Muralitharan in the clear as ICC revolutionises 'chucking' laws

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Muttiah Muralitharan, the world's leading spinner, has been given the all-clear to resume bowling his controversial "doosra" delivery under a contentious recommendation from a committee of the International Cricket Council.

Muttiah Muralitharan, the world's leading spinner, has been given the all-clear to resume bowling his controversial "doosra" delivery under a contentious recommendation from a committee of the International Cricket Council.

The committee (of which I was a member) has looked carefully into the issue of what does and does not constitute a legal delivery. Muralitharan's bowling has been one reason why the issue has been the subject of heated debate in recent years, but the committee's recommendation follows extensive research into all bowling at international and first-class level and applies to all bowlers.

The committee found that many much-admired current bowlers are "chuckers", that is bowling deliveries that are illegal under existing rules, these include Glenn McGrath, Shaun Pollock, Stephen Harmison and Allan Donald.

The suspicion also falls on many of cricket's all-time greats. Harold Larwood and Charlie Griffiths would have been two sure to catch the eye of a conscientious match referee.

As a result it has recommended a new rule be adopted allowing bowlers to straighten their bowling arms by up to 15 degrees. It replaces the existing rule, only introduced in 2001, which varied the amount of straightening allowed depending on the type of bowling. Spinners were restricted to five degrees.

Under the proposed new ruling almost all modern bowling actions would be legal, including Muralitharan's feared doosra. The rule change is expected to be endorsed by the chief executives of the 10 Test-playing countries next February, and would allow Muralitharan to resume playing in 2005.

Muralitharan's unique style of bowling has allowed him to take 532 wickets, and become the second-highest wicket taker in the history of Test cricket. But prior to yesterday's announcement, the ICC had advised the Sri Lankan bowler not to bowl his doosra, a deceptive delivery from an off-spinner which can spin viciously away from a right-handed batsman. The delivery is very difficult for batsmen to pick up and the legitimacy of this ball - which many feel cannot be bowled with a straight arm - was questioned by Chris Broad, an ICC match referee, when he reported the bowler for throwing at the end of his side's three Test series against Australia in March.

Subsequent tests, at a laboratory in Western Australia, showed that Muralitharan's elbow straightened by 14 degrees - nine degrees more than the current tolerance level for spinners - when bowling this delivery and the 32 year-old faced the prospect of a one-year ban from international cricket.

Many will feel this new ruling legitimises throwing - or "chucking" - but extensive research into the biomechanics of bowling during the past four years has revealed that almost every bowler in cricket straightens his arm before he lets go of the ball.

This means that if the law - which states: "A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowlers 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" - was adhered to strictly then virtually every bowler in the history of the game would have to be labelled as a chucker.

Further research took place during September's Champions' Trophy in England. Thirteen of the 23 bowlers filmed broke the current levels of tolerance introduced in 2001 - five degrees for spinners, seven and a half degrees for medium-pacers and 10 degrees for fast bowlers.

Despite all this the principles of the law remain sound and a failure to obey them would have a disastrous effect on the game; if throwing was legalised cricket could end up with baseball style pitchers standing by the stumps at the non-striker's end and pinging the ball down with all manner of unpredictable movement and pace.

But the realisation that most bowling actions are not pure, and the ability of television cameras to monitor almost every movement a bowler makes as his arm comes over, has forced cricket to amend its regulations at the highest level.

Technology, however, will not be used to initially trap a bowler with a dubious action. Umpires and match referees, the two sets of officials who can report throwers, will be able to call on television to check a dodgy action, but the starting point of their questioning is the naked eye, which can only pick up movement at around the 15 degree mark.

Yet bowlers will not have it all their own way. The ICC also intends to push ahead with proposals that will streamline the process of catching chuckers. The new system would also come with heavier punishments. Once reported a bowler would have to attend a laboratory for testing as soon as possible, even if it means he misses a Test match.

The probationary period - the time a reported player must spend without being accused of throwing for a second time - has also been increased from one to two years, and should a player fail a laboratory test for a second time during this spell he will be banned from international cricket for a year.

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