The curse of cricket

DOES the reporting of new West Indies quick bowler Jermaine Lawson for an illegal action open up a new chapter in the ongoing saga of such bowlers?

BOB SIMPSON

James Kirtley_ one of those with a suspect action. — Pic. TOM SHAW/GETTY IMAGES-

DOES the reporting of new West Indies quick bowler Jermaine Lawson for an illegal action open up a new chapter in the ongoing saga of such bowlers? I certainly think that this curse of cricket is getting out of hand. By my count, in the last 12 months or so, I have counted seven out of the 10 Test playing nations who have bowlers whose actions, I believe, do not conform to the laws of the game.

In some cases I have seen two illegal bowlers operating in tandem. There is no doubt that this type of bowler is on the increase and will continue to grow while the ICC and the International umpires and match referees do nothing about it.

I have come to the conclusion that this matter is being brushed under the carpet and that the ICC has placed it in the too hard basket. These days, once a bowler is reported for suspected action the matter is referred back to his own country for sorting out.

How ridiculous this is! For, if the country was fair dinkum it would never have selected a bowler whose action was suspect for an international fixture.

The classic example of this is Sussex quick, Kirtley. He has been around for some time and was generally considered as being "sus" by his county peers. Out of the blue he was selected for England and was immediately reported by the international umpires and match referee.

His county brought the "experts" in who immediately gave him some miracle advice and then cleared his action.

One of the areas which concerns me greatly is the introduction of scientific experts and lawyers at such hearings. Every one has the right to a fair hearing, but I fear that some of the so-called expert opinion is blurring the issue.

A suspect action has more often than not been put down to a birth defect, or a childhood accident which did not allow the suspect to straighten his elbow. This still happens, but now a new and scientific reason is being introduced, the hyper-extension of the elbow.

In simple terms it means that a bowler's action makes it possible for him to hyper-extend his elbow. In layman's language it translates as "to bend" his elbow.

The point that seems to be missed in this legalistic world is the law clearly says that, `if a elbow is bent at shoulder height and straightens even partially after that it is an illegal `delivery'.

This is a very simple law and if the arm is bent and then straightened no matter whether the elbow is hyper-extended or is due to a birth defect or a childhood injury, it is still an illegal delivery.

The reality of the situation is that the straightening of the elbow makes it possible to obtain extra pace or extra spin.

Supporters of this type of action, who claim certain bowlers don't straighten their elbow and because of this don't throw, are talking "poppycock." Let them try and deliver the ball in this fashion. They will find that they will hardly reach the batsman at the other end, for the straightening of the arm is the catapult that imparts the force.

They can also ask themselves as to how most suspect-action bowlers have such great throwing power from the boundary. If they didn't or couldn't straighten their elbow they wouldn't get it half way into the stumps from the boundary.

I was appalled to read recently Bob Willis' advice that new English fast bowler James Anderson must increase his pace so that his bouncer will be more efficient. As usual Bob has missed the point. He was a pretty good fast bowler, who came off a run-up much longer than a stroll in the park and thumped the ball into the pitch, generally short of a length. By doing so he hoped that the ball would hit the seam and deviate in some direction. Nothing subtle here, but for Bob it was pretty effective. James Anderson is a totally different kettle of fish. I had the great pleasure to work with James in my two-year stint with Lancashire.

He was then 18 or 19, had pace, but an action which caused him to fall away at the point of delivery and spray the ball all over the place.

Even with this action — which should have made it impossible to swing the ball away from right-hand batsmen — he could and this made him a very exciting bowler. He took advice, worked hard and rectified his action. He now bowls with a lovely, free-flowing style and still swings the ball away and at a very good pace.

When needed he can still make batsmen sit on their bottoms with more than useful bouncers.

The point Bob Willis misses is that young James has been given the rare and great gift of swing.

It is a natural thing and nothing should be done to alter the basics that allow him to do it.

Swing bowlers have gone out of the game for two reasons. The natural length of fast bowlers is now shorter and thus the ball hasn't the time to swing. We have also gone through a long era where nearly every coach has been seeking express bowlers and ignoring swing.

What a shame! Perhaps, James Anderson will herald a new era of swing where once again we may enjoy the subtleties of a Joe Partridge, Kapil Dev, Terry Alderman or the greatest of them all, Alan Davidson.

What Bob Willis would make of all this I am not sure, but then again Bob is probably the most boring of all our cricket commentators.