Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Chucking, deception and Saeed Ajmal

Okay, try this: grab a cricket ball, or if not a tennis ball, orange, apple or something like that. Space your index, middle and ring fingers across the widest part of its circumference so it fits snugly between them. Hold your arm up straight and look down an imaginary wicket. Rotate your wrist until the back of your hand is facing down the pitch and you can look up at your palm. Try and flick the ball from your fingers as if twisting a doorknob in a clockwise direction. Now imagine doing it all at speed as your arm swings up to the perpendicular as part of a bowling action.

This is the contortion required to produce the doosra, genius invention of Saqlain Mustaq. To deliver it accurately down the cut strip to an international batsman takes skill available only to the very few. Because the wrist is weakened by its rotation, the power to propel the ball at sufficient speed must come from the shoulder and the elbow. The rules allow a fifteen percent flexion to help.

Almost every bowler who has used the doosra has had problems with their action at some point: Shoaib Malik, Harbhajan, Murali, Botha, Ajmal. And almost every bowler who has used it has been thrilling to watch, and has contributed richly to the game. In Dubai, as Saeed Ajmal ran through England with some non-spinning spinners in an act of beauty, smoke and illusion, battle raged once more.

TV evidence was damning, especially in the heightened artificiality of super slo-mo. On Twitter, opinion polarised and there were two views: either Ajmal was chucking some deliveries, or anyone who thought Ajmal was chucking some deliveries was uptight, square, boring, had sour grapes. Both sides had cause for righteous indignation.

Yet there's no reason for the positions to be mutually exclusive. Even the hardline chuckers would not want to see Ajmal's artful brilliance removed from the game [well, Ian Bell might], and equally those being dismissive would not enjoy an unregulated free-for-all in which anyone can deliver the ball however they like.

The current laws have removed the stinging, career-ending public shame that once came with the accusation of throwing. Science has shown that human beings cannot, in fact, deliver a ball with an entirely straight arm, and the 15 degree rule reflects that.

What the tests can't do is make allowances for the nature of being human; the stress, tension, excitement and fear of executing fine motor skills under extreme pressure. Ajmal probably did exceed the limits on a couple of occasions - that's not an egregious sin. But neither was he trying to cheat.

Actions can change and deteriorate over time in the same way that a batsman's technique can alter and warp. There would be nothing wrong with calling in those who bowl that kind of spin every couple of years and testing their degree of flex, rather than waiting for the umpires to report them and becoming indignant over whether they do or whether they don't. That way, all of the rancor and whispers could stop.

Ultimately, spin bowling is about deception. On a first day wicket that wasn't really turning, Ajmal played with minds. The ball fizzed from his wrist with a scrambled seam, and it had done half of its work before it even pitched. That was his true victory, and we wouldn't want it lost to rumour, spite, television replays or anything else.

NB: Yes, spin freaks, there is another doosra method with the hand facing forward. This is not about that.

16 comments:

Abhishek Paul said...

Terrific blog. Just a point. You say: "Actions can change and deteriorate over time in the same way that a batsman's technique can alter and warp." The thing is the deterioration of a batsman's technique does not adversely affect the opposition. The deterioration of a bowler's action possibly can. Hence, if someone is chucking the ball, there is a legitimate case for protest for the offended party - isn't it ? I think this has been the stand taken by all those who outrage against chucking or perceived chucking. I have not seen this test on TV, so cannot comment on Ajmal.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the destructive part of the Ajmal performance is not so much the doosra - even though it did get Ian Bell twice - as the strange delay in his action, followed by the darting delivery. This is what makes the judgement of length impossible; it is simply different when he chucks it, arriving faster and bouncing less. I used to bowl these, before I knew better, long before the invention of the doosra

diogenes said...

from visual evidence, I would say that Harbajan is more of a chucker than Ajmal. just watch the way they deliver. Although Ajmal's arm does look grotesque at times, you don't see the jerk that you get from a harbajan delivery.

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Sean said...

Nope he is a chucker, nice try though. I am sure the boffins in Perth will in time prove this to be the case. cricket is not baseball!

The Pakistani cricket shirts have boom boom written on them. Is this sponsorship or a statement on the current situation in pureland.

Anonymous said...

Good article but one error. Bowlers do not get 15% of "flex". They are allowed to straighten the elbow upto 15 degrees.

Free bets said...

Saqlain Mustaq certainly could put plenty of spin on a cricket ball and i spent many happy hours watching him play cricket.

The Old Batsman said...

Anon - thank you

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Free bets said...

I think your spot on when you say "spin bowling is about deception",as that is what all the top quality spinners have in their armour!

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous then what if every one tries to bowl doosra who will be responsible cmone let's bring some sense its simple chucking

Pay per head wagering said...

I really do not know what happened to Ajmal, he was having a great season and then his performance was totally low and deficient