The advent of technology exposed many

Dennis Lillee was shocked and for a good reason too. He had just seen a photograph where his pace bowling partner of old was seen as chucking.

S. DINAKAR

Dennis Lillee was shocked and for a good reason too. He had just seen a photograph where his pace bowling partner of old was seen as chucking.

Lock's action, especially when he delivered the quicker one, came under scrutiny, and the whispers only grew stronger. It was on the tour of Australia in 1958/59 that Lock saw a film of his action and decided to revert to a slower style of bowling that saw him flighting the ball, rather than hitting the pitch hard. -- Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

"I always thought Jeff Thomson had the purest of actions. He was fast and furious and had a sling action. And here was a picture where it appeared he was throwing. I knew this was only a photographic illusion,'' recalled Lillee.

That was indeed an illusion for Thommo, `the Tornado', never threw. However, there were a lot many who might have got away with it before the television cameras put an end to speculations.

Take for instance someone like Tony Lock, the English left-arm spinner of the 40s, the 50s, and the 60s. Now he was an integral part of the famous spin combination of Lock and Laker, that destroyed many a Test line-up.

It was a pair made in heaven so to say; Lock, the mean left-armer, Laker, the deadly off-spinner. Yet, Lock's action, especially when he delivered the quicker one, came under scrutiny, and the whispers only grew stronger.

It was on the tour of Australia in 1958\59 that Lock saw a film of his action and decided to revert to a slower style of bowling that saw him flighting the ball, rather than hitting the pitch hard.

Lock, whose first class career stretched from '46 to '71, grabbed 174 wickets in just 49 Tests and was a lively personality, seldom mincing his words. He would surely have received much more credit but for his action coming under a cloud.

There were protests, words were said, however, since television cameras that could capture his action from a `million angles' were clearly absent, there was a lack of conclusive evidence.

There was another dynamic customer in the `50 and `60s, who set tongues wagging. Charlie Griffith, the Caribbean fast bowler, could make the ball whistle past the nose of the hapless batsmen at a blinding speed, but not many believed his action was wholly legal.

Those were the pre-helmet days, the other protective gear was not as good either, and Griffith posed a clear threat to the limbs and life of the men wielding the willow. At 6 feet two inches, the Bajan was tall, and he was well built to boot.

Like the spin duo of Lock and Laker, Griffith and Hall formed a feared pace bowling duo that has its place among the most destructive new ball pairs in cricket. Griffith could get his short-pitched deliveries to climb so quickly that the batsmen had little time to decide whether they should duck, hook or just sway away from the hissing balls.

It was not uncommon when Griffith's thunderbolts left red marks on a batsman's body, but there was, at least one instance, when the injury proved near fatal. Nari Contractor had to be rushed to a Bridgetown hospital after being struck a grievous blow on the head by a Griffith bouncer, into which the Indian captain had ducked into during the Barbados Test of 1961\62.

Contractor lost his consciousness and spent several hours in critical condition before making a recovery.

That match at Bridgetown was indeed dramatic with Griffith being `called' for chucking when he unleashed a short-pitched delivery later in the Indian innings.

Griffith was once again `called' when Arther Fagg no-balled him during a first class game in England, '66. Despite constant problems over his action, Griffith enjoyed a relatively successful career, scalping 94 batsmen in 28 Tests.

According to those who saw him operate, Griffith with his long bustling 20-yard-run-up, and open chested action was quite a sight, and there were several batsmen who simply froze against him; such was the physical danger while facing this Barbadian of shattering pace, volatile temper and suspect action.

Here were two major bowlers of their time, Lock and Griffith, who were regarded by many as `offenders' when it came to breaking cricketing rules; it might have been more blatant in the case of Griffith, especially when he banged it in short.

In any case, they did not have to undergo the ordeal our present `high profile' men had to go through when their actions came under the microscope.

Muttiah Muralitharan, who could well end up as the most successful bowler ever, was `called' by Daryl Hair during Sri Lanka's tour of Australia in 1995-96 and all hell broke loose.

The problem was Muralitharan had 88 Test wickets against his name when an umpire discovered a chink in his action.

Sri Lankans, already annoyed by the Australian sledging and some of the umpiring decisions, saw red, and when Muralitharan was called, skipper Arjuna Ranatunga came close to pulling his side out of the game.

"Even when he was bowling leg-spin he was being called for throwing when it is known that you cannot chuck bowling leg-breaks. I felt he was being victimised,'' said Ranatunga, who stood by his man.

Indeed, the entire Lankan team rallied behind Muralitharan, the adversity only bringing the team together, the catalyst really for Sri Lanka's triumph in the '96 World Cup. Here was a spinner, who has come through several levels of domestic and international cricket, being hauled up for `throwing.'

More than any drawback in Muralitharan's action, the fault clearly lay in a system that allowed a bowler to pass the various tests, become the country's leading bowler before he is punished for faulty action.

Dark clouds hung low over Mu<147,2,1>ralitharan's career, but the Lankan Board backed its man, his team-mates supported him, and it was not surprising that he returned a more determined bowler.

By now, a medical explanation citing a deformity in his elbow as the reason for his action also came to Muralitharan's aid as he went from strength to strength, leaving behind milestones, demolishing line-ups.

He would run into trouble with his action again, when Sri Lanka toured Australia next, however, by now he was too well entrenched as a match-winning off-spinner and one of the greats of the modern era, to be in any great danger.

The Lankans were utterly convinced that it was some kind of a witch-hunt against Muralitharan. The off-spinner now has crossed the 450-wicket mark in Tests, which indicates that he has consumed over 350 Test batsmen after he was called first!

Pakistani paceman Shoaib Akhtar, along with Brett Lee, the quickest bowler of our times, ran into a wall when `called' twice in 2001; there was an overwhelming view too that the Pakistani chucked when he let his short-pitched deliveries fly.

Shoaib's reaction was defiant: "The reason they are targeting me is that they cannot believe how quickly I can bowl.''

Like Murali, Shoaib's action was cleared on `medical grounds.' The report said the Pakistani had an abnormal upper limb in his bowling arm since birth, which led to `hyper mobility' in his shoulder and elbow joints. In other words, Shoaib's unique physical characteristics, had bailed him out.

In the case of the Australian Typhoon Brett Lee, accused of chucking in 2000, a bio-mechanical report, that went through all aspects of his bowling, provided him a clean chit. Lee's career is on an overdrive at present.

Now we have cameras that can film a bowling action from various angles, and at more than 100 frames per second, and the chances are that if a bowler chucks, it will be discovered. In the case of Muralithran, Shoaib and Lee, perhaps the International Cricket Council (ICC) wasn't inclined to lose three otherwise charismatic bowlers.

Shoaib and Lee are the fastest in the business, being able to cross 150 kmph, while Muralitharan spins the ball more that anybody else.

There might be considerable doubts over their methods, but not on the impact they have on cricket, cricketers, and fans. Perhaps, the ICC is gleaming at the Bigger Picture!

India's own Harbhajan Singh, was in the midst of a storm when his action was reported to the ICC in 1999-2000. As is the norm among spinners with doubtful actions, Harbhajan was sent to England for a short course on legal bowling under former England off-spinner Fred Titmus.

Not surprisingly, Harbhajan was given the all-clear signal soon, and the Sardar did script a wonderful comeback in the 2001 home series against the Australians, getting the ball to turn and bounce, drift away and straighten.

Another Indian off-spinner, Rajesh Chauhan was hauled up for chucking in the latter half of the 90s, and, indeed, all through his career, questions were raised over his action, especially when he slipped in the quicker delivery.

Chauhan, a part of the Indian spin trio of the mid 90s, along with Anil Kumble and Venkatapathy Raju - the three caused much damage at home - did manage a return to international cricket. Although, he did not really make a splash, at least Chauhan had the satisfaction of not having to leave the international stage a disgraced bowler, banished for throwing.

There were several other cases in the 90s, coinciding with the television boom. More cameras meant more trouble for those with suspect actions. Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga, and Kumara Dharmasena of Sri Lanka among them. Both found their way back into top-flight cricket; it must be said though that there was a marked improvement in Olonga's action.

The selectors too are not really averse to picking bowlers who have been called as can be understood from the recall of pacemen Shabbir Ahmed (Pakistan) and James Kirtley (England). The former, when he first burst into the scene appeared a definite chucker, while Kirtley's strong wrist action put seeds of doubts in several minds.

Lankan pacemen Suresh and Ruchira Perera also found themselves in an ICC mess regarding their actions, with the latter, a left-armer, appearing a clear thrower.

However, who can bet against them, figuring in international duels again?

Even a part-time spinner like Grant Flower was allowed to parade his skills as a left-armer, after he had been `called' in an international duel, and he, by no means possesses the purest of actions!

There is a three way ICC process for those with suspect actions — The first report by the umpires is dealt with by a player's home board; a second means remedial measures by an independent panel; and only on a third report does a player face a ban.

However, unless the umpires `call' in the heat of the battle, cricket stands to lose more than gain. Jermaine Lawson was reported for a doubtful action in the Antigua Test, but then, the Caribbean quick had already played a huge role in the contest with a seven-wicket haul on the first day of the fourth Test against the Aussies.

The generous ICC has left its flanks exposed in its quest to rehabilitate bowlers. Perhaps, the game's ruling body fears a backlash from the various Boards.