There's no place for him in cricket

Despite the best efforts of the body engineers, the scientists and the law-makers, Muttiah Muralitharan throws. This is going to harm cricket beyond measure. Within 20 or 30 years bowling will be more like baseball pitching than it should be, writes TED CORBETT.

ALL my instincts from 50 years around cricket tell me that Muttiah Muralitharan's action is illegal.

All the cricketers I know as friends tell me he should not be allowed to bowl at any level. Umpires I have known for 20 years nod their tacit approval at the suggestion although they stay silent when he bowls because that is, with all its faults, the modern way, the ICC-prescribed method of dealing with a faulty action.

So you will ask why I have many times written — not least in The Sportstar — that Murali is not a chucker, that his action is beyond reproach and that he will continue to weave his magic.

There are two reasons. One is that whatever the method the results are so fascinating, so wonderful to watch, so devastating that I would not miss a ball he bowls.

They say he does not throw. If the rulers of the game rule he is legal then he is legal. -- Pic. HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES-

The second is that ICC have tested him, experimented on him, filmed him, had him analysed, dissected and bisected until they have been able to announce themselves satisfied that his action is pure beyond the hint of naughtiness.

They say he does not throw, that his whirling, twirling, bent-armed action is legal, that he can continue. If the rulers of the game rule he is legal then he is legal. Their decision takes all the doubts out of opinion.

Australian umpire Darrell Hair started it all in the Melbourne Test in 1995 when he called Muralitharan for `throwing.' --_ Pic. GETTY IMAGES-

But, sorry, in my heart of hearts, I know his ability to turn his arms upside down and almost inside out, gives him an unnatural advantage, an amount of spin no other off-spinner can match and, allied to his cunning, his command of line and length and his astonishing flight that has turned him into one of the greatest wicket-takers of all time.

Not one of the greatest bowlers, notice. I still draw the line at that. In my opinion he throws the ball and that is not allowed. We all know the arguments against his action. The very basis of cricket is that the ball is bowled and although the technique has come a million miles since an English shepherd bowled a ball along the ground to an English cowherd on the Sussex Downs that is still one of the first principles.

Does Murali bowl it as Alfred Shaw bowled it in the 19th century, as Bill O'Reilly bowled it in the 20th century and as Shaun Pollock bowls it in the 21st century? I defy you to make that comparison and call Muralitharan legit.

Graphics: R. Ravikannan-

But it is too late to stop him now. Murali will soon pass 500 wickets, all obtained with the same action, all the result of the unreadable spin, all to some extent or another the consequence of the doubt spread across the batsman's mind by his unique action.

If ICC were to declare his method wrong, where would that leave them now? Could they recall all those batsmen sent back to the pavilion by this crazy arm action? I think not. Could Wisden be rewritten? Of course not.

So ICC — who have made the decisions that have kept his arm turning, kept the wickets tumbling, kept the batsmen trembling — have to take responsibility for the consequences.

And those consequences are to be seen on every street corner in Sri Lanka, on every dusty lane. No Lankan lad bowls with a straight arm any more.

And why would he? If you can get the ball to turn a yard, to drop a foot shorter than the batsman expects, and to swerve towards his feet before it turns sharply towards the slips, why would you not want to bowl using the Murali method?

An English coach told me: "Every young kid I see bowling in Sri Lanka does so with a bent arm. But not just there. Boys turn up for their first practice in England with arms like Murali's but without his excuse of a deformed limb. They say `It works — I want a slice of that and maybe one day I will be heading for 500 Test wickets.' You can't blame them but somehow this spreading disease has to be stopped."

Already the disease is spreading across the world like fowl flu. It is prevalent on the sub-continent but it is reaching further every day and, thanks to another ICC policy it is likely to girdle the globe quicker than the 80 days that Phineas Fogg needed for his fictional journey by boat, train, elephant and mule.

Television is, thanks to the satellite, sending pictures of every Test from one end of the cricket world to the other. Make an lbw appeal in Johannesburg in the middle of your over and long before you have bowled the next ball fans in London, Sydney, Bangalore, Chittagong and Christchurch have made a decision.

There are no secrets any longer. Produce your secret delivery in New Delhi and it is on some batsman's video machine in a flash whether he is in Doncaster, Dubai or Durban. From that moment he can, at his leisure, replay it endlessly, slow it down, speed it up, put on a screen at an indoor nets and analyse it in detail.

Nor are there any new faces. Since New Zealand came to England in 1999, Shane Bond has emerged as one of the finest fast bowlers around the globe. But is there a genuine cricket fan who has not seen him on the screen, is there any coach who does not know how he bowls, or any opening batsman who has not studied his quicker ball, his slower ball, his bouncer and his yorker?

So with Murali's action. It can be reconstructed by any young bowler in either hemisphere, watched until it becomes second nature, copied and improved upon.

The next time Sri Lanka come to England it will not be surprising if there is not at least one promising young bowler with an action like Murali's ready to fight back for the home team.

I remember John Arlott saying so in the middle of the 1948 Test humiliation by Australia. "Somewhere," the greatest of all commentators said, "there is a youngster who has seen Lindwall and Miller and who is ready to answer their fire with fast bowling of his own."

And so it happened that within three years Fred Trueman was putting the Indians to flight, within five years Brian Statham was starting a Test career that brought him 252 wickets and Frank Tyson was unleashing thunderbolts as if he were the god Mars.

They all bowled the ball legally. Now the difference is that anyone who wants to go one better than Murali will have to use an even more flexible arm.

His action will not just be suspect; it will be as different as the first round arm bowlers were from the underarm bowlers, as different from the present model as the first upright, overarm bowlers were from the lob bowlers.

Where will it all end?

There is, sadly, only one conclusion to be reached. Despite the best efforts of the body engineers, the scientists and the law-makers, Murali throws. The instincts of all of us who love this game came unanimously to that conclusion and note that it will harm cricket beyond measure. Within 20 or 30 years bowling will be more like baseball pitching than it should be, the first principle of bowling will have gone completely, and the orthodox bowler will be as rare as an English leg- spinner.

Murali may have an action that results from a freak elbow, he may not jerk the ball at the moment of delivery and he may not be illegal in the true sense of the word.

But the result will be chaos, with the need to change the laws to accommodate the new actions and cricket will be yet another step nearer to baseball.

We will have a whole generation of new bowlers and for a multitude of traditionalists the game will be so different as to be unwatchable.

Not only does he throw but there is a danger Murali — who denies all the allegations against him and has declared he will never visit Australia again since there it was he was exposed to odd umpiring and even stranger reporting — will throw the game into confusion, turn it from classical cricket into basic baseball.

Let him join the White Sox, the Yankees or the Dodgers. There is no place for him in cricket.

Debate: Murali's action

OVER the years, a lot has been said and written about Muttiah Muralitharan's action. Now that the ICC has decided to take a rather serious view of illegal bowling actions, tell us what you think about Murali. Is he a pure genius or a flawed genius? email: sportstar@thehindu.co.in

Word limit: 200 words.