Time to ban chuckers

Ian Meckiff.-

SHOAIB Akhtar is backed by technology, which is so confusing to us that we will acknowledge its farcicality only the day someone is killed by him.

'Once a chucker, always a chucker' is a frequently heard saying in cricket and Shoaib Akhtar is no exception to that. The ICC cricket committee has championed the `fairness' of Akhtar's action by giving him a certificate that cleared his action. Why? Not because they actually believe it, but because if they did, the issue would not come up again and again.

Every time Akhtar is pulled up, there is a hue and cry in Pakistan. And the ICC not only succumbs to that, but it has now gone and legalised his action. Muttiah Muralitharan has the same problem as Akhtar, but the Sri Lankan off-spinner is unlikely to kill someone because of the now legalised actions. Akhtar is a fast bowler, and there is the likelihood of his now permitted action killing a batsman.

The ICC had appointed a panel, comprising former international cricketers of very high credentials, to put forward the recommendations for the new process, which were then supported by the ICC Cricket Committee and approved by the ICC Chief Executives Committee. The panel of experts comprised Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding, Aravinda de Silva, Angus Fraser, former England captain Tony Lewis, Tim May, who is representing the Australians and the Federation of International Cricketers Association, and David Richardson, the ICC General Manager - Cricket and former South Africa vice-captain.

Shouldn't we be expecting some logical decisions from this committee? Technology can be an effective tool in guiding decisions, but if you refuse to be guided, you can use the same technology to misguide others. This is what the ICC Cricket Committee has done in the case of some blatant chuckers. When there was no technology, many fast bowlers lost their livelihood as the square-leg umpire raised that dreaded hand sideways, signalling a no-ball. Compare the two bowling photographs of Ian Meckiff and Shoaib Akhtar. Meckiff's action looks positively angelic in comparison.

Australia's Meckiff, four decades ago, had no technology to back him. Poor fellow was a victim of the naked eye of umpires and the decision makers. Akhtar is backed by technology, which is so confusing to us that we will acknowledge its farcicality only the day someone is killed by him. To say sorry then will be too late. His beamer to Dhoni and the bouncer to Tendulkar will convince even a schoolboy, but not these experts of the ICC Cricket Committee. And why? Politics and mass hysteria.

In protest against the ICC's stand on chucking, Bobby Simpson resigned from the committee in 1999. Nothing has changed since. The new committee legalised chucking. Why wouldn't Akhtar like to take advantage of it? I was indeed surprised when Sanjay Manjrekar avoided confronting Imran Khan on the subject of India not producing fast bowlers, on the television show during the second Test. Imran was boasting of Pakistan's success in producing fast bowlers and India failing to get a bowler to bowl even at 135kmph. What Manjrekar ought to have told him was that Pakistan's fast bowlers keep the technicians in the biomechanics laboratory busy throughout the year and eventually use their political clout to get themselves cleared, while not a single fast bowler from India has been reported yet. Recently, the ICC banned fast bowler Shabbir Ahmed for 12 months. By that standard, the demand of the connoisseurs of the game is that the much faster Shoaib Akhtar should be banned for 12 years. What is the ICC Cricket Committee waiting for? A batsman to get killed? I was in school when Nari Contractor was hit on the head by Charlie Griffith. I still remember the entire country empathising with what Contractor and his family went through, as the media gave a daily update on his medical status. And here we watch Akhtar blatantly chucking with his full sleeves hiding his elbow. When Darrell Hair pulled up Muralitharan for chucking, there was a hue and cry. It was at that time that I heard someone say Murali was a harmless chucker. So we categorise chuckers as harmless and harmful. Then why have a law? Why twist it? And why should the ICC Cricket Committee legalise chucking by introducing the 15-degree nonsense?

I am told a bowler who won the fastest bowler award in India resembles Akhtar in his action. There is also a bowler in Bangalore who runs like Akhtar and does everything like Akhtar, but they say he is not quick because he doesn't throw. Imran Khan should know that India too has dozens of Akhtars who are not being availed of, but this country still has some cricketing sense. It does seem the commentators on the channel covering the series must have been told not to rake up the issue. So they made an issue of Akhtar not apologising to Dhoni for bowling a beamer. You chuck a beamer aiming at the batsman's head, turn your face away, don't have remorse and then use your sponsored column to convince the readers that you did say sorry to Dhoni in the dressing room.

Going by the reactions of the cricketing fraternity, one feels that Shoaib Akhtar has to be banned. And one expects the BCCI to take the initiative in addressing certain important cricketing issues. Isn't this chucking issue more important than taking part in the Champions Trophy or are money-related issues more important than cricketing ones? Let's not wait for things to happen. The BCCI has to make things happen.