I know that I am writing on a very sensitive topic in cricket and I expect to receive brickbats, especially from diehard cricket fans who consider their favorite cricketers as Gods. Would you accept if I tell that Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, considered to be the fastest ‘bowlers’ in modern cricket, were actually Chuckers? I know 95% of you won’t. But the fact is that technically they are...Before I move on, let me ask this question first. What is the difference between bowling and chucking? Well, it’s quite simple. A bowler must not bend his/her elbow beyond 15 degrees during the rotation of the arm once it’s parallel to the ground during the delivery. If it’s beyond 15 degrees, then you are not bowling, you’re chucking. But the irony is that most of the top international bowlers in the world in the past 15 years have often breached the 15 degrees deadline, if not during every delivery. The fact is that even if you go past the 15 degree deadline once in 6 balls (an over) you are technically a chucker. Players like Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Ashwin breach the deadline 1 out of 3 balls. Shoaib Akhtar literally breaches this deadline every delivery. However ICC (international cricket council) hasn’t taken action against them. It’s not that chucking is a modern Cricket phenomenon. Even in the 1940s, 50s and 70s bowlers operated with suspect actions. If you take a close look at Harold Larwood, a bradman era bowler and considered by many as the fastest ever bowler, you would notice that his arms bent up to 45 degrees on many occasions. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson had significant bend in their action. It was the West Indian bowlers who had the cleanest of bowling actions since older times until a battery of chuckers entered during the early 2000s.
The procedure of ICC is that once a bowler is reported for suspected action, he/she is sent for a biomechanical test wherein the player is tested by experts using computers in a lab. Then he/she is either cleared or sent for a remedial procedure to correct the ‘arm bend’ if he/she is found to be breaching the 15 degree threshold. Most bowlers ever reported, right from the legendary Muttiah muralitharan to Taskin of Bangladesh have cleared the lab tests or come back with a remedial action. But, invariably all the players are found to be chucking the ball again during the matches. So, two things become clear...
One, the ICC’s lab tests are not foolproof. It enables the player to escape scrutiny by ‘bowling legally’ under the watch of experts and later do the mischief of chucking in real-field conditions. So, what’s the use in checking a player under simulated conditions when the ICC very well knows that he/she is not going to commit the crime under watch? So this leads to introspection for a better monitoring and reprehensive mechanism. ICC could probably move to a system followed in football, wherein the referee can send the player off the field using a red card. With adequate technology like ultra Slow motion capture available today, the Cricket third umpire or match referee can observe a chucking player and catch him red-handed on the field.
Secondly, the question raises as to whether ICC actively encourages these chuckers for purely commercial gain. As most cricket lovers would agree, cricket has today become a commercial arena where quality of the game has taken a back seat and entertainment has been brought into the forefront. Often, Cricket board and administrators put the blame on the fans telling that it’s the fans who are seeking entertainment in the form of six-hitting and high-scoring. However, the truth is far from that. No cricket lover wants the game’s quality to be eroded. As a huge cricket lover myself, I would always like to watch a high quality ODI game with a top score of 230 on a bouncy pitch favoring both batsmen and bowlers equally rather than both teams scoring 330 on a live-less flat track. So, it’s not the fans but the commercially motivated cricket establishment which encourages things such as Chucking. They won’t care even if you chuck as long as the batsman hits you for sixes out of the park. As a result, what we see in today’s cricket is Third-quality batsman hitting second-quality bowlers for fours and sixers. Quite shameful. Isn’t it?
Now, let’s get back to the main issue of chucking. A competitive chucking menace has emerged in cricket today, ranging from lower divisions up to international level. Often, cricket boards blackmail the ICC, if it takes action against a bowler for reported chucking. Instead of acknowledging the issue, they justify the chuckers by pointing to chuckers in opponent teams. Recently, Taskin the young opening fastbowler from Bangladesh was reported for suspect action. However, there was a huge outcry in Bangladesh that ICC selectively picked up Taskin out of jealousy towards this ‘emerging talent’ from Bangladesh. They raised why Ravichandran Ashwin, a chucker from India was let off. Obviously, they haven’t realised that two wrongs don’t make a right.
Also, teams often take the ‘Racial’ route to justify their chuckers. There was a huge uproar in Srilanka, when Muralitharan was reported for chucking back in the 1990s. They argued that the ‘white Cricket world’ can’t stand an ‘Extraordinarily talented bowler from the brown world’. They gave the same call when people expressed doubts about Lasith Malinga’s action. However, these arguments are simple foolish. It happens the other way around as well. Bowlers like Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Dale Steyn who have substantial bend in their arms tend to justify their own illegal acts by pointing to the soft attitude shown to the ‘Asian chuckers’. The worst thing is that ICC keeps watching this Chucking menace and takes no action at all. It leads to a really dangerous situation. Tomorrow, if a players chucks and if his/her arm bends even up to 30 or 40 degrees, he/she will ask why no action was taken against Brett Lee or Shoaib Akhtar who played 10 years ago?
Hyper-Flexion Theory: This was propounded by Shoaib Akhtar to justify his extraordinary bend in his arm during delivery. Today, every chucker justifies himself using his theory. Hyper-Flexion is the extra bending of the elbow above the normal flexing ability of the arm. It occurs as a natural defect in some individuals and Akhtar is in fact affected by this condition. However, in case of Shoaib Akhtar, the Hyper-Flexion happens only after this elbow has already bent above the prescribed limit of 15 degrees. In other words, his arms hyperflexes after he has completed the act of chucking.
T20 leagues like IPL and Big Bash have created an artificial craze for low quality but adrenaline pumping cricket involving mindless six-hitting. The average cricket fan, who doesn’t have in depth technical knowledge of the game will clap and rejoice not knowing the fact what’s shown in front of him on the TV is no different from the drama based action of the WWF show. And who would take action against chuckers when powerful boards like BCCI, which generates a revenue of around $5 billion per year pressurizes the ICC to go soft on chuckers? Only God can save cricket and restore its lost glory.