When asked by McGrath why he was so fat, Eddo Brandes famously replied, "cos every time I f**k your wife she gives me a biscuit!" That was enough to take the wind out of the bowler’s sails.
In the good old days, there was one other accusation that had a similar impact on a bowler’s morale – you called him a chucker!
But that is no longer the case. Chucking is now cricket's equivalent of Florida’s hanging chad. A literal and political no-ball. It doesn’t count. Of course, it allows you to take an expense paid trip to Western Australia for a review by a 'biomechanics' expert. Once you return, you bowl just like you used to until they write you up again, and again...
Arre chuck de!
This week, Harbhajan "Turbanator" Singh was called by match referee Chris Broad for suspicious bowling action yet again during the second test against Pakistan.
Back in 1998, he was forced to undergo remedial work in London where former England off-spinner Fred Titmus helped him remodel his action.
In 2004, he signed up for some biomechanics help from Bruce Elliot in Australia after being reported during the match against Bangadesh in Chittagong. So this is the third time he is being reported for 'suspicious bowling' in his career spanning 44 tests.
Soon after the match against Bangladesh, Dubai-based 'Gulf News' quoted Harbhajan Singh as saying he was surprised as to how Match Referee Chris Broad was sure he straightened his arm more than 15 degrees.
"First tell me how Match Referee Chris Broad was so sure that I was violating the 15-degree barrier? Can it be measured by the naked eye," Harbhajan said.
"I did meet (Broad). And he repeatedly said one thing: 'I think ... I think.' So I asked him, "why do you keep saying that you think?"
Before we spend any more time on the merits of his argument, here are some facts. It was reported in the press that Harbhajan's elbow-flexion during that Chittagong match was 22 degrees.
Of course, at the time of the Chittagong match, 5 degrees was still the acceptable limit. And the biomechanics expert who Harbhajan consulted upon the recommendation of BCCI supposedly reported that the Turbanator’s doosra was roughly 12 degrees.
Of course, that was then. As of March 1, 2005, ICC passed a rule allowing bowlers to straighten the arm by up to 15 degrees. So what was illegal then is completely legal now!
So it is all a moot point. To a degree!
Squeezing a lemon! Bent arms are OK. It is all about the degrees!
Extensive research into the biomechanics of bowling over the past four years has revealed that almost every bowler straightens his arm before letting go of the ball.
Legendary Indian off-spinner Erapalli Prasanna once told an Indian newspaper that it is impossible for a spinner like Harbhajan Singh to bowl the 'doosra' with a clean action.
"Bowling off-spin is like squeezing a lemon and you can't do that with a loose wrist, can you? That's where the fault lies because when a bowler bowls long spells, he gets tired and can't pitch it at a good length," says Prasanna, who was once part of the International Cricket Council's Illegal Deliveries Committee. "That's where some of them resort to using force from the elbow rather than the shoulder or the wrist. More so if he's bowling an away-going delivery."
"Harbhajan bowls it with a loose wrist which means he can neither impart any pace on the bowl nor can he pitch it on a good length. He can only do that if he uses force of a bent arm," Prasanna said. Hence, in theory, 15 degrees limitation allows the 'doosra' bowler to bowl better.
In November 2004, Angus Fraser wrote amusedly after being initiated into the science of flexion in Dubai - "What do Fred Trueman, Dennis Lillee, Curtly Ambrose, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, and Ian Botham - not to mention an old has-been called Angus Fraser - have in common? Apparently, we all spent our entire cricket careers breaking one of cricket's most fundamental laws: what constitutes a legal delivery."
Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, was reported to have conceded that Harbhajan got all of his four wickets in the second test bowling his 'doosra'.
Woolmer is not surprised about the renewed attention on Harbhajan's action. He feels that anyone bowling a 'doosra' naturally invites attention. "To get your wrist in a position to bowl the 'doosra', some elbow has to be involved and under the current law, anyone who bowls it will come under scrutiny," Woolmer is supposed to have said. One of his players, Shoaib Malik, was also reported for the 'doosra' recently.
The fact of the matter is that the accusation seems not to bother anybody.
The Turbanator got 4 wickets in the decisive test – supposedly all to the 'doosra' weapon. He will still play in the third test. His coach Wright says he will continue bowling like he has bowled. No changes whatsoever.
Tell me again? What is the big deal about this rule about bent arms which, by definition, is bent every which way to accommodate the bowlers!
It is all political!
In March, when ICC passed a new rule that trebled the limit to 15 degrees for spinners, the Aussies protested loudly. In fact, Australia's spinning coach, Terry Jenner, was quoted in press as saying that the change was definitely 'a political' move. He was not alone.
Many felt that the rule was influenced by political and economic factors – the new 15 degree rule accommodated Murali and Harbhajan and allowed them to cast off the 'chucking' tag that plagued their careers. Murali's arm as you may recall came in at 14 degrees in a biomechanical study. And more recently, Harbhajan’s came in at 12 degrees. These guys had over 700 wickets against their name! It would be suicidal for ICC to now call them chuckers!
"I'm very happy the rule is in force," Muralitharan told The Sun-Herald when he was asked about the new rule. "Hopefully that will be the end of it. But you never know because people can see different angles." Harbhajan and coach John Wright were similarly optimistic.
Until Chris Broad reported Harbhajan for the second time this week, that is!
Umpires are not to blame!
One cannot blame the umpires here. After all, this rule is enshrined in the laws of cricket which they are sent to enforce. Chris Broad was merely doing his job and used his discretion to make a call.
Having to report two of the leading off-spinners in the sub-continent on the basis of an iffy rule is no fun!
Harbhajan may have a problem with Cris saying 'he thinks it exceeded the 15 degree barrier.' But that is what umpiring is all about.
Besides, what else is he expected to say? Just how is he expected to measure the flexion precisely by visual means?
Thankfully the ICC eliminated the 7.5 degree proposal for medium-pacers! It is hard enough to detect a 15 degree straightening without embedded geometric equipment in the eyes, can you imagine what that 0.5 degree would have led to!
Not only do the umpires have to measure the angle visually, they have to do it even as the bowler is moving and his arm turning. To further complicate matters, they have to try not to get distracted by some really funny dance moves that these spinners execute.
So naturally, Broad did the right thing! He was in doubt, so he wrote the bowler up! He had nothing to lose. And he may have known fully well that nothing meaningful may ever come out of it. Except perhaps some delayed scrutiny. That was the whole idea anyway.
When it comes to chucking, you also get into issues of political correctness and legal issues concerning medical disabilities! So you have to be careful when you apply these rules or you could invite a lawsuit!
At least two bowlers alleged to have chucked can also claim medical disability. Murali has a disability – experts say that his right arm is permanently flexed at 38 degrees. He cannot straighten his arm (see pictures). To add to that (more likely because of that), he also has a hyper-mobile wrist! Then there is Akhtar who, we are told, has hyper-mobile joints all over!
You cannot rule on a disabled person and suspend him from the sport, especially when he is playing to his strengths, but some concerned people are asking whether it is fair to have two sets of rules – especially when a handicap can be turned around and used as a strength.
This subject of humane consideration of medical disabilities is an oft-discussed topic in sports! It has been beaten to death in the game of golf and the courts pronounced their verdict by favoring the disabled sportsman some years ago. As a result, Casey Martin goes around in a cart while the others walk the course! Doesn't matter if Casey's handicap is seen as giving him an advantage in a tournament.
There are two schools of thought on chucking.
One is that the board should leave it to the bowler's ethics and his sense of sportsmanship. The proponents of this system are living in a world where people actually play for honor. The last time I checked, that was in 'the past!' In the days when cricketers played with a lot of white space on their shirts unused by brand endorsements! These days, they are willing to do strange things when the big guys aren’t watching.
The second argument, of course, is that there is all this great technology in a biomechanics lab that can be relied upon. We will come to that in a second.
With regards to using technology after the fact i.e. reviewing match tapes, the hole in this argument comes by way of physics – the crazy thing called optical illusion! Check the illustrations on this website if you don’t believe me. (http://www-ieem.ust.hk/dfaculty/ravi/cricket/cric_pics.html)
So what recourse is there, you ask?
For all the reasons specified above, ICC walks a tight-rope act when it comes to chucking. So the wise men at ICC have decided that the best thing to do, under the circumstances, is to send the bowler to a lab for an analysis of his action.
Within 21 days, Harbhajan is expected to work with a member of the Human Movement Specialists Panel. This involves filming of his action under lab conditions using opto-reflective techniques.
But don’t we all know that a lab is a lab. A bowler does not have the same pressure of taking wickets in a lab that he has when bowling under the watchful glare of a billion pairs of eyes. It is a foregone conclusion that (whatever merit there was in the suspicion) Harbhajan will be cleared of any wrongdoing regarding his action in the lab. He has done it before.
In the unlikely event that the Human Movement Specialist's report confirms that his action actually exceeds the permitted 15 degrees of straightening, then he will be suspended until he carries out 'remedial action to rectify his action to meet the ICC standard.' Again, no biggie! He had done that before too.
All of this means that the Turbanator will roll on and keep troubling unsuspecting batsmen with the occasional doosra! Just as it was meant to be.