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Is ICC targeting the usual suspects?

There is the feeling that the ICC needs to step out of the science lab and monitor what it clears on the cricket field as well

Is ICC targeting the usual suspects?
Saeed Ajmal and Erapali Prasanna

I remember the huge uproar, especially by a couple of former England captains, when in broken English Saeed Ajmal attempted to explain to an English commentator during a training session in the UAE that he bent the elbow only below 20 degrees which is what he believed the ICC allowed. The fact of the matter was that only 15 degrees was within the tolerance limit as it is today. It was quickly clarified that Ajmal meant that he was within 15 degrees and that he thought he had space for another 5 degrees that he thought was allowed.

Thankfully his less than reasonable command over the English language pressed forward the defense by PCB that he had ended up implying what he did not mean to say. Yes, it sounded funny but that indeed was the reason. This was accepted by the ICC who didn’t want to be proven incompetent on clearing him earlier, and the matter was closed.

Of course the hawks, especially from England, in their role as commentators and columnists were only temporarily assuaged. There is still the feeling among them that rules are being bent (no pun intended) and that the very concept of allowing for even 15 degrees is on thin ice.

The chapter appears to have been opened again in last week’s ICC Chief Executives meeting in Melbourne where India, England and Australia formally took control of the cricket world. It has been suggested that ICC reconsider its existing procedure for banning bowlers for suspect actions. There is the feeling that the ICC needs to step out of the science lab and monitor what it clears on the cricket field as well.

Admittedly they have a point. The bowler is aware that he has been reported and is being tested and straightens his arm in the control room. It’s a no-brainer. Bowlers at this level are easily able to spin the ball with a straighter action as much as they do on-field with a dubious one. They do that when the sensors are pasted all over their arm and around the elbow. But unless the test is carried out in real match conditions, they cannot be exonerated of the charge. The bowler bends his arm more out of desperation than ambition when he’s not getting the wickets; some of course do it out of greed from ball one but the crux of it is when the ball isn’t turning after a few overs.

Off spinners and those paceman who need added power to bowl the shorter ball faster at the batsman are more at risk of being targeted, compared to leg spinners and medium pacers. The ‘Doosra’ could make a rare appearance if at all, and for those who point out that legends like Jim Laker, Erapalli Prasanna  and Lance Gibbs did not need it for their high tally of victims, it has to be said that pitches up to the 70s were relatively more bowler friendly than today, and mis-hits from the thinner bats went more into the hands of the man at long on than into the stands, as they do now because of the lighter, thicker  and more curvy and springy bats with which even ordinary mortals beat the fielder at the on the edge of boundary.

More policing is therefore demanded when the suspects are freed to roam the fields. The question arises: how will the monitoring be managed? The square leg umpire is already the field policeman, but if a committee is to be formed that is fixated on the bowlers arm every ball, that is going to be an enormous task to achieve successfully and with consistency. Does ICC go in with a camera positioned at an angle that matches the line of sight of the square leg umpire watching the bowler turn his arm over? Or will there be soft sensors placed around the bowler’s elbow?  I would think that they could be wirelessly connected in the match referee’s room with monitoring equipment that is the same as in the lab. It’s an interesting scenario and not beyond the realm of technology, considering how far we’ve progressed in the 21st century and what’s already in the works.

The question that bothers me in the first option is whether it will be singularly watched ball to ball by the match referee, or whether there will be these three wise men who will vote on every ball. And if two out of three agree that the elbow has been bent beyond 15 degrees in their judgment, does the message go immediately to the on-field umpires? Or is it recorded for an evening review with the match referee?

In the second instance, will India agree to placement of wireless sensors, considering they are dead against innovations like DRS, which the rest of the cricketing boards have accepted but can’t force BCCI to use it in their games? The board that thinks it has more to lose either due to perceived bias or past record, can point that if DRS technology cannot be trusted, how can this one be?

Perhaps those balls which get the batsman out can be reviewed for bending of the elbow, as they are currently for no balls. But the fact remains who determines if the elbow was bent within the required limit. Perhaps technology is the final answer as I have suggested above; wireless sensors on bowlers elbow. Uncomfortable they will be but look a real possibility now.

Finally there is also the fear among the ‘other’ boards that the way the Big Three have been transferring power of final decision to themselves on matters like cricket corruption, will they also ask to be the final callers on who’s chucking and who’s not? If they do that, then clearly the rest of the boards will surely howl when their players are pointed out, especially when they feel those from the Big Three countries are equally or more questionable. It could well be that the ICC Executive Committee will end up becoming so controversial as to lose credibility among the ICC members.

Sohaib Alvi

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