Sunday, February 1, 2015

Can rehabilitated bowlers be as effective as they were before?

Can Saeed Ajmal return to be the leader of Pakistan's attack?
Can Saeed Ajmal return to be the leader of Pakistan's attack?
Aakash Chopra 

A bent arm helps you gain speed and add revolutions to the ball. It stands to reason that without it, a spinner's effectiveness is bound to be diminished
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The ICC's recent clampdown on suspect actions took me back to a match from the 2009-10 Ranji season. I was Delhi's captain and we had travelled to Baroda for a league game. We had a part-time bowler who, when he bowled a faster one, used to bend his arm a little more than was permissible.
In those days there were many such arm-benders on the first-class circuit, and though they were warned several times, umpires never called a no-ball during a match. It was akin to calling someone a cheat, and umpires trod with caution to avoid bad blood. Instead, they would inform the captain and the coach and report the bowler to the BCCI, which would inform the state association to take the matter forward.
To our surprise, during the first innings of this match this particular bowler was called the moment he bowled his first faster delivery. He avoided chucking for the rest of the first innings but couldn't resist doing it on a wilting pitch in the second.
The umpires advised me that it would be prudent to remove him from the attack completely because they would call him when they found anything remotely suspect. The instructions from the BCCI were clear: "Err on the side of caution." If a bowler was found chucking and the umpires had failed to call him and report the matter, their jobs could be on the line.
A couple of years before this incident, the BCCI had started installing six stationary cameras at every ground for every match to keep tabs on everything, including the umpires.
In one season all the bowlers with kinks in their actions either exited the game or went back to work on their actions. I'm not surprised in the least that the new Indian spinners all have clean actions. Kudos to the BCCI for acknowledging that there was a problem and then coming down heavily on repeat offenders.
While the older bowlers now banned cried foul because the same rulebook, the same coaches and the same umpires had allowed them to bowl with the same actions for years, the younger ones went back to the basics to remove the problem.
Have these younger players managed to modify their actions without losing their potency? Will sidelined bowlers like Saeed Ajmal and Sunil Narine return, and will they be effective if they do?
In my experience, when bowlers who bowl with bent arms try to correct their actions, their potency is reduced to a great extent. Bowling is about using the entire body - the legs, hips, torso, shoulder and wrists - to generate pace, spin or drift. Bowlers with suspect actions tend to use a lot of elbow. Changing that would mean starting from scratch, which is not easy.
Then there's the case of which delivery got them into trouble. If an offspinner's normal offbreak is under scrutiny, it's going to take a herculean effort to remove the kink, and it's natural to assume he will be less effective if he succeeds. If it's the doosra, there's hope, because the bowler can always eliminate the delivery from his arsenal - though that would come at the cost of deception. Muttiah Muralitharan became twice the bowler he had been after he started bowling the doosra, for batsmen could no longer come down the pitch assuming that the ball would only turn in to them. If Ajmal or Narine let go of their doosra and carrom ball, is it fair to assume that they will become half the bowlers they were?
Some believe that bending the arm doesn't really help the bowler. Try throwing the ball from the deep without bending the elbow and you'll have your answer with regard to speed at least. And try chucking a ball to spin over 15 yards and compare it to a ball bowled with the straight arm. You will have your answer with regard to effectiveness in imparting revolutions to the ball.
While the ban on chucking is a good move, it's equally important to restore balance in the game. Short boundaries, big bats, flat tracks and skewed rules have threatened the existence of fingerspinners. Perhaps that's why they were forced into bending their arms and the rules to stay relevant. Now that we are taking away their tools of survival, it's only fair to give them something in return.
Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here.


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