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What Should Constitute An Illegal Bowling Action?

Sunil Narine
Sunil Narine is the latest bowler to be scrutinised by the ICC
©REUTERS / Action Images

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has accelerated its campaign to crack down on bowlers using an illegal action.

The campaign was launched in July last year, resulting in suspensions for Sri Lanka’s Sachitra Senanayake, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Pakistan’s high profile bowlers Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez.

The latest bowler to be scrutinised is Sunil Narine, who was reported for a suspect action in Kolkata Knight Riders’s match against Sunrisers Hyderabad. This is not the first time that the Caribbean off-spinner has been reported. He was banned from bowling in all BCCI tournaments during last year’s Champions League due to which he also missed the World Cup.

All of these bowlers are off-spinners and some of them bowl the controversial “doosra”, a delivery which turns the other way to the normal off break. Under ICC rules implemented in 2006 after controversy about Muttiah Muralitharan’s doosra, bowlers are allowed to straighten their arm by 15 degrees, established as the point at which any straightening will become visible to the naked eye.

In 2004, when Muralitharan was reported for a suspect action, his deliveries were found to exceed the ICC’s elbow extension limit by nine degrees, five degrees being the limit for the spinners at that time.

Then, in 2005, the ICC changed the laws of the game to allow bowlers "to straighten their bowling arm up to 15 degrees" - a figure that rendered Muralitharan’s action legitimate.

Many cricketers then raised their voice against the rule asking how a rule can be changed to accommodate an individual?

Now the question is: was the amendment in the bowling rule in 2005 final? Or is there any kind of space left for extension in the law to accommodate the currently banned spinners?

As the game favours batsmen more and more, these bowlers had made scoring difficult, which resulted in a good contest between bat and ball. Now batsmen have developed so many shots that they can hit even good balls beyond the boundary ropes.

Along with playing too many unorthodox shots, batsmen also change their grip, reverse sweeping and switch hitting, for example, not allowing bowlers to settle in and making setting the field difficult.

If a little bit more elbow extension cannot be allowed then how can changing how you hold the bat be allowed? Can bowlers gain control over the game by bowling only off breaks? With two new balls now used in ODIs and tight fielding restrictions, off-spinners are finding it difficult to survive.

In today’s cricketing arena, there are not so many traditional off-spinners left. Perhaps this is what has forced bowlers to use actions which are deemed to be suspect. Only James Tredwell swings his arm normally and there is no issue with his action.

Otherwise most, if not all other off-spinners have something suspect about their action. And yet, Tredwell is still not considered good enough for Tests by England.

My personal view is that in order to retain more of a balance between bat and ball, then it is time for the ICC, rather than cracking down hard on bowlers, to be looking at relaxing the rules and allowing a little more bending of the arm.

What do you think?

© Cricket World 2015

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