The Mechanics of Off-Spin
Russell Degnan

Or why they all chuck occasionally

When it comes to chucking, there is a lot of spurious things said, including by many people who should know better. Scott Wickstein has weighed in on some comments by Ambidextri when he said (amongst other things) that " Umpires cannot decide on their own whim to call him, and certainly cannot see with the naked eye if a delivery is legal or not.".

This is plain rubbish. Umpires are well placed to judge on a straightening of the arm beyond a certain point. 10 degrees, the legal limit for fast bowlers, is very noticeable, even at high speed. The animation below demonstrates 10-degree flexing, at the typical speed an umpire will see.

The baggy sleeves of today's players aside it is quite obvious and bowlers should be called if they are flexing anything like that amount. Murali's doosra is apparently 14 degrees, but can be bowled at 10.2 degrees. Both of which are throws. Both of which should be called.

But that is not the whole story at all. These figures are (presumably) averages over many trials. No ball is bowled exactly the same, and a lot of bowlers will exhibit some degree of flexing on delivery. An often forgotten point - particularly with the stigma attached to being branded a 'chucker' - is that no bowler throws every ball, and most bowlers will throw a few. A bowler can feel when they have chucked it, in the elbow. I do it when I have no rythym, bowling mediums, on the odd occasion. Bowling off-spin, far more often, because of the nature of it as I'll explain below - but I don't bowl them outside the nets.

In the '50s and early '60s when the adminstrators tried to crack down on chucking, laws were created that required cautions, and the removal of bowlers who bowled no-balls. This, in my opinion, was wrong. It creates too large an expectation that a bowler will never throw. In reality, it is not substantially different to over-stepping the line. It shouldn't happen, but it does.

Off-spinners are particularly susceptible to chucking because they are roll their fingers in the same direction their elbow points - and therefore will naturally straighten their arm if it wasn't already straight. The classical off-spinner - Tim May for instance - pivots on their front foot, rotating from side to front on, and having their elbow pointing towards square leg. The image below shows a top down shot before the ball is bowled and a shot from behind on release.

The second image shows the advantage gained by a bent elbow. Straightening and propelling the ball in the direction of the spin, gaining both pace and turn.

Muralitharan bowls differently to a classical off-spinner, and is even more susceptible to throwing as a result. He is almost front-on as he gets to the wicket, with his elbow pointing down. On release, the elbow points down the pitch and the ball is rolled off the fingers generating extra turn.

It is not impossible to bowl it legally and the majority of the time he does so. But it is very very difficult to bring the arm through with the elbow pointing down without it being bent, and as such, the likelihood of straightening it as the fingers are opened is very high.

For the doosra, it is harder still. The arm comes through in the same way but is then twisted so the hand can be cocked to the right of the ball, making it even more likely to be bent, and even more likely to be straightened on release.

It isn't an issue of "is Murali or anyone else a chucker?". Sometimes he does, and because of his action is far more likely to than most other bowlers. On the doosra, the majority of the time I think it is being thrown - but that doesn't mean it can't be modified to be legal.

Instead of extensive tests in which a bowler can show a minimally acceptably type of bowling, the ICC should return to a simpler, fairer system, more in keeping with the spirit of the game. I'd do it as follows:

1. If in the umpire's opinion the ball was thrown the bowler should be quietly advised that the umpire was concerned and will be watching.

2. Subsequent balls of a questionable nature should be called no-ball. No further action should take place. If a bowler is unable to continue bowling without throwing then it is the captain's responsibility to remove him from the attack.

3. At the end of each day's play, the umpiring review that is conducted using the television replays should include all no-ball decisions - if any - to keep a standard level of leniency and ensure the umpires are capable of calling no-balls.

Finally, because of the mess the ICC has created, and the difficulty for bowlers used to throwing the ball whenever they feel; I'd phase it in over two years, where umpires inform the bowler that a ball would be a no-ball. Each call would then be assessed at the end of the day to ensure that adequate standards will being attained when the law is changed.

But the laws have to change somehow. One, because it isn't in the interests of the game to have a fractious and expensive system of administration for the laws of play. And two, such a system is only feasible at the upper levels of the sport. Despite what the ICC seems to think, there are people playing cricket who aren't test cricketers.

Cricket - Analysis 7th June, 2004 03:13:23   [#] [0 comments] 

Competition or Standards?
Russell Degnan

It would be an understatement to say the ICC has a mixed record when it comes to administering the game it is responsible for. But one area where it is doing well is development. Not since the early 1930s have so many teams looked like being capable of taking a step up to test cricket - when the West Indies, New Zealand and India did so in just a few years.

The teams on the cusp - Kenya, Uganda, Nepal, Holland, Scotland - represent a conundrum for the administrators. Are they good enough to play at the next level? Similarly, Bangladesh - who are improving rapidly - Zimbabwe - who aren't - and even (to a far lesser extent) the West Indies raise the issue about teams who aren't to some 'Test' standard.

Scott Wickstein raises this point in relation to Zimbabwe, arguing - rightly - that standards have been lower before, and that Zimbabwe will improve once the politics sorts itself out. But, he also argues (there and elsewhere) that previous nations have gradually improved to test standard after long periods of mediocre cricket, and that - given suitable opportunities - a team can be expected to be 'competitive'. The problem is, introducing more teams - as will happen unless the ICC gets cold feet and scuttles cricket's outward expansion - will break this habit.

When looking at New Zealand - and unfortunately my ratings are otherwise unavailable right now - it is less accurate to say they improved gradually than to say they've had several peaks, the first three of which were progressively higher than that previous. In the early 1950s, the early 1970s, and a highpoint in the mid-1980s. They were at a pathetically low ebb in 1996 before rebounding strongly today. Zimbabwe is similar. The Australia beating team of 1983 was stronger than 1987. The team who got test status in 1992 was young and promising, but peaked in the late 1990s. In both nations cricket is a fringe sport, dependent on a few talents occuring at infrequent intervals to move them to a higher level.

The next crop of Test nations will be similarly hamstrung. The bulk of the generation of Kenyan cricketers who made the semi-final of the last World Cup are already in their mid-late 30s. They have missed their chance to play at the higher level. The next group may not be as talented, and it may be years before Kenya reaches a truly competitive standard again.

If cricket is looking for a good model, they could do worse than look at the Davis Cup, which promotes and relegates teams each year, and keeps a solid contingent in the 'World Group'. In that spirit, plans have been mooted for a three-tier system for test cricket. The ICC Intercontinental Cup is also designed to get teams of similar standard playing each other. Both of them are excellent initiatives (although I still disapprove of a 'league' system for Test cricket for reasons I'll go into another day).

But two points need to be remembered.

One, standards are entirely arbitrary, and only relevant in relation to who you are playing. Top bowlers can make otherwise fine batsmen look ordinary. Great batsmen likewise to otherwise fine bowlers. What is important is competition. Zimbabwean cricket is a problem because they are completely outclassed at the moment. They need to step down a level to rebuild.

Two, in any country - by which we mean almost everyone except a few elite nations - where cricket is a fringe sport, it will be common for standards to fluctuate from year to year. The history of teams in the World Group of the Davis Cup is of a few core nations - the USA, Australia, Sweden, Spain - and of others moving in and out depending on the talents and form of their top players. While cricket has larger teams, a few key players can carry a side from pathetic to mediocre, or from mediocre to competitive - George Headley, Bert Sutcliffe, Richard Hadlee, even Andy Flower and Muralitharan. But these talents will come and go, and the fortunes of their teams will with them.

The ICC needs to be more flexible in terms of who gets to play whom, and when, so as to maintain competitive games, and more importantly, encourage development in improving countries - noone is served by cricketers moving to gain their chance at test cricket a la Graeme Hick. The current rigid caste system doesn't provide for good competition. In fact, it actively encourages mismatches in the name of 'opportunity', while working against the second tier of emerging nations. To view current developments, it looks like the changes are coming, but it can't be fast enough. For once, the ICC needs to actually administer the game.

Cricket - Articles 2nd June, 2004 03:12:40   [#] [1 comment]