Since June, there has been a very well-publicised crackdown on bowlers with suspect bowling actions, most of them "mystery" off-spinners seeking to bowl a doosra, or just to give it a bigger rip.
The situation has got out of hand with the increase in Twenty20 cricket being played around the globe. With only 24 balls to out-think a batsman, spin bowlers felt that they would be better to have as many variations at their fingertips as possible. The success of leg-spinners in the format has borne this theory out; a quick look at the likes of Rahul Sharma, Karn Sharma, Pravin Tambe and Amit Mishra's IPL careers shows clearly that it benefits a spinner to be able to spin it both ways with little change in their bowling action.
It's only natural that off-spinners would want to be able to do the same. Their version of the googly, the doosra, was invented and perfected by Saqlain Mushtaq, and has gradually spread around the cricketing world. I personally have never seen a bowler bowl a doosra (which is essentially an off-break action with the back of the hand facing the batsman) without bending the elbow. It simply isn't possible to flex the wrist in that position without flexing the elbow as well.
Even Saqlain, who was never formally accused of throwing, and Murali, who was accused repeatedly and cleared, both had to bend their elbows to make the delivery work. The difference for them was that they were able to keep their elbow from straightening more than fifteen degrees during delivery. Most bowlers, Ajmal included, seem not to be able to do so, but have been able to keep plying their trade with impunity for the last few years, thanks to the beauty of long sleeves.
Thankfully, that is changing now. Many pundits and spectators are suggesting that by essentially outlawing "mystery" bowlers, the ICC will be tilting the game still further in favour of the batsmen and making it less interesting for neutral spectators. Personally, I think that this is sheer folly, propagated by the total mis-use of the "mystery spinner" tag. For instance, when Shikhar Dhawan came on to bowl for India this summer, the Sky commentators remarked that he "looked to have a little bit of mystery about him." What this really meant was that his elbow appeared to be straightening in delivery. "Mystery spinner" has become a euphemism for "chucker" in many circles.
A real mystery spinner does not have to throw the ball at all. For most leg-spinners, googlies and top-spinners are not very difficult skills to learn, and they have the added bonus of being relatively difficult to pick - especially when they're bowled by good leggies.
Similarly, even if he is not allowed to bowl the doosra, an off-spinner could do worse than to turn his attention to learning how to bowl a carrom ball. It is easier to pick than the doosra, but many exponents have used it effectively, including Ravi Ashwin (who publicly admitted to experimenting with long sleeves and an elbow kink because he felt that he was at a disadvantage), Ajantha Mendis, and, until recent months, Sunil Narine. Even I have learned how to bowl it, and used it in games from time to time.
It is important, though, that cricket does not turn its back on bowlers who are found to throw the ball. Just because you used to throw for a living doesn't mean that you can't turn your hand to bowling a cricket ball conventionally. For proof, you need look no further than Park Taekwan, the South Korean, who went from baseball pitching prospect to Asian Games opening bowler in twelve months. In the game against Sri Lanka, he bowled an excellent and incisive spell, taking the wickets of Shehan Jayasuriya, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Ramith Rambukwella and Kosala Kulasekara in a superb four-over spell in which he conceded only sixteen runs.
While this wasn't enough to win the game for the Koreans, it was certainly enough to show that the door should not be closed on bowlers who are proved to throw the ball.
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Martin Jones is a teenage cricketer with an obsessive interest in the game, particularly the more obscure and quirky areas of it that don't get enough attention. He has also written articles for Planet Cricket, Third Man Cricket and ESPN Cricinfo.
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