Home Thoughts, From Abroad: Farewell Hawkes Bay

Time to leave Te Mata and the beautiful Coleraine to the relief of readers.

In his comment to the previous post, the ever thoughtful Backwatersman linked to a film shot in 1902 of the Lancashire captain A.N. (Monkey) Hornby batting in a net against Arthur Mold in an attempt to prove that accusations that Arthur threw the ball were unfounded.

It should remind cricket lovers that there was a period at the end of the C19th and start of the C20th when the ‘authorities’ had allowed throwing to become endemic in the game – including among the untouchables (the so-called amateurs) like C.B. Fry. 

Hornby did his best to protect his old trooper and, in the propaganda war, seized on new technology to help him. The game was subsequently ‘cleansed’. Mold was removed.

To borrow BWM’s reflection and transplant it to the those earlier times, it may be that this up-swell in the use of the throw came as a response to the improvement in batting technique and performance led by W.G. Grace’s innovations. 

The determination of the authorities to ‘outlaw’ the chuckers perhaps had to wait until there was a general sense that the ball had moved into the ascendency – a kind of Kondratiev Wave  operating through cricket.

Because in modern times the (redesigned and unpressed) bat has enjoyed a period of ascendency, there is no palpable call for action that would further aid the bat by restrictions on the bowlers’ present freedoms.

Until there is a device to measure changes in the rate of elbow joint extension the game is left only with the lab, with all its limitations and secrecy. 

Today’s Hornby and Harris won’t be inviting the cameras in there.  As batting reached a zenith bowlers were helped to ascend from their nadir.  How did it happen this time?

This then is the view from Down at Third Man:

The exception that provided the rule.

The story starts with the never to be forgotten Murali, no matter that in many facets he was a genuine exception, he was to provide the justification for the new rule. 

Murali was able to bowl with limited extension.  Lay observers can take the film of him operating in the plaster cast as significant proof of this. 

His physical abnormalities gave him two advantages.  The arm that could not straighten meant that he had a naturally large distance between the wrist and the axis of rotation of the humerus. This permitted an exceptionally strong wrist flick.  The use of this strength enhanced the flexibility of his wrist, further increasing the force and therefore the number of rotations he could put on the ball.

Bowlers who have mimicked this technique (without the abnormality) have had to sacrifice some height at the point of delivery.   Not so Murali, because the second abnormality, the one in his shoulder, meant that he was able to keep both the height of the arm and the distance of the wrist from the axis.  Ajmal has to bowl with his head lent to the left so that the arm can be upright (except for his new delivery).  Not so Murali. 

This gave the Sri Lankan bounce, more options on wrist position and heavily revved top spin as a variation to the zipping off-spin.

These abnormalities also helped him when he began to explore the possibilities of Saqlain Mushtaq’s ‘other one’ or ‘doosra’, which he came to bowl even better than the master.

TM believes that at this point in history it is with little profit to speculate whether Murali, on the field of play, used any further elbow extension within or in excess of 15 degrees. 

The important point is that he could put on the extra revs and bowl the doosra  without recourse to extra flex and extension prior to and through release of the ball.  (See yesterday’s post for how this technique from throwing increases ball speed and revs.)

Two further developments then occurred. 

First other offspin bowlers searched for ways of bowling the ‘other one’ without having either of Murali’s anomalies.   They achieved it by using a flexed elbow.  That is by imitating the first anomaly of Murali.  But without the shoulder anomaly they could only do so by sacrificing height or balance. 

It must have been tempting for them consciously or unconsciously to compensate for this by increasing the extension prior to and through the delivery.  At first trial and error would have led them to these developments. Later knowledge of biomechanical principles will have guided them.

Second, the authorities were stung by the ‘appearance’ of Murali’s deliveries (and the apparent throwing by bowlers such as Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar) into researching these actions and turned to the biomechanic experts for help.

The biomechanics found  in lab conditions at least 20-25% of elite bowlers were flexing and then extending by amounts up to 15 degrees.  To keep these bowlers ‘legitimate’ they set the bar at 15 or fewer degrees of extension, arguing that, as all these elite bowlers’ were considered to have lawful actions, any limit had to be set at a point which did not outlaw them. 

In response to criticism by Martin Crowe in his 2006 Cowdrey Lecture, the  ICC general manager Dave Richardson stated that the scientific evidence presented by biomechanists Professor Bruce Elliot, Dr Paul Hurrion and Mr Marc Portuswith was overwhelming and clarified that, “Some bowlers, even those not suspected of having flawed actions, were found likely to be straightening their arms by 11 or 12 degrees. And at the same time, some bowlers that may appear to be throwing may be hyper-extending or bowl with permanently bent elbows. Under a strict interpretation of the law, they were breaking the rules – but if we ruled out every bowler that did that then there would be no bowlers left.”

But the biomechanics advisers had by that time also pointed to a practice whereby certain bowlers (who had elbow extension factors of less than 15 degrees) were going into their actions with heavily flexed elbows and starting the extension of this joint late in the action, just before release, but carrying on the extension after release, as would someone throwing an object. 

The ICC had also been told that this kind of rotation of the humerus brought about by throwing techniques made possible the ‘back of the hand’ spin from leg to off (the dousra). 

With an elbow extension limited to 5 degree (as it was originally set by the ICC) Murali could bowl the doosra.  He didn’t need 15 degrees.  

But the exception had provided the rule and, by increasing the limit, the ICC made it possible to use throwing mechanics for all types of bowling without breaking the 15 degree barrier and without the technology to identify and prevent the use of those techniques.  That is where the game stands with throwing techniques legalized.

The Point of Inflexion

Either cricket will have to wait and then like Hornby seize a new piece of technology (fitted to a bowler’s arm) or …  with the advanced commoditization of cricket, to wait for its consumers to tire of the present model.  At which moment those who make their livelihood from the game will suddenly agree the need for action.

Meanwhile Ajmal awaits England on the morrow.  Though there seems enough turn for all the Pakistan spinners to run amok.

“And the co-ordinates Sir? ”

“Home or Abu Dhabi or Adelaide?  Time is our oyster, Third Man.”

“Anywhere but this point in time.”

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Home Thoughts, From Abroad: Farewell Hawkes Bay

  1. diogenes

    I watched Ajmal this morning and Hafeez. Ajmal is very interesting, There are a couple of deliveries where the “behind-the-arm” camera looks grotesque and there is surely more than 15 degrees of flex happening. The side views tend to suggest that nothing is amiss. I wonder what the view from square leg or point, where umpires used to go to adjudge legality, would show. Certainly, the doosra and the faster ball look very odd from behind. I am also not enamoured of Hafeez’s action, despite the fact that he does not bowl doosras. But most of his deliveries look ok – it is just the occasional one that makes you think you are watching darts.

    In truth, it is not something for the naked eye to judge. There ought to be a device to attach to bowlers’ arms that permits a certain degree of flex and no more.

    • growltiger

      The logical point to despair of the current situation was reached today when Ramiz Raja stated, in all seriousness, that until the advent of the doosra, off spin bowling had been purely defensive, with no attack potential. Now, however, the role of the off-spinner has been revolutionised….

      Things will only change if Ajmal or some other similar performer proves consistently too destructive, in circumstances where normal spinners are not taking wickets. Dubai was a Swallow, rather than a Summer. So far, in Abu Dhabi, Ajmal has been less threatening, and the prosaic (but orthodox) Rehman more effective. This adjustment of the mixture can hold controversy at bay for some time.

      I believe that C.B.Fry, when called by Umpire Phillips, offered to bowl in splints, and had to be restrained from doing so. Unlike Murali, it seems unlikely that Ajmal would be able to make a similar offer.

      • It would have been interesting to know the number of doosras bowled by Ajmal in this match and to compare it to the number per 100 deliveries bowled in the first Test. It looked to have been far fewer. Also, how many of the round the wicket low arm ‘new’ delivery did he try? Again, it was not as evident.

        The extent of the flex prior to extension was noticeably far less pronounced. Hence the fact that he had to search much harder to find the ‘right’ speed to bowl on this wicket, which given the reduced ‘modernity’ of the action in this match may have had to be slower. ie more conventional.

        The conclusion must be that Ajmal was on alert either because of direct intervention by umpires through the referee or because he knew he was ‘on watch’.

    • This is a reply to the first comment by Diogenes – for some reason WordPress is not letting in immediately below that comment.

      Diogenes, Hafeez is also a ‘modern’ bowler. He is too is using the technique of rapid extension just prior to and through the delivery of the ball. It has an unmistakable look. It is, though, a matter of extent as well. And that will depend of the off-field vigilance of the referee and the umpires. See comment below.

  2. diogenes

    if ICC insist on an angle of flex, then theyn should be able to enforce it….where are the journos on that simple matter?

    • Boycott’s diatribe yesterdayy was to the effect that the ICC has allowed 15 degrees, so shut up and get on with playing it. He applauded England’s players for not making a fuss but did adminish Flowers for his remarks – which of course spoke volumes.
      However, the fuss has had some effect. See comment below.

  3. This wicket’s nature appears to give good turn to conventional spin bowling. Perhaps the optimum speed that it requires for turn favours the conventional or tradition ‘bowling’ rather than the ‘modern’ technique.

    It was good to see Lyons taking three wickets in Adelaide.

    27th January 2012 – a big day for the traditionalists? Not as significant as it might have been.

    England’s four wickets went to balls bowled at 91.2kph (Panesar), 86.1 kph (Swann), 93.2kph (P), 89.9kph (P). That is quite quick and might have been a reaction to the first Test in which Pakistan’s spin speed surprised England’s thinking and preparations.

    • growltiger

      Although the four second innings wickets fell to quicker balls, they were all delivered with the delightfully traditional actions of the two England spinners. It is such a pleasure to see an orthodox left armer and off-break bowler operating together, each of them threatening both edges of the bat by the perfectly sufficient method of not always giving the ball maximum revs (and sometimes scrambling the seam).

      I agree, TM, that Ajmal seems to have been more cautious in his method this match, and that Hafeez also bowls darts.

  4. diogenes

    I’m glad that the bowlers outbowled the chuckers this time around – Panesar and Rehman were magnificent. It was a slow-turner without a lot of bounce, so it favoured a bowler with a heavy delivery, and both of the left-armers are in that mould. On the England tour of India in 1984-85, Pat Pocock, a slow flighty off-spinner, would often try to speed up his action to try to compensate for the sluggish bounce, while Edmonds relied on bowling a heavy ball. The technique of the English batsmen was, however, abject. Pietersen played down completely the wrong line, for instance. A number of Ajmal’s wickets came from getting the ball to skid through low – a lethal delivery to someone hovering half-cock on the crease. I wonder what Tom Graveney would have made of it.

  5. growltiger

    Quite right, Diogenes. Except that the line Pietersen played down would only have been right if Rehman had delivered the ball from over the wicket. Not for the first time against left-arm round, his bat moved on a diagonal from 2nd slip to mid on, and missed. This is schoolboy stuff.

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