More chucking trouble ahead

Malcolm Speed, the Australian-born chief executive of the London-based ICC, remains sanguine. He is confident that the method used to arrive at the new "Chucking" guidelines will end the arguments over who does and does not bowl legally.-AFP

I foresee multiple difficulties in the human resources department. In the logistical area of making the ICC's recommendations on "Chucking" work, it appears that the governing body is presuming that biomechanics — especially those with a background and experience in cricket — grow on trees, says FRANK TYSON.

The recommendations of the International Cricket Council Meeting, on Throwing, in Melbourne on February 2005.

1. An independent ICC sub-committee received scientific data that showed that the current law was unworkable because all bowlers straightened their bowling arms to some extent.

2. It is therefore recommended that bowlers should be deemed to throw if in the act of delivering the ball, once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened more than 15 degrees from that point until the ball has left the hand. This action shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.

3. The limit of 15 degrees was arrived at because that is the point at which the straightening becomes obvious to the naked eye.

4. Bowlers with discernibly suspect actions will be reported at the end of a game in which he bowls by the match referee or umpires.

5. Within 21 days the bowler suspected of having an illegal action will be sent to one of several standardised biomechanical and human movement analysis and high-tec facilities to have his bowling action scrutinised over a two-day period under ICC guidelines.

6. The bowler is then banned from bowling in all cricket until his action is deemed clear by biomechanical experts or a specially assembled appeals board known as the bowling review group.

7. Should a bowler be cleared and then subsequently reported again within a two-year period, he will be stood out of the game for 12 months.

8. He will then have to be re-assessed before competing again.

9. Under 19 players in World Cup and junior regional competitions will also be assessed before reaching senior competitions.

10. Umpires will retain the right to call `suspect' bowlers during a match.

11. The new regulations will apply to all ICC sanctioned matches from March 1st.

EVERY aspect of life has its troubles. Africa was said to be the white man's burden. Gladstone struggled to pacify Ireland and failed. Mahatma Gandhi was confronted with the dilemma of partition. Modern India has to resolve the problem of Kashmir. Cricket too, has had, and still has, its turbulent episodes such as Bodyline and the Drag. And now the perennial embarrassment of "Chucking" has resurfaced. The recent ICC meeting in Melbourne made a brave but, I fear, over optimistic, effort to solve the pesky problem. But it seems to be a Sisyphean task.

The reason I doubt that the International Cricket Council's most recent attempt to find an answer to the dilemma will succeed, is because it is based on an over-simplistic concept: the presumed willingness of the world's cricketing community to accept an unbiased technological solution of what has so far been a complicated impasse.

The question I ask is: will all countries swallow the impartial scientific findings of the technocrats and `The Bowling Review Group' — if they fly in the face of national interests. And if they do not, what mechanisms are in place to make them comply?

A fairly superficial observation would also see trouble ahead in the area of match umpires and referees being empowered to ban suspected `bent-arms' bowlers effectively for a period of 21 days: that is until the biomechanical tests on them are completed.

In my mind such a veto smacks of a restriction of trade for that period of time — although, let it be said that Mr. Speed, the C.E.O. blocks such criticism with a straight bat by claiming that the recommendations have passed the close scrutiny of the Council's legal eagles.

Acceptance of the decisions of hi-tech biomechanics labs by the players themselves would also seem to be a difficulty. Few cricket players or administrators are drawn from the ranks of scientific boffins. Moreover, they are generally suspicious of `hifalutin' scientific evidence, no matter how simply it is explained.

They usually dismiss it as being above their heads and opt to learn their practical skills by imitating their heroes — rather than by applying the theory behind those skills to their performances.

For his optimistic part, however, Malcolm Speed, the Chief Executive Officer of the ICC, expects the anti-chucking system recently promoted by that body to receive the game's widespread acceptance, largely because the biomechanical testing procedures would be impartial, standardised and controlled by cricket's highest authority — rather than the bowler's home administration.

It must be admitted, however, that he seems to anticipate that there will be opposition to the ICC's Bull of biomechanical infallibility. Hence he leaves the door ajar for the bowlers who disagree with their condemnation by the ICC's human movement experts. He permits them to call for a second opinion — either a minority judgment from within the ICC panel or a dissenting verdict from an outside consultant.

Either is permitted to come and give evidence — one pre-supposes on his behalf. So we arrive at the stage which exists in legal circles and which allows both prosecutor and defending counsel to each call upon their own expert witnesses. I wonder if there will be any shortage of opportunists willing to press the cause of the accused bowlers.

Speaking of the legal consequences which must emanate from the ICC recommendations on "Chucking", one has to ask the question as to whether member nations of the ICC will willingly accept the decisions of the Bowling Review Group without their player being represented on that body. Surely some process of defense must be mounted.

Otherwise it would like putting the defendant in a criminal case in the dock without his having the benefit of counsel!

I also foresee multiple difficulties in the human resources department. In the logistical area of making the ICC's recommendations on "Chucking" work, it appears that the governing body is presuming that biomechanics — especially those with a background and experience in cricket — grow on trees. The suggestion that a much closer scrutiny of junior and youth bowlers should be initiated is admirable.

Young bowlers who throw, grow up to be adult bowlers who throw. Eradicating the scourge at an early age pre-empts the necessity to correct faults in the fully developed cricketer. But the implementation of such a youth programme will necessitate many more personnel who are either sports scientists or biomechanics with a background or experience in cricket.

And the brutal truth of the matter is that there are very few individuals in charge of development squads with the appropriate qualifications.

Right around the world most controllers of amateur under-age teams are school teachers, youth workers or members of the cricketing community willing to sacrifice their holidays and spare time for the benefit and development of young sports persons.

Unfortunately there are not enough of these unselfish altruists to go around — a reality which reinforces my opinion that the ICC's recommendations on solving the throwing dilemma is like a second marriage — the triumph of hope over experience.

In spite of this, Malcolm Speed, the Australian-born chief executive of the London-based ICC remains sanguine. He is confident that the method used to arrive at the new "Chucking" guidelines will end the arguments over who does and does not bowl legally.

Recently he was reported as saying that he was optimistic that the Test-playing nations will accept the rulings of the ICC's hi-tech laboratories on suspect actions.

This sunny optimism reflects a lack of exposure to cricket at all levels. Cricket administration the world over — below first-class level — is a fragile creature.

For the most part it is regional, autonomous, decentralised, non-professional, exclusively amateur and dependent on volunteerism. And it has to cope with an ever increasing complexity of regulations and laws exemplified by the ICC's recent recommendations on "Chucking"

Thank God the ICC still recognised the umpires' right to call "perceptible throwers" during matches.

Therein lies a solution which has apparently been ignored! But some simple, basic things never change!