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July 24, 2000


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Action reaction

Harsha Bhogle

If the ICC were a man, what would he look like?

My vote would go to an old man, in tattered leather overalls, with a WG Grace kind of beard; gray and flowing, the kind you could tuck into a belt tied almost chest high. In fact my ICC man would look a lot like the old WG, without the doctor’s arrogance, a kind of well fed Rip van Winkle.

And like the man in the legend, the ICC goes to sleep from time to time. Like they did with Brett Lee, reported in March, sentenced in July! Either the ICC is terribly inefficient, and there is fair evidence that it is at best an inertial body, or it is trying to be devious by waiting till Jagmohan Dalmiya’s term as president came to an end. Either way, it is a pretty farcical situation and with the game in crisis, a lumbering, sleepy organisation is the last thing we want.

It will be interesting to see how the Australians react to this though, having made an attempt over the last few years to gain the moral high ground. The feeling among the rest of the playing countries, particularly those from the sub-continent, was that Australia is playing an activist role; that they have taken upon themselves the right to clean up a system. Now, with Brett Lee’s action being reported, after being approved by Australian umpires, the pressure is back on them.

When India were there a few months ago, the whispers about Lee had just begun. I remember an article that Peter Roebuck wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in which he suggested that Lee’s action may not be as smooth as a lot of people would like to believe. It was a view he expressed over the radio as well, when India were playing New South Wales in an early tour game, and there was a pretty heated debate over it.

Lee was then straining for a Test place and he bowled very fast in that game. Very often television pictures do not tell the complete story because if a batsman reacts quickly, the bowler may not seem to be as fast. I watched parts of that spell from mid-wicket and I had no doubt in my mind that I was watching one of the quickest spells of bowling I ever would.

Channel 7 were covering that game, and they were doing a magnificent job of trying to show that they could be as good as Channel 9. And so they went really close on Lee’s action. The moment they did that the flutters began because when he let the ball rip, his action looked a bit different than when he was bowling a ball of normal pace which, it must be remembered, was very quick as well !

The Australian media rallied pretty well around Lee, as they normally do with a lot of their players, and because the Test series that followed was so terribly one-sided very little attention was focussed on Lee’s action. I do remember though that on Star Sports we had done an analysis of Shoaib Akhtar’s action and that of Brett Lee and some of the balls looked pretty similar !

Some of the Australians are now saying that under scrutiny, almost every fast bowler will look suspect which is what only a few people, notably former players like Jeff Thomson and Geoff Lawson were saying when the Shoaib affair was raging. Their view was that the game should go on unless something blatant happened. Sadly, the voices of reason were lost on sections of the umpiring community!

I also find it interesting that Lee, in a signed article, has now admitted that he had an accident which has left his elbow slightly bent and that this might sometimes give the impression that he is chucking. Now this was precisely the explanation that the Sri Lankans tried to give about Muralitharan; an explanation that was received with extreme scepticism.

I must admit though that I have some sympathy for Lee, as indeed I did for Shoaib and Muralitharan. The law that defines an illegal delivery, and the procedure that the ICC has evolved to try erring bowlers is vague and cumbersome. Take the Lee affair itself. If indeed Lee is a chucker, then he could have played a lot of cricket from March till now, and won Australia a few matches, with an illegal action! Surely there has to be a way of penalising a bowler on the spot or, at any rate, before he bowls in another match.

The way to go about it, I suspect, is to go by what Sunil Gavaskar has been saying; that it is time we defined a legal delivery rather than an illegal delivery. It is a subtle shift but a crucial one for the law, as it now stands, tells you what a bowler cannot do. By implication, anything else is fair and when the definition is as complicated as it is, it is bound to lead to a lot of grey areas. Instead, if the law clearly defined a fair delivery then it would be very easy for umpires and referees to pick on illegal deliveries. If for example, a fair delivery was defined as one where the arm is straight at all times, then any bend in the action would make it illegal.

The experts keep telling us that this is essentially a simple game. We need to built that thought into the laws of the game as well!

The only bright side to all this is the clarification from Venkataraghavan, one of the two umpires who reported Lee, that except for the odd ball, his action is fine. That takes away the near-death feeling that it must arouse in bowlers and makes it very clear, from an umpire’s perspective, where the objection was. That is how it should be for everyone then knows where the remedial action needs to come from and the bowler can breathe freely knowing that all he needs is a minor adjustment. Now, if only the ICC, and its attendant personalities, could believe in a similar spirit of openness, a lot of unnecessary slander could be avoided.

Lee is a bit lucky that his first bowl post the complaint will be in a one-day game where he is unlikely to pitch short too often. But he is going to feel the pressure and it will be interesting to see how he reacts for he is merely in the infancy of what promises to be an outstanding career. I am sure Channel 9 will focus a great deal on it and viewers in India can see how he copes because the matches will be live on Star Sports as well.

The major interest of course will lie in how the matches are played for these will be the first one-day internationals played entirely indoors. The Colonial Stadium in Melbourne, like the Skydome in Toronto, has a retractable roof and so you could play cricket under natural light as well. But to keep playing conditions similar, the roof will be kept closed throughout and it will be very interesting to see whether it produces any difference in the nature of cricket played.

For a start, teams are assured of 50 overs because neither bad light nor rain will be a factor and, admirable as it is the Duckworth Lewis system will not be needed. With variations in the weather out of the way, conditions would be more predictable which is fine for a one-day game. The ability to play under different conditions within the same match, one of the great attractions of the game, is fine in a five-day game where you have time to overturn the effects that the weather might have on one team. In a one-day game, you rarely have time to stage a major comeback and so standard conditions should work pretty well.

My major interest area will be to see how the pitch behaves. It is being nurtured in a green house and will be planted on the base using a forklift. Clearly the same pitch will have to be used for all three days and in the absence of natural light for a major portion of that time, it will be interesting to see how it plays. But the advantages are too many. For one, it throws open a new season for cricket in Australia and with more teams being allowed, we can do with as much time as we can get. I can’t wait to be there.


Back home in India, Cuttack have refused to stage a Test match against Zimbabwe asking for a one-day international against Australia instead! Talk of taking the easy way out! It would make for a great plot though if Zimbabwe could have had a hand in all this! You see, playing a Test match at Cuttack isn’t anyone’s idea of paradise. How’s that for game fixing !!

Harsha Bhogle

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