Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fiddler's Elbow

I'll admit up front that posting an article now, in April 2007, about Muralitharan and chucking allegations is rather like turning up at a party at the same time as the host is ushering the last guests out of the front door, everyone is saying what a fantastic time they had, whilst the local dustmen are emptying a skip in the front garden full of empty Red Stripe cans and there's a bucket in the corner overflowing with discarded roaches.

The wonderful 'After Grog Blog' for example has covered the issue in obsessive depth - their admission not my accusation, over the past four years. (Link here) It's well worth setting aside half an hour or so, unzipping a cold one and read the whole thing - starting from the bottom. Tis a fascinating story!

Additionally, if you do a quick Google search, you'll find any number of commentators and analysts have had their say - from the sublime (Gideon Haigh) to the ridiculous (Paul Allot)

Why write this now? Why pick at a running sore that might well have all but healed up over the past year or so since the ICC delivered their 'final' judgment on the legitimacy of Murali's action? Well, one reason is that we're coming close to the conclusion of the 2007 World Cup, and Sri Lankas chances of lifting the trophy would appear to stand or fall on the performance of a player, very much in the spotlight, whom over half the cricketing world believe is cheating.

Secondly, whilst there's a certain amount of vicarious pleasure in watching the baggy green tie themselves in psychological knots facing Murali you'd like to think that Sri Lanka could win fairly - but I don't honestly think they can.

Thirdly, and this is the clincher, I suddenly realised last night whilst watching New Zealand batsmen groping blindly at what was apparently a live hand-grenade being lobbed at them that I can spot the doosra! Normally after some careful watching it's possible to spot most bowlers variations - either one delivery is tossed up higher, or there's a different hand or wrist movement, but in Murali's case the difference between his orthodox off break and the doosra is so blatant it's extraordinary. Why is it so blatant? Because the arm is SO bent in delivery.

But apparently anyone thinking that is mistaken - and the bend in the arm is, according to the ICC, an 'optical illusion'. Well, if you haven't done so already go back to the After Grog Blog link and scroll down to a picture of Murali in his delivery stride.... To quote Jim Royal - "optical illusion, my arse"

The most recent ICC report, after the big investigation following Chris Broad's dramatic intervention in 2004 when he reported Murali's action to the ICC, gave a leeway 15 degrees within which bowlers should operate. Well, that picture suggests a bend of more like 15 degrees times 4.

(Incidentally, someone has suggested that Chris Broad's action might make life difficult for his son Stuart, when he comes up against Sri Lanka in the future. I'm sure they might have the odd pithy comment ready for him, but judging by what I've seen of Broad Junior so far, I suspect his response will be along the lines of 'does my face look bovvered?')

For years the 'one that goes the other way' has been holy grail for off spinners. In these days of covered wickets essentially their role has been defensive - movement away was normally 'drift' (almost away-swing) rather than turn. Saqlain and his 'doosra' changed all that and Murali has subsequently taken it to a whole new dimension.

Much of the recent debate has been shot through the prism of the Warne vs Murali debate and I think you can explain some of the Australian hostility by the fact that it's their hero who is seeing his records broken. The same thing happened in baseball - Roger Maris received so much abuse from New York Yankee fans for having the temerity to break Babe Ruth's single season Home Run record that all his hair fell out and he moved to another team for less money for the sake of his sanity and health. In the same way, Hank Aaron didn't exactly make himself popular by beating The Babe's all time Home Run record - but there were massive racial undertones to a lot of that.

To put it in a nutshell - Warne is one of the best things to happen to cricket in the past fifty years, Murali isn't. it's like comparing a ten pound note and an eleven pound note. The latter looks worth more on the face of it - but it's bogus.

Going back to the action for the doosra, try this test out yourself in your back garden. keeping your arm straight, try flicking your wrist (make sure you're holding a cricket ball - the neighbours might start talking, and you could get a visit from Dibble otherwise) and throw the ball underarm down the garden - now flick the arm from the elbow. The difference you can get in terms of dip and spin is amazing - the sky's the limit.

Now think about release points - For your average bowler, it's above your head -roughly where your arm brushes your ear - or if you're Malinga, where your arm wraps itself round the umpires waist. Obviously there'll be some fine tweaking to adjust length. With Murali the release point is way in front of his head, if you've got a straight arm its on the way down. It's physically impossible to do that and not have the ball land about three yards in front of you... unless of course your elbow is bent and you're propelling the ball out rather than simply releasing it.

For the sake of balance, here's a link to a Cricinfo article which comes down firmly on the SriLankans side in the Warne/Murali debate. Now, Cricinfo do a sterling job - but there's a huge elephant in the room in this article, and the author does himself no favours with the sarcastic, and ridculous comment that 'critics such as Botham and Holding turned on a dime and accepted 'new definition of a legal delivery 15 degrees' Erm, yes, well they probably did - 15 degrees makes sense for 99.9% of bowlers, but go back AGAIN and have another look at that picture. What the ICC effectively did by coming up with the 15 degrees rule was the brand every bowler in history a 'chucker' - including Lillee, Lindwall, Trueman, Pollock.. and, yes, Botham and Holding.

For more balance - here's another link, this one to a BBC article which compares Warne and Murali and comes down on the side of the 'Kandy' man. Extraordinarily, Adnan Nawaz (whoever he is) deals with the 'throwing' controversy by totally and utterly ignoring it - not even a reference in passing. He does use the expression 'con artist' - but then suggests that both bowlers are equally culpable. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing nonsense like that to be published under its banner.


Tony.T said...

Very true on the Doosra, Mark. Sitting there watching the Sri Lanka New Zealand game it surprised me how easy it is to pick the doosra. It's just so different. And of course by different, I mean even more chucky than his offie.

You're also spot on about the elephant in the room. The media coverage of any game involving Murali is deceitful to the point of putrid. The lengths on-air people and production staff go to to avoid drawing attention to the Chucker is simply staggering.

Murali's very presence in the game is a toxic disgrace.

On a partial tangent. Both you and I are big fans of Athers, but I was a bit disappointed with him during that SL/NZ game.

Oram was C&B by Murali in an incident which had Murali diving across in front of the umpire and getting his right hand to the ball but the ball spilled out and into his left hand.

That was the accepted order of events.

I'd swear the ball spilled onto the ground before Murali scooped it up, but I accept you couldn't tell for sure. Athers, though, took an age and numerous hi-res replays before he conceded the same.

Still, I did note a certain circumspection in his tone; it's just that he seemed reluctant to come right out and say it mightn't have been a catch.

It's a smallish criticism, but it pertinent in light of the coverage's reluctance to criticise anything to do with Murali.

I'm all but certain commentators, as opposed to journalists, are told not to draw attention to this blight on the game for fear of jeopardizing their employment and/or the broadcaster's rights.

Tony.T said...

Oh, and by the way.

Whenever anyone cites "all those other chuckers" Lillee, Trueman, Pollock, etc, ask them if you can see the research.

If they say 99% of bowlers chucked, they ought to prove it. Show us the research.

Mark said...

If anything the biggest culprit was (ironically) Oram for walking and not letting the umpires make the call.

Can't blame Murali for claiming the catch because you just don't know in those circumstances whether it's clean or not - so you're within your rights to claim it and let the camera decide.

Not sure why Athers soft-pedalled it... myabe because Oram walked he didn't think it was worth raising as a big issue.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Mark.

There is some hostility to Murali for base reasons, but people like Tony and myself bang on this drum for a good reason. If the fans don't speak out, no one will.