Should the ICC Bend the rules on illegal bowling actions?

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Yes – Ollie Orton

When beginning this debate, a suggestion was made that my opposition to the ICC clamp-down on ‘illegal’ bowling actions stated that I was perfectly happy to allow bowlers to ‘chuck’ when delivering the ball. This is not the case – whereas there are clear cases of bowlers far exceeding the fifteen degree angle at the point of the bowling delivery (and these bowlers should indeed be banned), I would argue that the current clampdown goes dangerously close to unfairly penalising of bowlers.

The game of cricket has always been one for the batsmen – when players complained that uncovered pitches were unfair on batsmen, the law was changed. When ODI cricket was created in the late 1970s, bowlers could no longer set the fields they wanted to; instead they were regulated by fielding restrictions. Bowlers are no longer permitted to bowl more than one bouncer per over at a batsman – this previously intimidating and often successful tactic against lower order players has been neutered in yet another attempt to protect batsmen.

The advent of T20 cricket again changed the game for the bowlers – front foot no balls are punished by a free hit and, at times, a two-run penalty. Bats have become bigger, boundaries shorter and pitches flatter – all of this in support of batsmen and the spectator’s desires for sixes.

It would therefore be expected that bowlers would be afforded some support against this onslaught of willow-wielding machines on pitches that, far from being tinged with the green of grass (which traditionally offered bowlers an advantage over batsmen) are now tinged with a different type of green – that of money, and the desire to make the game as quick-fire and consumer friendly as possible. Instead, bowlers compete in pretty much the same game that begun way back in the 16th century, whereas the batsmen of today would barely be recognisable.

Clearly, at least to this writer, bowlers should not have to deal with any more rule changes and decrees issued by the ICC that further turn the game of cricket into a weird type of cricket/baseball hybrid. And that is why the clampdown on illegal actions wrangles so much. Do we wish for the game of cricket to turn into a robotic sport where the bowlers are expected to be present simply as bowling machines against the power of the modern batsmen?

Former Pakistan great Ramiz Raja has come out in staunch defence of bowlers around the world, suggesting that “unorthodox bowlers (who happen to extend the arm over fifteen degrees) bring excitement to cricket and the ‘doosra’ delivery has become a legitimate weapon for an off-spinner”. Raja concludes that bowling a doosra is not threatening to batsmen and requires immense skill to play – in a game now dominated by the bat; surely it is time to give something back to the ball.

 

No – Ben Ingham

Being a slightly unorthodox spin bowler myself (I generally don’t really turn the ball much either way) I’m still very much behind the ICC’s recent clamp down on illegal bowling actions. In fact, I’m annoyed that it’s taken this long for them to take any action. Cricket has always been a batsman’s game. Allowing bowlers to break the laws of the game (a law which was changed to allow unnatural bowling on medical grounds more than anything) is not the way to create more of a balance. Saeed Ajmal effectively took Worcestershire into the top tier of English cricket this year by using an illegal action. Speak to any Essex fan and they’ll be rightly annoyed that he wasn’t called up during his time in England. If bowlers cannot bowl the doosra without approaching the 15 degree boundary, then they shouldn’t bowl it. And if they do, they should be prepared to be called upon.

The law was originally changed for two reasons:
i) Firstly, there were bowlers at the time who bowled with bent arm actions like Muttiah Muralitharan, who for medical reasons couldn’t straighten their arms. They were not bowling in this way to gain an advantage, it was simply because they couldn’t bowl any other way.
ii) Secondly, scientific tests found that every bowler flexed their elbow at some point during their bowling stride, so the 15 degree rule was brought in. 15 degrees is round about the same point at which the naked eye can see the ball being ‘thrown’.

This law was brought in for the good of the game, and to safeguard against those bowlers who were being called ‘chuckers’ like the great Murali. However, in the sub-continent in particular, coaches taught bowlers to get as close to this 15 degree mark as possible, in order to extract more spin and to develop deliveries like the ‘doosra’. I have absolutely no problem with this; you’re trying to create as much of an advantage as possible while staying within the laws of the game. But once you break those laws, it’s unfair to allow someone to keep bowling. These are people’s careers and reputations that you’re playing with, and to allow bowlers who are bowling illegally is wrong no matter how you look at it. West Indian and Pakistani officials have bemoaned the timing of this crackdown, as it is so close to a world cup. I personally think they’re idiots for saying such things. The ICC should’ve stepped up a long time ago and not let the situation get so far out of line. The main culprit and first ‘big name’ to be suspended was Saeed Ajmal. He is the leading wicket taker in the last two years in international cricket, and he was found to be flexing his arm between 37-43 degrees – almost three times the legal limit.

If you allowed more flexibility in this law, it wouldn’t be long before fast bowlers discovered a way of bowling with bent arms. And sooner or later the Americans will start asking why we’ve all started playing baseball over five days. It’s just not cricket.

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Ollie Orton

SCAN Editor 2015-2016

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