These are my columns published in The Cricket Paper in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. You can find my book "The effing c-word" at www.thewhitewords.com, my cricket club at www.damerhamcc.com, and you can join me on twitter @siwhite0. Comments welcome.
Friday, 19 September 2014
Column 29, 2014 – Chucked out
Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 101, Friday September 19, 2014. [Full text below] NOTE: The Paper prints 'per cent'. This is wrong: it's degrees. It's right in the full text below.
On 26 August 1862 at The Oval, Edgar Willsher was no-balled
for an illegal bowling action. In the ensuing hoo-ha, WG Grace said he could
see no alternative than to change the laws to accommodate Willsher’s action.
The game must adapt, change was inevitable. What was Willsher’s controversial
new action? He bowled overarm.
The rules, clearly, did indeed change to allow overarm
bowling. As a footnote, following the infamous Chappel brothers incident in
1981, they changed again to outlaw underam bowling.
The point is, the game evolves. And that evolution is driven
by those who play it at the highest level.
Last week Saeed Ajmal, the number one bowler in the world,
was banned by the ICC for an illegal action.
Today’s Law 24.3 states that: “…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
That Law is useless. Extensive research around the turn of
the last century suggested that over 99% of all bowlers, amateur and
professional, contravene Law 24.3 with every ball they bowl. The vast majority
of people are physically incapable of bowling without straightening their arm.
The ICC playing conditions (why not the actual Laws?) were
changed in 2000 to allow a straightening of 5° for spinners, 7.5° for medium
pacers and 10° for fast bowlers. This proved unenforceable. In 2004 a panel of
former Test players and biomechanical experts recommended a flat rate of 15°
tolerable ‘elbow extension’ be used to define the difference between bowling
and throwing. It is still in use today.
Indulge this apparent non-sequitur for a moment. I remember
a real lightbulb moment whilst learning to read and write music. It’s so long
ago that it seems like somebody else’s memory, but it was a realisation that
instantly inverted what I was struggling with, and all its daunting complexity
suddenly made sense: music theory exists because of music, not the other way
around. Imagine! Its purpose is not to confuse and infuriate music students, as
I was hitherto convinced, but a valiant and inevitably flawed attempt to
describe something indescribable.
Is there something similar going on with the illegal action
conundrum? Are we allowing the theorists to get in the way of the virtuosos? 15° is
an arbitrary figure applied by rule makers – theorists. It is only definitive
because they say it is.
Saeed Ajmal is one of the most watchable cricketers in the
world game. He makes it more thrilling and less predictable, and consistently
tests the skill of the best batsman in the world.
Ajmal’s average elbow flex when tested was completely
unacceptable under the current rules. But whether it’s a change in the rules, a
change in Ajmal, or some sort of compromise, I can’t escape the conviction that
the game must accommodate him somehow. It is poorer for his exclusion.