By Fazeer Mohammed
Naiivete is not a quality you would normally associate with the International Cricket Council. Certainly not the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the real governing body of the game. So the suggestion that the sanctioning of bowlers with actions loosely-defined as “suspect” over the past few months is merely a belated attempt to bring sanity back to a very convoluted process doesn’t fly. There has to be more in the mortar than just the pestle.
Having bent (yes, the obvious pun is intended) its own well-established rules regarding legal bowling actions ten years ago to accommodate Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and a host of others who have since followed in his style, having systematically and deliberately removed the authority of on-field umpires so as to avoid the sort of chaos that followed Australian officials no-balling Murali for illegal deliveries Down Under in the 1990s, it is really stretching credulity to accept that the ICC believes it can effectively deal with a problem of their own creation by now taking a hard-line approach.
Choose whichever analogy you find suitable—the genie is out of the bottle, the horse has long since bolted out of the stable—because the message is clear any way you look at it: too much has been allowed to happen by way of the legitimising of previously outlawed bowling actions for the banning of Sunil Narine, Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal and quite a few others to put the toothpaste back in the tube just so.
Before going any further, let’s be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that Narine, West Indies teammate Shane Shillingford and anyone else in the region or anywhere in the world who bowls the “doosra” is essentially pelting by the previous rule that did not allow for 15 degrees of straightening of the arm at the point of delivery. But that rule was modified so as to accommodate precisely that type of bowling. And now it has flourished at all levels of the game in every part of the world where it is played seriously, primarily because success breeds success.
Narine has become a match-winning superstar in T20 cricket in less than four years. No-one seems capable of working him out. Even if there was no Murali, no Saqlain Mustaq, no Harbhajan Singh or any of the many others who have excelled with the newly-legitimised style of bowling, his success alone has been enough to inspire many youngsters to emulate him. Go around the schools cricket scene and observe how many youngsters are imitators of the Arimian.
So all of those developing their bowling skills on the belief that pelting—to a certain degree—is okay are now expected to modify their actions and keep on playing just like that? So widespread is the practice and so well-accepted as a legitimate bowling art form is it that former Pakistan opening batsman Ramiz Raja believes that the ICC should modify its rules, not to eliminate these bent-arm off-break bowlers but to encourage them by increasing the allowable straightening of the arm to 20 degrees.
Speaking to the popular cricket website “Cricinfo,” Ramiz, who argues that something has to be done to “safeguard this phenomenon called the doosra,” makes the obvious point: “You have allowed them to play for ten years, the next generation has looked up to these bowlers. Every bowler at the domestic level in Pakistan wants to replicate Ajmal… Can you redeem a bowler who straightens his arm? I don’t think so. I think we will lose them.”
Even if they aren’t lost to the game entirely, the evidence of Shillingford, whose doosra is banned, suggests that their effectiveness will be seriously compromised. Can Narine modify his action and remain as effective? Should he, and others of his type, have been given the leeway in the first place to practise a skill that was deemed blatantly illegal until 2004?
According to Maninder Singh, the former Indian left-arm spinner in the classical mould of the outstanding Bishen Singh Bedi, chucking should not be permitted just because it allows someone to be heralded as a “mystery bowler,” a clear jab at Narine. There’s also the issue of motive. Why now? Like every other cricketing power-broker before it, the BCCI has made no bones of their self-serving objectives, operating as they do by the dictum “Might is Right.”
They forced Cricket South Africa to send its newly-elected CEO on leave before they would tour that country a year ago. So putting pressure on the ICC to put pressure on the umpires to tighten the screws on bent-arm bowlers who may threaten India in upcoming series or at the World Cup in five months’ time doesn’t seem so far-fetched. In a sport as compromised as cricket, anything is possible.