It Never Rains But It Pelts – Revisited

10th September 2014

Here is the article I wrote back in December when Shane Shillingford was the first alleged ‘chucker’ to be suspended. I think in the light of recent events it is worth revisiting now.

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

Shillingford’s Ban

19th December 2013

The rain may have come to deliver West Indies from defeat in the first Test against New Zealand, but the clouds circling the West Indian team included one that has specifically hovered over Shane Shillingford’s shoulder for some considerable time.

That cloud burst at the conclusion of the second Test Match in Wellington when the ICC’s biomechanical experts firmly stuck the boot in.

Shillingford (along with batsman team-mate, Marlon Samuels) was reported for a suspect action after the Dunedin game, and analysed by the boffins at the University of Western Australia. The results may well mark Perth as the graveyard of Shillingford’s career, a fortnight before being the site of the much-vaunted England team’s slaughter and cremation.

Reaction to the findings and suspension have led to a muted response from the players and staff of the West Indies team, and a cautious tone from the WICB. The off-spinner now faces an uncertain future, necessitating a remodelling of his action for a second time, and hours of remedial work if he aspires to a cricketing future. Pundits in the Caribbean, however, have not been in need of a spin doctor to pour scorn upon the decision.

On the recent Mason & Guests show former Leeward Islands seamer, Hugh Gore denounced the ban as “disgraceful”. Andy Roberts supported the condemnation of the ICC’s sentence; and yet the general dissatisfaction is not with the governing body’s verdict.

The point at issue is this: not that Shillingford should have been found ‘not guilty’, but that he has been found guilty of a crime the courts have been turning a convenient blind eye to ever since policeman-turned-umpire Ross Emerson ‘arrested’ Muttiah Muralitharan on Boxing Day in 1995.

Questionable actions like Muralitharan’s or Shillingford’s are nothing new of course. What has changed is that their encroachment into the game is no longer perceived as the great threat it was of yore.

The blight of chucking is as old as cricket itself. Yet let us be fair and remember that without the ‘revolutionaries’ of 1835, and again in 1864, we would not have got first round-arm, then over-arm bowling past luddites like old John Nyren and John Lillywhite – and accepted as a vital part of the game.

But that is not the ‘modern’ menace of the bent arm, which has reared its ugly limb intermittently for 150 years. Back in the 1880s and early 1900s it took an aristocrat with a detached overview of cricket to hold that no individual career was more important than the game itself. Lord Harris hounded bowlers like John Crossland, Arthur Mold and their ilk out of cricket.

All was quiet for 50-60 years until a new generation of pelters emerged, and after a year or two of deliberation, the authorities closed ranks and banished the likes of Meckiff, Griffin and Rorke, or shamed them into reinvention like Tony Lock.

Now, the ICC declares that scientifically everyone throws, and so gracefully permits a specified degree of latitude. It is no longer important whether or not an action looks wrong – only what the opinion is of the men in white coats. Sadly, those men are not the officials in the middle, but chaps in a laboratory somewhere in Australia.

“The ICC has legalised pelting,” Andy Roberts forcefully said. But Roberts did not challenge the assertion that Shillingford is a chucker. Former international umpire, John Holder voiced that reckoning of the Dominican only a few weeks previously on the same programme.

But in the context of an international sport in which many fans, former players and umpires have serious doubts about the fairness of delivery of numerous bowlers in the world game, to focus upon one man can, maybe mistakenly, appear like victimisation.

I entirely agree with Andy Roberts. Throwing has become a decriminalised offence, exacerbated by taking the judgement out of the hands of the umpires.

The law itself states (I reproduce the relevant extracts only):

Law 24: No-ball

2. Fair Delivery – the arm

For a delivery to be fair in respect of the arm the ball must not be thrown. See 3 below.

2. (a) If, in the opinion of either umpire, the ball has been thrown, he shall:

(i) Call and signal “No-ball”.

3. Definition of fair delivery – the arm

A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm, if once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.

The law gives a clear definition of what is a fair delivery, yet does not give us a definition of an unfair one, i.e. a throw. Thus, the key part of the law is actually part 2.a) and its corollary, 2.a)(i). Hence:

“If in the OPINION of either umpire, the ball has been thrown, he SHALL call and signal “No-ball”.

My interpretation of this is that if an umpire is not entirely satisfied that a delivery is fair, then it is, de facto, unfair, and it is his duty to call it as such. In effect, if it might be a throw, it is a throw. This is merely my take on this passage of course – and I would be fascinated to hear John Holder’s opinion.

The emphasis therefore is very much on how an action looks. This is the way it always was. And it is no coincidence that most of the questionable actions in history have been delivered by an arm in a long-sleeved shirt. One of the more intelligent and innovative ideas I heard recently was the suggestion that short sleeves be made mandatory for bowlers for just this reason. Not a solution, but a useful indicator.

The fact remains, that the ICC has effectively removed implementation of this law from the umpires’ arsenal, and the international game is all the weaker for it.

The upshot is basically a chuckers’ charter, and the fifteen degrees of extension allowance is a loop-hole which has not only given throwing legitimacy, but has shifted the responsibility of policing the issue away from the on-field arbiters. The accused are now put on trial before judges who sit in a High Court in Perth, and when found guilty are not given recourse to a court of appeal.

Don Marshall called upon the WICB to challenge the findings of Shillingford’s biometric test. While I agree with him there should be a right of reply, I doubt the WICB has either the financial resource, or stomach to pick a fight with the ICC.

A response in support of Shillingford via the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association was a further suggestion from Dr Marshall, which also had some validity. However, FICA’s sphere of influence is limited, and has seemingly decreased since the well-publicised departure of Tim May and his replacement by Laxman Sivaramakrishnan on the ICC Cricket Committee. It is therefore ironic that Sivaramakrishnan’s ascension at May’s expense was alleged to have been aided by the transference of votes by some international cricket captains on behalf of their boards at the behest of the BCCI. Those captains included Darren Sammy.

So is the UWA trial a better justice system? Yes it is. What is inconsistent though is the leniency towards many suspected felons.

“To single out Shillingford is unfair,” Hugh Gore said.

Shillingford was previously banned for a suspect action between December 2010 and June 2011, and his doosra has long been beheld with suspicion – but then ALL doosras are. Former Australian Test off-spinner, Ashley Mallet believes all doosras are by nature a chuck, and need to be outlawed.

The problem, as Andy Roberts contended, is that the ICC, heavily weighted by the Asian bloc countries, allow many bowlers, especially spinners, to “get away with it” – and to carry on pelting unchallenged. Players from nations with weaker administrations are prosecuted, while those from countries with what Roberts describes as “boards with more clout” are more likely to be indulged when bunging down bombs or chucking darts.

This view reflects the general feeling in the Caribbean. This may smack of conspiracy theory, but it is an understandable reaction from a cricketing community which feels as though it has received a slap in the face, when other miscreants don’t even merit a slap on the wrist.

Roland Butcher wondered whether the WICB had been remiss in not addressing doubts about Shillingford’s action before it came to this? My own impression is that not only has the WICB not got the facility to accurately gauge the exact degree of extension of any bowler, but that it doesn’t feel it is its responsibility. By having a fifteen degree of allowance the onus of endorsing a bowling action or condemning it has shifted to the ICC and away from national governing bodies.

From my traditionalists’ vantage point, while I feel genuinely sorry for Shane Shillingford, this whole saga is not ultimately about him, but about throwing, and about cricket. The current environment is one in which cheats can prosper and innocent, or at the very least, naive men are made scapegoats, while an integral part of our game’s essence is being eroded.

This situation leaves many of us with a sense of frustration and anger. Frustrated that cricket has allowed this evil to insinuate itself again, and angry that the guardianship of the game is in the hands of men with crooked arms, and of suspect actions.

Where is our Lord Harris to protect us now?

David Oram

 

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