Let the debate on chucking begin

TED CORBETT

DOES Murali throw? Does Ruchira Perera chuck? Is James Kirtley delivering the ball according to the law? Does it matter? Do we care?

More important, is it the right of Adam Gilchrist or Mark Butcher or David Lloyd to speak their minds about these actions? The decision to censor Gilchrist and charge Butcher because they suggested Murali was outside the law is a big step towards political correctness and cricket is the wrong place for such a trend.

Breaking the rules, regulations and laws is bad enough but trying to place sticking plaster over the mouths of those who want their say denies a human right that ought to be defended to the last.

You will not be surprised that I, as one of the debating classes, feels it is more pertinent to be worried by the charges levelled against Gilchrist and Butcher for what they said about Muttiah Muralitharan's bowling than whether Murali delivers the ball with a straight arm.

If we don't discuss these problems how can we expect to cure an obvious ill.

The only good to come from the decision of various Australian umpires to no-ball Murali was that it forced the controversy out into the open. As a result Murali went for a scientific test which showed that his arm was deformed in such a way that he could bowl the ball in a fashion which brought him the optimum results. Or that his action was legal.

That is not a verdict supported by every player in the world. I meet one a day who says that he throws.

ICC accepted that ruling - as well as the verdict of its own panel of experts - and Murali has been allowed to bowl ever since. He has captured more than 400 wickets and threatens to be the greatest spin bowler of all time. In the era of Shane Warne too.

Many players think that is unfair, that Warne bowls fairly and that Murali has an advantage.

Lloyd, who made a faintly disguised attack on Murali's action when he was England's coach, now claims he enjoys the man's bowling. Good. He is entitled to change his mind or at least fit it round the circumstances. It is what the politicians call being pragmatic. Not that anyone should follow in the footsteps of those men of doubtful moral turpitude.

Gilchrist has now been cautioned for "public comments detrimental to the interests of cricket" because he has dared to say that "if you read the rules then technically he is not quite within them." He could not have expressed himself more gently, his words were spoken at a meeting he believed to be private and when he realised they had been made public he rang up Murali and apologised.

Sounds like the action of a gentleman and there are few enough of those around today. We should treasure him and not give him a yellow card.

I don't agree with Gilchrist but I will defend to the death his right to express this opinion. And look forward to an argument with him if we ever meet.

The sentiments come from the great French philosopher Voltaire and every journalist worth paying signs up to that "defend to the death" expression as soon as he writes his first piece; just as he agrees to protect his sources, another declaration that is under constant threat.

I don't like the fact that Gilchrist may be making his accusations because he is an Australian, just like the umpires and Warne. I have often thought that since the demise of MCC as the leader of cricket thinking, the Australians have decided they have to lead all the moral crusades.

There is nothing new in this purge of the chuckers. Changes in the bowling action have been at the forefront of rows throughout the last 200 years.

From underarm to shoulder height, from the shoulder to the position we now know and with a bent arm coming in to keep the heat on, the bowler has been trying to assert his dominance ever since some spoilsport got his sheep to trim the turf and some boffin invented the mowing machine and the heavy roller.

The bowlers of the late 18th and early 19th century had been used to getting assistance from uneven ground, footholes and stud marks and the new-fangled hard as rock, true as bowling green pitches were ruled completely out of order. Bowlers did what they always do when the going gets tough. They moaned and then they tried to beat the system.

Unhappily, the law makers have done little to compensate the bowlers for the lack of help and ever since batsmen became captains and captains became members of the rules committee, the bowler has been subject to more and more restrictions.

Bowlers have developed two techniques to restore the balance. Most of them are born moaners - you may have guessed that first Derek Pringle and now Angus Fraser have occupied the seat in front of mine in the Press Box - which means that they hope to get their opinions to their captains by a process of drip, drip, drip.

Their other technique is contained in the phrase "show me a bowler and I will show you an untrustworthy cricketer."

Vaseline on the ball to make it swing. Sure. It was not a batsman who invented that idea. Spit used for the same purpose. Who had that idea? Just follow my eyes to the nearest bowler. Finger nails in the seam. Note the length of any bowler's thumb nail. Roughing one side of the ball. Bowlers have nasty, rough hands. Need I say more.

Let the argument continue. The question of throwing, chucking or pinging the ball - to name just three ways of describing the illegal action - needs to be thrashed out regularly because by the very nature of cricket - which demands that the ball be bowled rather than thrown in the baseball fashion - there will always be actions that cause concern and bowlers will always attempt to push back the boundaries.

Some on purpose. Some by accident like Richard Ellison, that fine English swing bowler of nearly 20 years ago. He had a classic action, got so close to the stumps that he often knocked off the bails with his hand, and effectively won the 1985 Ashes series.

"Throwing? Yeah, I guess I've seen some who do. Sometimes when I have been trying for a bit of extra pace I have realised afterwards that 'Hell, I threw that one.' Not on purpose just by chance," he once told me.

There was another more famous England bowler who told me that if he threw half a dozen a season he would get six free wickets and never be called. And he never was. Does it matter? Of course it does for two different but equally important reasons.

First, if someone has a slight kink in his action we do not want his young followers to copy it, especially if they add a bit more.

Within three generations we would have bowlers firing from the hip and that would remove a basic tenet from the game.

Second, we don't want to increase the chances of being hurt even in these days when even schoolchildren are encouraged to wear helmets. The occasional delivery is thrown to surprise the batsman and if he loses sight of the ball the consequences could be terrible.

So we should care, umpires, committeemen, officials, investigators, reporters and the rest should do everything possible to eliminate the throw and schoolmasters should see that lads who throw by accident are corrected at the earliest possible opportunity.

But how can we eliminate the moves towards political correctness? That is a dangerous subject.

Frankly I see no harm in a continuous debate. If someone goes too far then he faces the possibility of a libel action. But a good healthy slanging match - although without the disgusting language which, so it seems, Roy Keane used to describe the undesirability of his manager Mike McCarthy when the Irish World Cup team fell out - can clear the air, and add to the understanding of all these matters. Let the talking begin.