Opinion: In defence of 'chuckers'

Blog Opinion

So often county cricket gets berated for not being exciting, for not having world class performers and not providing a spectacle that thrills the watcher. When we are given all of those things in the form of Ajmal people call him a cheat.

Saeed Ajmal took seven wickets for just nineteen runs at Worcester this week. He bowled with accuracy, fizz and guile. He was the difference between the two sides.

He comfortably out bowled Monty Panesar, the most successful spinner that England has to offer that is still playing first class cricket. Ajmal bowling is about as exciting as it gets, and he is plying his trade in England's county game.

So often county cricket gets berated for not being exciting, for not having world class performers and not providing a spectacle that thrills the watcher. When we are given all of those things in the form of Ajmal people call him a cheat. They say he only wears long sleeves to prevent his throwing of the cricket ball being detected.

Photos flood social media as if they provide proof of his guilt. They don't, as the rules about throwing are to do with flex, not whether the arm is bent. But even if they did, does it really matter if a spinner is chucking a doosra? Is the game not better because of bowlers like Ajmal and Muttiah Muralitharan before him?

The issue is that chucking is one of those things that people consider against that Spirit of the game stuff. 'Spirit' often rears its head, and whenever it does all it gives us is a complete lack of perspective.

People compare chucking to any number of ills that are facing are game, just like when they say cricket will no longer exist if people don't walk.

Over the years the game has undergone any number of changes. There has been an improvement in bats, the covering of pitches, a reduction in the size of boundaries and the move to front foot no balls. Every single one of them have favoured the batsman. When you have top edges flying over the boundary for six runs you know how the cliche about it being a game for the batters came about.

If it were someone throwing the ball has hard as they could at the stumps like a New York Yankee you could understand the outrage. If it is a bowler having a relatively small degree of flex in his arm to make the game more of a challenge, perhaps that is a good thing.

Just as with the no ball law relating to the height of delivery differing for slow and quick bowlers, perhaps the answer is to have different tolerance limit depending on the type of the bowler. This was the case in the past, although it was the quicker men that had a greater permissible degree of flex.

The change in rules to increase the amount your elbow could straighten came relatively recently. In 2003 the limit of flex allowed for bowlers was increased to 15 degrees following extensive testing of hundreds of bowlers found that it was common to have that level of straightening of the elbow.

The allegation that is levelled is often that the rule was changed to allow Muralitharan to escape censure. Perhaps his action instigated the change, but with the introduction of the Doosra to the world by Saqlain Mushtaq there would be many more that would have fallen foul of the draconian laws that existed before 2003.

Cricket is about entertainment, it is not about upholding the traditions of the past. It was once considered ungentlemanly to hit the ball into the leg side. Now we have switch hits, Dilscoops and any other number of advances in batting techniques and styles. Why then can't the way a bowler delivers the ball adapt in a similar way?

Here in the UK we have an orthodoxy that permeates every level of our coaching structure. There is a reason why we don't have a Lasith Malinga, a Paul Adams or a Muttiah Muralitharan.

Maurice Holmes is the closest that England have had to someone doing something different. He possessed a non standard bowling action and was drummed out of the game without ever really getting a chance thanks to the stringent application of the throwing laws that we have in the English system. He doesn't play professional cricket now, and it is not as if England have a surplus of spin bowlers.

Even less have any mystery about them. It is all too important that a player fits the predetermined set of ideals of the coaches rather than nurturing the natural talent they possess.

In his excellent article on Kevin Pietersen, Nishant Joshi relates a story of a hugely talented spinner he met at Nottinghamshire trials. The kid was discarded because of 'a lack of fitness'. Why is there this fear of someone doing something different? Why are we so keen to have people fit a certain mould?

Perhaps the question shouldn't be 'does he chuck it?' A more sensible question is 'does it matter?'

<b>Peter Miller</b>