By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published December 7, 2015
Republished December 13, 2015
In June 2014, after the International Cricket Council (ICC) held its annual conference in Melbourne Australia, I read the reports coming out of the conference with the foresight of the storms clouds on the horizon in world cricket.
For many years, cricketers, umpires, officials and fans of the game suspected one or more bowlers of illegal bowling actions (chucking). However, in their eyes, enough wasn’t being done to weed out and correct these disfigurations that threatened to deface the sanctimonious game. One outspoken legend, Bishan Singh Bedi, in 2013, equated chucking to match-fixing and accused the ICC of negligence in reining in this malformation in the sport. Since their 2014 conference, that perception has been retired to bed with the ICC’s suffusive crackdown on chucking.
In the past 16 months, an exponential number of players in domestic leagues worldwide and in international cricket have been called for chucking, even after remedial work supposedly corrected their issues. One such player is West Indian, Sunil Philip Narine, the number one bowler currently in ODI and T20 cricket.
The ICC, in November 2004, set a robust and uniform 15-degree limit on elbow extension for bowlers. Before this, there were different degrees for fast bowlers and spinners, with spinners allowed 5 degrees of extension while fast bowlers were allowed 10 degrees. However, these differentiated and inflexible standards for bowlers became problematic when several élite fast bowlers upon evaluation of their actions revealed that their elbows bent as high as 10-15 degrees. Nevertheless, to the naked eye, their actions appeared legal. The illegality via the naked eye assessment for both categories of bowlers corresponded scientifically to elbow extensions in excess of 15 degrees. Hence, the ICC acquiesced to a 15-degree limit as the standard to wash cricket of chucking.
Even with this flexible and compromising standard, bowlers like Narine have been reported for suspect actions with their scientific assessment occurring within 14 days of being reported. This was the case in the just concluded West Indian tour of Sri Lanka when Narine was reported in the third and final ODI. In little over 12 months, this is the third time that Narine has been called for suspect action by domestic leagues or the international governing body.
The first time was during the 2014 Twenty20 Champions League tournament which saw Narine withdraw from the West Indies Cricket World Cup squad to castigate any flaws in his action. At the time, West Indian fans and administrators including Clive Lloyd questioned the timing of the suspension just before the Indian tour and the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Lloyd lamented, “You can’t just ban him from bowling just before an important tour like this and with the World Cup coming up.”
West Indian conspiracy theorists’ tongues wagged when Lloyd hinted at a stratagem revealed to him beforehand by a reliable source that Narine would be called during the 2014 Twenty20 Champions League tournament. Lloyd uttered, “Before we came here we were told that they were going to call Narine, so it’s quite obvious that something must have been said somewhere. I really can’t tell you that [who it was] but I can tell you it’s a highly reliable source.”
Thankfully, though a little too late for some West Indians, Narine was given the all clear after the World Cup. It was reported that Narine worked with acclaimed spin bowler Saqlain Mushtaq, and others, to redress any concerns about the legality of his bowling action. Mushtaq had worked with Saeed Ajmal who had elbow extensions as high as 45 degrees and got him beneath the ICC 15-degree standard earlier this year.
Unfortunately, Narine was again called during the 2015 Indian Premier League T20 tournament in April. This resulted in him undergoing further testing at Indian facilities to prove that his action was now legal. Gratefully he was all clear.
The conspiracy theorists lambasted the Indians and the other members of the Big Three (Australia and England) for what they describe as a witch hunt against bowlers like Narine from lesser nations for being targeted after doing well against the Big Three teams or in their leagues. However, it is my view that a lack of oversight and negligence on the part of some of the lesser nations is what has seen so many of their bowlers being called for chucking in recent months. The lack of systems in place, and possibly the available science in the past, had allowed bowlers with disfigured actions to flourish in their local leagues, and later rise to their international teams and acclaimed stardom at the expense of the game’s sanctity.
This is clearly the case for Jermaine Lawson, Shane Shillingford, and now Sunil Narine. The West Indies Cricket Board, its subsidiaries, and local coaches need to take some flack for the lack of oversight or a systematic sieve in the primitive years of these cricketers. Turning a blind eye to the problem in their formative years has left the respective boards and players with enormous black eyes. After 17 or 18 years old, these bowlers’ actions are set in concrete. My wise grandmother often bellowed out an old proverb, “you can only straighten the tree when it young.” West Indies and non-Big Three nations take note. The Big Three nations seemingly have checks and balances in place at the first-class and youth levels to catch and rectify the malformed actions.
For example, India placed a system in place to identify and comb out some of these contaminated actions from their domestic leagues and youth competitions. With video evidence at hand, age-group bowlers reported of suspected actions and their coaches were highlighted of their differentiated bowling actions during match conditions compared to their biomechanical test conditions. Some repeat of offenders from previous years, who had remedial work done had reverted to their old malformed actions. After this revelation, the bowlers and coaches had to make some decisions: implement the corrective measures and ensure they are maintained, or watch the bowler’s career end eventually with suspension after suspension. Some will say that in the end it’s up to the bowler. Nonetheless, since this initiative was implemented six years ago, the number of bowlers reported of suspected actions has drastically decreased.
Narine did another biomechanical test recently and all of his varying finger spin deliveries have reverted beyond the 15-degree threshold and he is now banned from all forms of cricket by the ICC until this is remedied. The ICC gave the warning that there is no place for throwing in cricket, after the 2014 conference. So, West Indian coaches, supporters and board members, it’s time we straighten the young trees and their elbows coming up.
In Narine’s case, though, what do you think it is: conspiracy at present or negligence from the youth level? I know what I think.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published December 7, 2015)