15 degrees of separation

The Perth crowd’s persistence in calling ‘no-ball’ to Murali prompted a colleague to ask me if I thought Murali chucked. Hmmm. Now there’s a question not to be answered too quickly. Adam Gilchrist was asked the same question a few years ago and his frank answer got him into a lot of trouble. So I hesitated in my answer. But only briefly. Fortunately I am not bound by Cricket Australia. I am bound only to speak honestly but kindly. So I answered “yes”.

I’m not a racist. I don’t think I am. I hope I’m not. One of my closest friends is Sri Lankan, though I have to admit I have not had the opportunity to scrutinize her bowling action. The Murali chucking issue has so often been turned into one of racial victimisation. It’s not. The ICC has allowed the issue of chucking to become such a farce that I think most people, myself included, have given up and accepted it as part of the modern game.

Chucking came up for me this summer before Murali even arrived in Australia. I was casually watching Botha bowl in the SCG Test, not really paying much attention but it suddenly dawned on me that he was chucking every ball. Of course, under new rules, he is allowed to chuck every ball as he can straighten his arm up to 15 degrees. I was pleased to find his action had been reported at the end of the match, for what that is worth.

It seems to me that just about every new off spinner is a chucker. A great many of them have their actions reported and need to have remedial therapy. As I see it, one of the problems is that in allowing some latitude (15 degrees of it), the players and coaches will feel inclined to make use of that. It is a sporting principal to push all rules to the limit to gain whatever advantage possible. So how is an umpire supposed to tell whether a bowler is straightening his arm 14 degrees or 17 degrees?

The good news is that the ICC have already thought of that – no umpire is allowed to call a bowler for no-balling during an international match. ‘Suspect actions’ can be reported by the umpires or match referee. If the bowler is found to have an illegal action after review by an ICC board, the player take three months out for remedial work.

It beggars belief that umpires have no control over one of the rudimentary aspects of the game. It’s not too hard to pick a delivery a that has been chucked. It’s instinctive to an experienced eye. I’d like to see a bowler take a stance at the popping crease, wind-up like a baseball pitcher on the mound and let go a curve ball. What would the umpire do? Would he have to stand weakly by and allow it?

The currently farcical situation with umpires not calling chucking has a lot to do with the Muttiah Muralidaran and umpire Darryl Hair incident. It was just over ten years ago – the Boxing Day Test in 1995 – that Hair called Murali seven times for chucking. What an uproar. Hair, always controversial, outspoken and opinionated inflamed the situation saying that he would continue to no ball Murali, from square leg or the standing position, until Murali changed his action. Sri Lankan skipper, Arjuna Ranatunga, who has never needed much inflaming to be worked into a hysterical state, made claims of racism, victimisation etc etc. Remember that at the time, Sri Lanka were an emerging (struggling) Test nation and Murali was a major part of them being competitive. What’s that got to do with it, you may ask – chucking is chucking! To the ICC, who, like any governing body that is totally out of touch with the grass roots, I would imagine these were important considerations.

I’m not going to go into a long discussion about Murali’s action. It is complicated. He is incredibly flexible. He can’t fully straighten his arm. He does rotate his shoulder and use wrist action more than any off spinner ever. I don’t think every ball he bowls is a chuck. We need to look at the Doosra.

Before doing that, I’ll explain a little about spin bowling and its finer points. For all of you experts, please bear with me – I am happy to say that some of the readership are less acquainted with the great game.

There are basically two forms of spin bowling – finger spin and wrist spin. From here on in, all perspectives will assume a right arm bowler and a right handed batsman. Leg spin (where the standard ball spins from leg to off, across and away from the batsman) is wrist spin. The spin is imparted by the bowler’s fingers and rotation of the wrist. Off spin, where the ball spins into the batsman is finger spin – the spin is imparted by the bowler’s fingers. Left arm ‘off spinners’ are referred to as bowlers of left arm orthodox. Bowlers of left arm leg spin are said to deliver ‘Chinamen’.

Leg spinners traditionally spin the ball more than off spinners but the trump is the ‘wrong un”, or googly. As stated, the stock ball spins away from the batsman. The ‘top spinner’ is mainly overspin and tends to bounce, rather than spin laterally. The googly, spins into the batsman. The skilful leg spinner, disguises these different deliveries by changing the delivery action as little as possible. The surprise and deception has always made good leg spinners dangerous. The wrong ‘un was developed by English bowler, Herbert Bosanquet, in the very early 1900’s. The type of delivery was for some time known as a ‘bossie’.

It was over 90 years before off spin had the equivalent of the googly. And a few more years until it had a name – the ‘doosra’. Logic makes one wonder why it took so long for such a delivery to come into existence. The simple explanation is that it was not physiologically possible to bowl a such a delivery, legally, out of the front of the hand. As the farce has snow-balled, the rules were changed to allow the delivery and to save the face of the ICC. Now a bowler, who by traditional measures is a chucker, is poised to become the world record holder for Test wickets.

Leave a Reply