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Turning Points

The 15-degree rule

After tests proved that even those with visibly clean actions bowled with bent elbows, the ICC had no choice but to alter the laws

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Is the doosra an art form or an illegal delivery?  •  AFP

Is the doosra an art form or an illegal delivery?  •  AFP

There was a time when a charge of chucking involved more stigma than almost anything else a player could do wrong. It was easily more serious than not walking, or claiming half-volleys as catches, or running out a batsman who had been tripped over. It was more humiliating too. From backyards to international venues, bowlers who couldn't bowl were looked down upon, their place in the game questioned.
Nowadays umpires don't call anybody for throwing during a match. While a batsman given out lbw even after he has hit the leather off the ball is punished immediately for standing his ground for five seconds, chuckers cannot be asked to stop operating. There are various tests, reporting processes and remedial measures that have attached a sense of mystery to the process and watered down the stigma. The umpire retains the power to call a bowler for throwing, but that's just to prevent misuse - say, baseball-style pitching, or a part-time bowler deliberately chucking at a crucial juncture of the game.
Frankly the game didn't have much choice. For years, decades, centuries, the umpires relied on the naked eye - some still consider it the best method - to call bowlers for throwing. Not in recent times, though, after biomechanical tests revealed it is humanly impossible to bowl without any flex in the elbow. The actions most orthodox to the naked eye were found to be technically illegal. The ICC had no option other than to assign limits for the straightening of the elbow after it passed the shoulder in the delivery action: 10 degrees for fast bowlers, seven and a half for medium-pacers, and five for spinners.
Also in the '90s came Muttiah Muralitharan, whose unique elbow, wrist and shoulder challenged the veracity of what we saw. More startling revelations surfaced from retrospective biomechanical tests in 2004. Some of the cleanest bowlers from the past seemed to have been flexing their elbows beyond the limit, and finally, in November 2004, the ICC set a uniform 15-degree limit for all bowlers.
Given all the complex calculations involved, the umpires only name the suspect actions in their post-match reports, following which various tests decide the offender's future. Most come back with improved actions, and stay under scrutiny. Some are asked to not bowl a particular delivery; for example, Johan Botha and the doosra.
For the time being that has settled the issue and made room for the doosra, the offspinner's googly, which experts reckon cannot be bowled without chucking. The world today is more tolerant of suspect actions. Bishan Bedi is not pleased, Murali is. To Murali and other modern offspinners the doosra is an art form. To Bedi and other traditionalists, among them Australian coaches who want the teaching of the doosra banned, in their country at least, it is an act of cheating. There is reason enough to believe both sides have cricket's best interests at heart. Both have reason to believe what they believe. Whoever said cricket was a simple game?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. This series was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003