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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.

Pathan’s miracle at Karachi

With the three test series between India and Pakistan still at nil all, following two mind-numbing draws, the third test in Karachi started with an unexpected sensation. Rising star, Irfan Pathan had Pakistan reeling at 3-0 at the end of the first over. In the context of the series, you might think he started with a tight over, restricting Pakistan to just three runs. But no. I score like an Australian (because I am one). That is three wickets for no runs. And what is more, the three wickets fell from consecutive balls – Irfan Pathan took the 35th hat-trick in Test cricket.

To take a hat-trick any time is something to celebrate. In the context of the series, when three wickets in a day might have raised a few eyebrows, three wickets in an over is astonishing. The batsmen fed greedily from the troughs that were the pitches of Lahore and Faisalabad. In the first two tests, 2,791 runs were scored (with a great many hours lost in the first Test) at 77.5 runs per wicket.

I believe that this is the first time a hat-trick has been taken in the first over of a Test match. I recall a few years ago that Sri Lankan lefty, Zoysa took a hat-trick with his first three balls in match against Zimbabwe but that was the second over of the match.

The match progress is that after slumping to 6-39, Pakistan has recovered somewhat to be 7-206 with Kamran Akmal leading the way on 90 not out.

Beware the Sporting Declaration

As Australia swept to an eight wicket victory and fans and the media alike reached a state of euphoria over the deeds of Ricky Ponting and record run chases, it should not be forgotten that this match was gifted to Australia. That’s no criticism of Smith – he did what he had to do – and Australia did have some work to do, but Australia should not be lulled into a false sense of security.

Graeme Smith had nothing to lose from making a sporting declaration on Friday. A 0-2 margin is not a lot worse than a 0-1 margin, given there was a chance to make it 1-1. Looking into my crystal ball, I think there may have been a subtle advantage to the Boks in the longer term. In winning the match, and the series, seemingly convincingly, the Aussie’s may feel that things are going more swimmingly than they are. The truth is that they got through the summer on three batsmen (Hayden, Ponting and Hussey) with occasional support and two and a half bowlers. By the end of this series, the Australian attack was struggling – granted, the SCG was not the traditional spinners paradise, as has been the case in recent years.

I can’t think of too many sporting declarations in recent years, but all of them were doomed. What is a “sporting declaration”? It is a declaration that is made, due to time constraints, in order to give your own team a chance to win, but also allows the opposition a chance of winning. One of the finer points is making the target difficult for the side batting last, but making it tempting enough to be chased, in the hope that risks will be taken that will result in wickets. Some may say that Smith declared too early on Friday – but I don’t think so. Australia did not need to win the match and were very unlikely to chase 340 at say 5 runs per over. Smith had to leave his team time to bowl Australia out. Classifying a declaration is a little subjective. In 1969, Bill Lawry set the West Indies 735 for victory. I think that can be ruled out.

The three matches I am thinking of are the test just ended, the fourth Ashes test in 2001, which England won on the back of Butcher’s 173 and the 1st Test between Australia and New Zealand in November 2001. The match was drawn but only after Glenn McGrath bowled over after accurate over of balls three feet outside off stump. I wonder how many wides would have been called if Billy and Aleem were umpiring?

Perhaps the tied Test in Madras in 1986 was the result of a sporting declaration. Border set India 348 from 87 overs. The Australians declared in both innings and with only five second innings down. That was probably more a case of Border thinking that 347 in front was enough, and he needed the time to bowl India out. Nonetheless, he opened the door when he could have batted on, making the game safe first and then seeing if a victory could be forced.

The chasing team is favoured when a sporting declaration is made for a few reasons:

1. There is a momentum swing in their favour. The simple act of being given a chance to win is a large psychological boost.

2. Sporting declarations are often made in rain shortened matches. The prevailing conditions often mean that the pitch hasn’t deteriorated as much as would be expected. Last test was a perfect point. Australia achieved the highest successful fourth innings run chase. One shouldn’t get too excited as the pitch was more like a third day pitch as it was freshened by cool, humid conditions and the occasional shower. We should also remember that the SCG is getting friendlier. Just three years ago, Australia scored well over 350 in the fourth innings in drawing with India.

3. While the batting team has a new lease of life, the bowling team is inevitably under time pressure to take wickets. If early wickets are not taken, the bowling actions start to tighten. If the runs start to leak, the captain is under pressure to make the field settings more defensive. And if some chances are missed….

A gifted win from a sporting declaration is fairly meaningless. Sporting declarations are rare in Test cricket but quite common in domestic first class cricket. But across the board the chaser prevails more than the declarer. Australia has some problems to sort out. The selectors are persisting with who they want in the team, not necessarily what it needs to be. They need to forget preconceived ideas of balance, all rounders etc and choose the best six batters, four bowlers and the best keeper batsman. The up-coming Test series in South Africa might see the Aussies caught short.

Cindy the Inflatable

An old friend of that smacked out hippy of a deviant DJ, Doug Mulray, made an appearance at the SCG on Tuesday. Rather, “Cindy the Inflatable” made two appearances. I usually try to stay away from match commentary, leaving that to the experts at Cricinfo. As in previous years, I will relate some of the “action” at the ground that wasn’t visible to the TV viewers.

On what was a rather dreary and very hot morning session, I was most surprised to see the natives of Bay 31 produce, along with various beach balls, a life size, blow-up, sex doll. Now while there might be no harm in the lads having a little fun, it is certainly not the sort of thing I want my eight and twelve year old daughters exposed to. Georgia, eight, described the disgusting thing to her mother as a naked doll with large breasts and very large, pink nipples.

The security guards took about 45 minutes to get Cindy #1 and the yellow shirts were getting quite enraged as Cindy was flung around the Bays, wildly evading her pursuers. They had to call for reinforcements to set up road blocks. Once detained, Cindy #1 was angrily slashed to bits by the yellow shirt who had been chasing her from the start.

Cindy #2 appeared just after the start of the Australian innings. She didn’t last long as Madeleine, twelve, put a hole in it with her hair clip. This was partially patched, Cindy was partially reinflated, only to fall into the hands of Madeleine again, who ripped her to shreds. Good stuff. She had a bit of heckling but I think at least a few were pleased. Many of the nearby females seemed quite impressed.

The there was “Steve”. Several times a young man ran from the dressing rooms, around the boundary to third man to give McGrath or Lee a sports drink. He was in full whites with official logos and looked like and Australian cricketer, except that he couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. On one pass, someone must have found out, or “decided” that his name was Steve. A great chorus sang out to “Steve”. When Steve finally realised he was being addressed, he stopped, beamed up at the crowd and waved volumously. At that moment, someone called out “Who the hell are you, Steve?”. As Steve returned from delivering refreshments, some deluded kids ran down to the fence with mini cricket bats and pens. Steve was only too happy to oblige, at which time the same comedian yelled “You’re an impostor, Steve.”

I am happy to announce that today, during a rain break, I found out that Steve is actually John Hastings, 17 years old, of Hawkesbury Cricket Club. ABC radio interviewed him in his capacity as official 13th man. It’s true. His jobs include running drinks, net bowling, delivering throw downs, licking Warnie’s boots, that sort of thing. John may even get a run on the SCG at some stage. Roebuck felt it was a good initiative by CA to show the anointed what the inside of the Australia cricket team’s dressing room looks like. But I don’t know – sounds a bit like scab labour to me.

A few points on the game:

1. The umpires and the match referee need to shut the bloody players up. The umpires need to be off limits to the players, even to and especially Ponting. Sure, he has the right to enquire but the umpires can simply refuse to talk to him. They are not going to change their minds and they owe no explanations. While they indulge the players in explanations, the players will keep badgering and take advantage. All a bowler needs to know is that it’s “not out”. He doesn’t need to be advised it was down leg or too high, or hit outside the line. Allowing the players the rights of the Spanish Inquisition implies levels of authority that are inappropriate and harmful.

2. Welcome back AC Gilchrist.

3. It was January 1974 when Sydney’s rain cruelly denied New Zealand an almost certain series levelling victory. And it’s just as enjoyable this time.

4. Australia would most certainly have lost this match, had it been played to the end. Sides batting last at the SCG are doomed if they do not lead by 50-100 runs on the first innings. It’s life. Just three years ago, England flogged Australia having trailed by one run on the first innings. In that match too, the Australian top order lost their first innings wickets through carelessness and incompetence before being (almost) saved by the skipper and Gillie.