Muralitharan seeks to rebuild his reputation in deepest Hertfordshire
Saturday 03 July 2004
He is not quite
The Man in the Iron Mask, but this week Muttiah Muralitharan became the off spinner in the steel brace as he set out to prove once and for all, to the cricketing public at least, that he is not a "chucker".
He is not quite The Man in the Iron Mask, but this week Muttiah Muralitharan became the off spinner in the steel brace as he set out to prove once and for all, to the cricketing public at least, that he is not a "chucker".
While his Sri Lanka team-mates tackle Australia Down Under, the off-spinner and world record Test wicket taker Muralitharan is living life as a temporary Test outcast.
His "doosra", the magic ball which behaves like a leg break when bowled with an off-break action has been outlawed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Muralitharan understandably feels it is wiser not to play Test cricket when a key element of his armoury has been spiked, although he intends playing in the series against South Africa next month.
"The doosra is my weapon," explained the 32-year-old, who has claimed 527 Test victims at a shade over 22 runs per wicket. "I feel angry that they have taken it away. It is like telling a fast bowler he cannot bowl a bouncer. When a batsman does not fear the bouncer he has an advantage."
The root of the problem lies in the fact that Murali cannot straighten his right arm and there is consequently more flexion at the elbow when he propels the ball.
It is this flexion which has caused him to be "called for chucking" twice by umpires, labelled a chucker by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and to be reported by a match referee in the recent home series against Australia, when former England opener Chris Broad expressed his uneasiness over the doosra. This prompted the ICC to ban Murali from using the delivery. As a result, he has taken himself out of the Test arena.
This week Murali turned up at Shenley Cricket Centre in Hertfordshire and demonstrated that flexion plays no part in imparting spin when he bowls either doosra or orthodox off-breaks. He bowled in a turf net at a competent club cricketer, first without the brace, to show much turn he generates normally, then with the impediment, which weighed a distracting 1lb.
The device, the inspiration of an Indian doctor and comprising three steel bars wrapped in nylon (a new one of moulded resin is being made for him in Sri Lanka) was strapped across his elbow, thus rendering the joint immovable. Flexion, if there was any at all, when turning his arm over, was minimal.
Initially he found it awkward, but after a dozen or so deliveries he became less aware of the handicap and generated his habitual prodigious turn to his off-spin and more importantly to impart significant deviation to his doosra.
While Murali accepts the brace is not scientific, at least when he is wearing it and it immobilises the elbow, it proves that it is his shoulder which supplies his pace and his wrist which imparts spin, and that flexion does not play any part in his action.
When Murali was scrutinised in laboratory conditions at the University of Western Australia under Professor Bruce Elliott, 12 cameras were set up to monitor every part of the bowler during delivery. Markers were placed on his elbow, wrist, shoulder, hips, and head to measure flexion and extension. Murali was found to have 14 degrees of flexion. Intense work with biomechanics and coaches has reduced that to 10 degrees. And this is the crux of the issue, because the ICC in its infinite wisdom, has decreed that there should be tolerance levels for flexion in bowlers and came up with a neat trio of figures for bowlers of different speeds - 10 degrees for fast bowlers, 7.5 degrees for medium pacers, and 5 degrees for slow bowlers.
"People say I have an unfair advantage which has brought me success," Murali said. "I was born like this. People are born with all sorts of physical differences which allow them to do things that other people cannot. That is how it is for me, so I am gifted in a way; people cannot copy me or bowl like me. And there are other bowlers around whose physical attributes mean they cannot be imitated. Paul Adams of South Africa is one. And there will be more players with 'abnormal' physical attributes in the future.
"Cricket should accommodate everyone, all physical types and variations, rather than keeping it a game for 'normal people' and making everyone conform to what they perceive as 'normal'. If everyone who plays the game is physically the same or has to conform to rigid ways of playing it then it will become a very boring game."
To this end, Murali wants to see justice done. "If other spin bowlers were tested in laboratory conditions, they would be found to have a similar flex to mine, or possibly greater.
"It seems to me there is one rule for Murali and another rule for everyone else. We should all play by the same rules in cricket. Every bowler should be granted the same tolerance level."
The ICC did come close to acknowledging that point last year when David Richardson, the ICC's technical manager, recommended an across-the-board figure of 15 degrees for all bowlers, because it has been accepted scientifically that the human eye cannot discern flexion below that figure, but the recommendation was not adopted, following research carried out by Marc Portus, Cricket Australia's biomechanical scientist.
Murali added: "They talk of tolerances, 10 degrees for fast bowlers and so on, but what happens when a fast bowler sends down a slower ball with the same action, that is to say with 10 degrees of flexion? "It has been proved scientifically that my arm speed is quicker than that of Shabbir Ahmed, who bowls at about 84-85 mph on average [Murali's speed is relatively slow ranging between 47 mph and 54 mph], and they say Shane Warne's arm speed is quicker than Glenn McGrath's."
He cited the example of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, the Indian right-arm leg spinner, whose arm speed was one of the features of his action. "Sometimes he bowled at 80 to 90 miles an hour. It has to be accepted that different people bowl differently." Significantly, Chandra's bowling arm had been withered by polio, yet he claimed almost 250 Test wickets - in the field he threw with his left arm.
"I would like to see every bowler tested in the same way that I have been, in 3D, in a scientific environment, then the authorities should collate all the results and decide on a standard tolerance level that would apply evenly across the board and encompass every bowler, fast, medium and slow."
Murali has been taking legal advice on the ban on his doosra from a leading London lawyer, with reference to the question of what is an acceptable, or normal, degree of flexion.
Meanwhile Murali, who will continue to play in one-day internationals - the Asia Cup is just two weeks away - is left kicking his heels, awaiting developments, bored, fed up, but determined to battle to get the whole issue revised.
"People say cricket is a gentleman's game," he concluded, "but I think at the moment it is not a gentleman's game at all."
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