Extensive research conducted by the International Cricket Council is set to reveal that 99% of bowlers in the history of cricket have been throwers. The study was undertaken in the wake of the furore surrounding Muttiah Muralitharan, whose doosra was banned earlier this year after Chris Broad, the match referee for the Tests against Australia, reported it to the ICC.
"The scientific evidence is overwhelming," said Michael Holding, the possessor of one of the smoothest bowling actions in history, and a member of the six-man panel of former Test players who have been gathered in Dubai to investigate the issue. "When bowlers who, to the naked eye, look to have pure actions are thoroughly analysed ... they are likely to be shown as straightening their arm. Under a strict interpretation of the law, these players are breaking the rules. The game needs to deal with this reality and make its judgment as to how it accommodates this fact."
According to Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph, Murali is no different from the vast majority of his fellow players. The current law states that there should be no straightening or partial straightening of the bowling arm during delivery, and in-depth research has revealed that even bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, usually considered examplars of the classical action, occasionally go over the prescribed tolerance limit, bending their arms by as much as 12 degrees.
The tolerance levels had been set at five degrees for spinners, seven-and-a-half for medium-pacers, and ten for quick bowlers, a situation that invited much criticism from past greats such as Ian Chappell. But the study, conducted by three prominent biomechanics experts, suggests that the human eye can only detect a kink in the action if the straightening is more than 15 degrees.
As Angus Fraser - another member of the six-man panel - wrote in The Independent, even the likes of Fred Trueman, Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and Ian Botham were found to have exceeded the straightening-limit set by the ICC.
The biomechanics men - Dr Marc Portus, Professor Bruce Elliott and Dr Paul Hurrion - used cameras shooting at 250 frames per second (ten times the speed of a TV camera) to illustrate phenomena such as adduction and hyper-extension, which can convince an observer watching with the naked eye that the bowler is chucking.
Research was also undertaken during the ICC Champions Trophy in England, where it was found that 13 of the 23 bowlers filmed straightened their arms more than the current permissible levels. Ramnaresh Sarwan, he of the fairly innocuous legspin, was the only man observed who didn't straighten his arm at all.
Based on these findings, the ICC is to extend the tolerance limit to 15 degrees for all bowlers, regardless of whether they bowl at Shane Warne's pace or Shoaib Akhtar's. Match officials will still be expected to note down suspicious actions, and pass on the information to the ICC. But unlike before, remedial action will now be the sole preserve of a new body to be set up to help bowlers with the rehabilitation process.
It will include former Test bowlers and biomechanics experts, and they will have the authority to fail a bowler. Those exceeding the tolerance limit will be on probation for two years, rather than the current one, but subsequent offences will result in a 12-month ban. It remains to be seen, however, if such a system will be introduced at first-class level.
The panel's proposals will now be considered by the ICC Chief Executives' Committee at its next meeting, currently scheduled for Melbourne, Australia, in February 2005. "The information and the recommendations provided by the Cricket Committee are valuable and important," said Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, "but this matter is still to be properly considered."
"I would expect that there will be a full and healthy debate," Speed added, "as the people who run cricket in each country consider the proposals put forward and determine whether this option provides a better solution than the system currently in place."