Thursday, May 29, 2014

Much ado about chucking

Stuart Broad has got himself into a bit of trouble, by commenting on a picture of Saeed Ajmal tweeted by Michael Vaughan. Vaughan tweeted "you are allowed 15 degrees of flex in delivery swing... #justsaying", and attached a blurry picture of Ajmal in mid-delivery. This is what that picture looks like:

Broad replied, commenting that it had to be a fake picture, and later said that “Bowlers can bowl very differently in a lab while being tested compared to needing wickets in the middle”. Ajmal has, of course, had his action tested before by the ICC and was found to be within the permitted 15 degrees of flex allowed (anything less than this is invisible to the naked eye). It's virtually impossible for a spectator to analyse a bowler's action in real time (and I can't remember the last time the cameras did an analysis in slow-mo of one of the more controversial spinners). It doesn't help, of course, that they also tend to wear baggy long-sleeved shirts, although anyone not wearing one in county cricket in May probably comes from a latitude significantly to the north of Faisalabad. But on gut feel, Ajmal is one of those that doesn't quite feel right. To see why, keep the picture above in mind when looking at a picture of his release point:

That arm looks pretty straight to the naked eye and (even given the angle from which the top photo was taken) is definitely more than a 15 degree variation from the one above. This isn't, incidentally, to say that Ajmal is chucking - as I said above, it basically takes work in a laboratory to determine the actual degree of flex. It's just that it looks as though he is to the naked eye.

But then, it looked like Murali was chucking to the naked eye, and he definitely wasn't. I saw him bowl for Channel 4 in a full arm cast, and it still looked like he threw it. Murali had double-jointed wrists and a permanently bent arm - the combination made it look like a throw even though it wasn't. Murali's example, however, has caused a proliferation of unorthodox actions.

Shane Shillingford
Johann Botha
Sachithra Senanayake
Sunil Narine
Some of these have been called for it (Shillingford had his quicker ball banned by the ICC, Botha his doosra), some haven't (Senanayake had his action cleared back in 2011, although Aggers clearly disagrees...). Does any of it matter? Doesn't it just add to cricket's rich tapestry? Weeelll...
Part of me wants to agree: all the bowlers listed are exciting and skillful, and their bowling makes cricket more interesting. On the other hand, if we're going to ignore it when spinners chuck it, why can't pacemen just stand at the crease and hurl it at that batsman like a pitcher? I've played against bowlers in club cricket who blatantly threw it, and it gives them a heck of an advantage. For spinners it makes it much harder to detect which way the ball is turning; for quicks, the ball is that much quicker through the air than you're expecting.
One thing that is perhaps a little odd is that the people who were so exercised when Stuart Broad didn't walk for a nick to the keeper (which isn't against any law of the game) aren't equally exercised by the possible breaking of law 24(3) which says that a ball is only fairly delivered if:
once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand.
UPDATE: To nobody's great surprise, Senanayake has been referred to the ICC for having a dodgy action. He can then be cleared in a lab, and return to action, pleasing and convincing nobody either way...


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