A new twist to the chucking episode

EVER since Christina Willes, the sister of Kent player, John Willes, bowled the first roundarm delivery in the 19th century, the aspect of bowling has come under close scrutiny.

EVER since Christina Willes, the sister of Kent player, John Willes, bowled the first roundarm delivery in the 19th century, the aspect of bowling has come under close scrutiny. Christina's invention was a necessity since she found that her long skirts made bowling underarm complicated. But till 1862 such a delivery was reckoned as illegal; in fact, Edgar Willsher of Kent was the first cricketer to be no-balled for bowling overarm in 1862. Such an action was accepted as legal one year later.

It is clear therefore bowling had always been under a microscope. And when the wise men constituting the sub-committee on Illegal Bowling Actions of the International Cricket Council concluded recently that it would be impossible to bowl without a straightening of the arm, they only opened a new vista. And, predictably, a Pandora's Box.

This proclamation by the committee headed by S. M. Gavaskar, quite understandably, has caused a furore. The conclusion that all bowlers chuck at varying degrees has stupefied a section of opinion, notably the Australians. This is largely because the verdict goes very much in favour of the Sri Lankan star spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan. The doosra, the weapon that every batsman dreads from Murali, now becomes a legal delivery. The committee has recommended that the 2001 ruling on the parameters for chucking be abandoned and the 15 degree bend be declared legal.

"We have just opened a huge can of worms. It is something we might pay the price for later on," lamented Terry Jenner, once a coach of Shane Warne. The Aussie leg spinner also fears that the ruling might cause a tremendous amount of confusion. "How does an umpire tell if it is 12 degrees, 13 or 14?", quizzed the Aussie icon.

Admittedly, the issue is sensitive and complex. It is not easy for the ICC to frame rules on this in February next year when it meets in Australia where the protests seem to be quite pronounced. "It seems like they (ICC) are playing around and changing these rules all the time," said the Aussie skipper, Ricky Ponting, while the former captain, Allan Border, was more forthright when he commented that, "I'm a bit from the old school — throwing is throwing, if you straighten your arm it's a throw."

What needs to be conceded is the fact that decisions such as the one taken by the ICC Committee are supported by technical data. Every aspect of a bowling action has been analysed through computer tests and bio-mechanical findings. The bending of the arm may be invisible or intractable to the naked eye, even though television cameras can film 25 frames per second. On the contrary, it is now possible to record as many as 250 frames per second to facilitate a closer study.

Based on these findings, the ICC Committee has concluded that all the top- notchers of our times or even in the previous era can be counted as guilty of chucking, consciously or otherwise. The names include Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, and even the Kiwi ace, Richard Hadlee. Not long ago, the Pakistanis, Shoaib Akhtar and Shabbir Ahmed, were told by the ICC to correct their action. Life for Muttiah Muralitharan has not been the same since 1995 when Darrell Hair called him followed by Ross Emerson.

Pushed to the wall by the media and the enormity of the publicity, largely adverse, Murali subjected himself to all the tests prescribed by the ICC. At the University of Western Australia in Perth, a grotesquely wired Murali was photographed from all conceivable angles. The verdict from the ICC was to ban his doosra, the special delivery that spun away from the right-hand batsman.

Since then, the subject of chucking has been cropping up ceaselessly. Although Murali suffered more than anyone in contemporary cricket, he was not an exception at all. Even the illustrious Bishan Bedi was a suspect years ago; and the successful Harbhajan Singh has had a question mark against him.

It is clear as crystal that the last word on the subject has not been said, however revolutionary may be the findings of an expert committee, which included such prominent bowlers of yesteryear as Michael Holding, Tim May and Angus Fraser. But some thought needs to be given to the plight of the umpires whose task in spotting and measuring the degree of bend at 15 or more is going to be extremely difficult.

From being a fascinating sport, cricket may well become a funny game indeed!