part of one foot behind the bowling crease and within the return crease and not touching or grounded over either crease.
Nevertheless, M.C.C. incline to the theory of judging the legitimacy of a delivery by the position of the front foot and intend to continue their experiments in this direction.
Since my days of active club cricket as a bowler with aspirations to speed, I have always sympathised with bowlers -- the men who bear the hardest lot of all in cricket. They deserve every bit of help they can get, especially the fast men who on hot days and unresponsive pitches shoulder the heaviest burden. Some bowlers in throwing and dragging, either consciously or unconsciously, have gained considerable advantage by unfair methods. Umpires are not asked to judge whether breaches of Law 26 are intentional. They just have to decide whether the law has been broken.
On their keenness of observation and integrity will depend the framing of uniform laws, with their explanatory notes, for cricket everywhere. The Imperial Cricket Conference awaits their findings.