Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brief history of 'Chucking' - a complex issue that has been around for decades

A bowler in cricket has strict rules relating the degree the elbow is bent when a ball is delivered. Law 24, Clause 3 defines a fair delivery with respect to the arm:

A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm 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. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.

In the past, it has been up to the umpire to determine whether a bowler breaches the law and would no ball the bowler if he decides the bowler threw that particular delivery. However, after biomechanical tests in the latter parts of the 1990s, the International Cricket Council (ICC) attempted to clarify the law by stating that the maximum permissible flexing of the elbow for fast bowlers was ten degrees, seven and a half degrees for medium pacers, and five degrees for spin bowlers. This was after results indicated that a bowler’s arm naturally flexes latterly when it rotates around the shoulder, thus meaning that no bowler strictly complied with the Laws of Cricket. The degree of flexing was changed to 15 degrees after the ICC tested bowlers through video footage during the 2004 ICC Champions trophy in England. It was found that ninety-nine percent of bowlers tested exceeded the maximum limit of flexing.

Many English county bowlers of the nineteenth century—after the legalisation of throwing in 1864—were believed to have unfair actions. Nonetheless, Australian fast bowler Ernest Jones was the first bowler no-balled in an international match in 1897. Englishman C.B. Fry had his career ended when no-balled on four occasions soon after. However, Australian aboriginal fast bowler Eddie Gilbert’s action was probably the most controversial pre-World War II. He famously bowled a series of hostile deliveries at Donald Bradman in a state game in 1931—knocking Bradman’s bat out of his hand, knocking him over with the next, and finally, having him caught behind from the third ball. Bradman later said, “The keeper took the ball over his head, and I reckon it was halfway to the boundary and that the balls from Gilbert were unhesitatingly faster than anything seen from [Harold] Larwood or anyone else.” In a state game in the same year, Gilbert was no-balled on thirteen occasions by umpire Andrew Barlow for jerking his wrist—something considered legal nowadays. His wrist action helped him generate his extreme pace, but the Brisbane Courier described his “whipped catapult action” as "almost a throw”. A new legislation after the 1932/33 Bodyline series outlawed intimidatory bowling in Australia, effectively ending Gilbert’s career. In twenty-three first-class matches, he took 87 wickets at an average of 29.21.

Throwing controversies became even more prevalent in the 1950s and ‘60s. Strangely, umpire Frank Chester was blocked from no-balling South African Cuan McCarthy by Lord’s Cricket Ground authorities in 1951, with President Sir Pelham Francis Warner (Plum Warner) stating “These people are our guests”. English left-arm orthodox spinner Tony Lock was often accused of throwing his faster ball—especially in the early stages of his career before he remodelled his action. Famously, in a County Championship match, Essex captain Doug Insole turned to the square-leg umpire when he was bowled by Lock and asked him whether he had been bowled or run out.

Australian Ian Meckiff had a controversial career, accused of throwing on many occasions before being no-balled four times during his only over in a Test against South Africa in 1963-64. Meckiff consequently retired after the match, leaving behind many conspiracies; some thought he was set up by the Australian Board which may have asked Colin Egar, the umpire, to no ball him. The fast bowler had an unusual action, where he generated his pace from a bent-arm action and a flick of the wrist.

Less notable bowlers were no-balled in Tests soon after. However, West Indian fast bowler Charlie Griffith—one of the most feared fast bowlers’ of his generation—caused similar amounts of controversy to Meckiff. He was twice no-balled in first-class cricket and possibly caused so much controversy because of extreme pace. In one of the matches where he was no-balled, Griffith hit touring Indian batsman Nari Contractor on the back of his head with a bouncer while playing for Barbados. Contractor suffered a fracture skull and required two emergency operations to remove blood clots from his brain. He never added to his thirty-one Tests after the incident, although afterwards Contractor said he wished he played just one more.

The most famous and controversial of all cricketers no-balled for throwing is Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who would later became the leading wicket-taker in both Test and One Day International cricket (ODI). He bowls with an unusual hyperextension of his congenitally bent arm. During his career, Muralitharan was no-balled three times—twice by Ross Emerson and once by Darrell Hair. And in 2004, he was reported to the International Cricket Council (ICC) for a suspect bowling action. The off-spinner was first called by Hair on Boxing Day 1995 during his first tour of Australia, and then by Emerson during Sri Lanka’s next visit in 1998-99. Many people have weighed into the debate on whether his action is legitimate; Hair, himself, labelled his action “diabolical”. Even Australia’s former Prime Minister John Howard publicly stated while in office that Murali (as he was known) was a “chucker”. In contrast, the bowler had a wide range of supporters who believed his action was legal, especially after tests showed him bowling with an arm brace that would not bend past fifteen degrees. Wearing the brace, he successfully bowled his full repertoire of deliveries, including the controversial doosra. The doosra is a ball that spins the opposite way to a conventional off-spinner and is extremely difficult to bowl without bending the elbow. Pakistani Saqlain Mushtaq established the doosra in the mid-1990s, and ever since, Harbhajan Singh, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez and Johan Botha have been reported and investigated for an illegal action when bowling the delivery, thus proving it is very difficult to bowl the delivery legally.

Note: All quotes taken from Wikipedia

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