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Flexing Bowling Rules - ICC's Crackdown On Bowlers With Suspect Actions

Saeed Ajmal bowls in a training session
In the wake of Saeed Ajmal becoming the latest in a string of bowlers to be reported, is it time for a rethink on policing bowling actions?
©REUTERS / Action Images

It is funny how times change, how priorities shift, how committees collapse and then new committees arise with a new agenda, a new mission statement, a new goal.

Cricket is a complicated game so perhaps, that is the reason why even after being played for decades more than a century, it is still limited to half a dozen powerhouses, at most.

The ICC's recent crackdown

2nd June: Sachithra Senanayake (Sri Lanka) reported

24th June: Kane Williamson (New Zealand) reported

12th July: Senanayake banned from bowling

23rd July: Williamson banned from bowling

11th August: Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan) reported

22nd August: Prosper Utseya (Zimbabwe) reported

24th August: Sohag Gazi (Bangladesh) reported

9th September: Ajmal banned from bowling

10th September: Al-Amin Hossain (Bangladesh) reported

ICC is at best, a weak body, driven more by commerce than by the spirit of the game. It has been ruled, half a century ago by the interests of its most powerful bodies as it is being ruled, even now.

While some have lauded it for the game’s advancements, one wonders if it is really the ICC’s foresight and sense of direction which has brought the game to what it is. Probably, it is just a few countries where cricket is part of the culture, mingled with economics that have really affected the game’s evolution.

ICC’s recent crackdown on bowlers with suspect actions is a drive that some like Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, laud as a step in the right direction. True there are quite a few bowling-action testing centres, laced with biomechanics experts, gadgetry and facilities which also help in correction of the action.

True, there is more help available for officials who want to call out a suspect bowler as for the bowlers who have to be rehabilitated before turning their arm over in the international arena. In that regard, the 15-degree rule in itself was a step in the wrong direction.

While some experts still believe that there is flexing even in the cleanest of bowling actions, undetectable by the human eye, others wonder how the 15 degree number was arrived at.

The biggest splash in this area was when Saeed Ajmal, probably the world’s most feared mystery spinner, was banned with immediate effect.

Ajmal, who had at one time obtained clearance from the ICC, citing an accident being the reason for an abnormal elbow action, doesn’t have age on his side and very little time to really make a comeback before the World Cup.

Without him, Pakistan are without their most potent weapon in One-Day InternationaIs. While India and Sri Lanka wouldn’t really worry too much about his presence in the side, given how their batsmen are well equipped to deal with mystery spin, this is a major boost for countries like Australia, South Africa and England, which have traditionally been weak against mystery spinners.

Elbow extension and flexion have always been shady areas in the rulebook at best. For years, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar terrorised batsmen around the world, in spite of suspect actions that were perceivable enough to be detected with the natural eye.

The contentious aspect of the ICC rule book is how they could impose the same limits to pace and spin bowling. While pace bowling could be lethal and even fatal without the restraints placed on elbow flexion, spin bowling could only gain from a little leeway.

Mystery bowling is an art that gets people excited and offers a good check against muscular batsmen with even more muscular bat edges, clearing boundaries like they were bits of paper in front of a vacuum cleaner.

If the ICC really wants to stick to the ‘cleaner’ version of cricket, one wonders why it hasn’t laid a finger in other aspects that have crept up into the game - excessive appealing, switch hits, tactical DRS referrals, deliberate delaying, boundaries close to the lower limit, etc.

Ajmal really pushed the limits with an elbow extension that exceeds 30 degrees in most cases. There isn’t anything wrong in the intentions of the ICC that wants to send across a stern message to bowling coaches and bowlers who are still young in the trade.

But, zeroing in on a few bowlers at a randomly picked moment, ahead of a major sporting event is weird. It is not a bad idea to test every single bowler in the probable-squad of every country.

At most, that would be testing a dozen bowlers from each country. While it would look hectic to start with, it will give the game a direction instead of relying on the umpires to call a bowler for suspect action until the processes can start.

Pakistan, which like every other country has been preparing for the World Cup for more than a year, has now less than five months to find a replacement or correct his action. If he doesn’t make it, it will rob the 2015 World Cup of an interesting experience.

Would Sunil Narine also be tested is the question that remains to be answered!

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