The reporting of young and promising Sri Lanka off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal for a suspect illegal bowling action during the recently concluded Test series against India once again highlights the problems facing international cricket and more so Sri Lanka Cricket.
Kaushal is the second Sri Lankan off-spinner to be reported to the International Cricket Council (ICC) within a period of 16 months. In May last year Sachitra Senanayake was reported during the One-Day International series in England. Senanayake has since undergone remedial work on his bowling action and has been subsequently cleared to bowl in international cricket again. However with his remodeled action he is not the same bowler he was prior to being reported. A common factor in both instances is that these two bowlers bowled with long sleeves throughout their brief careers thus further leading to suspicion about their bowling actions.
Former Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal whose bowling action has been questionable was allowed to bowl for quite a number of years with long sleeves before he was eventually reported and asked to remodel his action, after which his bowling has lost its sting and he has lost his place in the Pakistan team. In that aspect Muthiah Muralitharan should be lauded for bowling in short sleeves right throughout his career.
Kaushal is due to leave for Chennai to have his bowling action tested at one of the ICC approved testing laboratories and if the flexibility of his arm at the point of delivery exceeds the allowed 15 degrees he may have to undergo remedial action on his bowling. What effect it will have on his wicket-taking ability remains to be seen.
With left-arm spinner Rangana Herath nearing the end of a wonderful career Kaushal was looked up as his successor but with this new development, Sri Lanka could be left facing a situation where they may struggle to produce a match-winning spinner.
When a bowler is reported for a suspicious action at international level it does not reflect too well on the country he represents and Sri Lanka is one of the country’s that have been in the forefront of the chucking menace since another off-spinner Muthiah Muralitharan burst into the scene in the early nineties.
Even after taking 800 Test wickets and over 500 ODI wickets in a career spanning 18 years to some Muralitharan still remains a chucker in the books of many although bio-mechanics have cleared him from being one.
Biomechanic expert Darryl Foster who worked with Muralitharan extensively after he was called for chucking during a Test match against Australia at Melbourne in 1995 has always maintained that Muralitharan has got a physical disability by birth where his right arm is permanently flexed at 38 degrees and he can’t do anything about that.
To the naked eye it seems clear enough that he threw the ball. In this instance, however, the naked eye proved fallible. Subsequent biometric tests showed that his action was, in fact, legal. A congenital defect had left him with a kink in his arm; he was unable to straighten his elbow fully. Illegality was an optical illusion.
The Muralitharan controversy forced the ICC to conduct further tests on cricketers both with suspect actions and without, and it became apparent that no one was bowling legally. Even though most were convinced that their arms were straight, and their actions appeared perfectly legal to observers, the average bowler, it turned out, flexed his elbow by between eight and ten degrees as a part of the natural mechanics of delivering the ball.
This was clearly a challenge for the ICC. Its solution was to allow bowlers 15 degrees leeway. It also encouraged umpires to report suspect bowling actions to the ICC rather than call a no-ball on the field. It would then hand the case to biomechanics, who could conduct tests under laboratory conditions which is how it is done today without causing embarrassment to the bowler.
Sri Lanka Cricket is very much aware of the shame it is causing to them in the eyes of the cricket world and has taken drastic steps to eliminate this malady starting from the junior levels where bowlers are banned from bowling unless their bowling arms are completely exposed and coaches who fail to correct bowlers with illegal bowling actions face the prospect of having their coaching licences suspended.
Several awareness programs for coaches around the country have been held and posters displayed explaining what constitutes an illegal delivery. In a period of time SLC hopes to ensure that no bowler is reported for an illegal bowling action in the future and one hopes that Kaushal is the last of its kind.