Throwing good laws after bad
Tommy Andrews, who batted efficiently and bowled a few googlies for Australia in the 1920s, made people sit up and listen when he said once: "If they stop throwing, cricket in Australia will die."
It is the nicest thing anyone has said about what is almost universally regarded as the biggest crime in the game. Chucking is also our secret vice, the temptation to which most bowlers succumb and then lie about. It is cricket's lurking sore, which no amount of scratching can remove. There are few agnostics left when it comes to chucking.
Well, to stir the pot further, let me say I have never understood what all the fuss is about. And every time another poor soul is dragged to the stocks, my initial reaction is to start a petition on the victim's behalf. `Let him free!' And, invariably, I am drowned in a hail of indignation.
Quite why chucking excites moralists is beyond me. It might be because cricket can be awfully anal, with people poring over sub-sections of laws looking for nuances of interpretation about this transgression or that. But I am always drawn back to the simplest question: what is it about chucking that is so sinful?
To that end I turn to the letters page of this magazine, unfailingly a repository of certitude. The April edition was a particularly fine one, with John Dennett, of Whitchurch in Hampshire, reaching heights of dudgeon possibly not witnessed in these islands since Churchill got mad at Hitler.
Responding to the previous edition's letter of the month (Bruce Charlton's reasoned dissection of 'The legal throw'), Mr Dennett wrote in simple and heartfelt disgust: "Bowlers who throw are cheats and should be barred from bowling." He castigated TWC for its perceived tacit approval.
Tim Vogel, writing from Wellington in New Zealand, was similarly apoplectic. Chucking should be outlawed, he argued, because "a thrown delivery gains the bowler an unfair advantage". Only Steve Baldock, of Handcross, West Sussex, could see merit in differentiating between the illegal 'strong throw' and the legal 'weak throw'.
I prefer to dwell on what might have happened to a host of wonderful entertainers had they been outed by the vigilantes. And do not imagine the knives are not still out for Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh, Shoaib Akhtar and Shabbir Ahmed (who is out until December and might never resurrect his career).
The persecution, springing from an unhinged lust for punishment, turns my stomach. It is as if the entire cricket community sees it as a duty to protect precious batsmen from those awful interloping protagonists trying to get them out. Partly this is a legacy of hundreds of years of slavering over cover drives and delicate leg glides by writers hooked on the undeniable beauty of batting.
But you cannot win a game by merely scoring runs. At the highest level you have to dismiss your opponents twice. Once, on uncovered pitches, this was much more of a delicious lottery than it is now. Then, as the conditions and the Laws and heavier bats combined to make batting ever easier, bowlers were driven, as they always have been, to search for the next mystery delivery.
If the batting addicts had their way, they would have banned the googly. The lbw law, too, is a nonsense. Why should a batsman be able to protect his wicket with his pads outside his leg stump? Why must the ball hit the pads wicket-to-wicket? Nonsense, the lot of it. The lbw law is one reason for the rise of the doosra, the most exquisite addition to bowling's arsenal in our time, a beautiful twisting of the wrist and arm propelling it towards the sucker at the other end like an insoluble crossword clue. Yet Harbhajan might be driving a truck in America now, as he once threatened, rather than tormenting England's batsmen with it, had Sourav Ganguly, that inspired irritant, not been such a tireless advocate for his spinner when he was captain.
And now Chris Broad, in his role as cricket's latter-day Inquisitor-in-Chief, is on Harbhajan's case again. Murali, of course, is used to it. So, too, is Shoaib. But let me, briefly, put the case for the defence and then you can go back to your writing desk, dip your pen in some more vitriol and, working on your ulcer, pen another letter of horrified disbelief to the editor.
There is nothing wrong with chucking because there is no logic in describing one action as more 'legitimate' than another. How can a straight arm be morally better than a bent one? What is wrong with getting more turn with a bent arm? How much turn, or extra pace and bounce, is - in the words of Mr Vogel - "an unfair advantage"? Why is it unfair, and why should there not be an advantage?
The responding chorus, which I can just about hear, is that it is illegal, it defies the Laws, the precious Laws. Those damn regulations have been changing ever since they were first written and will continue to be for as long as the game is played. My hope is that, one fine day, we will come to celebrate the flexed arm, the whirring wrist. We will learn to love the chuck and Tommy Andrews will be celebrated as one of the game's visionaries.
Kevin Mitchell is chief sports writer of The Observer.