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e-cyclopedia Friday, 23 April, 1999, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Chucking: Why the fuss?
Murali's arm is clearly bent - but it stays that way
If you really want to wound a politician, call their honour into question.

If you want to humiliate a composer, tell them their new tune sounds familiar.

1. A conventional start
And if you want to crush a cricketer, tell them their bowling action is actually a throw.

Being called a chucker is the ultimate cricketing humiliation, bringing into question a player's skill, his honesty, and his achievements.

After all, anybody can throw a ball at the batsman, but bowling it with a straight arm is half the art of cricket - and one of the first things children learning to play cricket are taught.

2. But as Murali brings his arm over. . .
The role of spinning has caused huge controversy in politics over the last twelve months, but in a strange parallel, it's spinning in cricket that is now deeply dividing opinion.

In particular, it's the reaction to a 26-year-old Sri Lankan, Muttiah Muralitharan, also known as Murali, which has further tarnished the once gentlemanly image of cricket.

3. . . .his arm is clearly not straight
Putting it simply, a throw (according to the rules of the game) is one that comes from the elbow. Darts players, javelin throwers, shot-putters - they all bend the arm to get maximum leverage from it. Bowlers must not or the umpire will call no-ball (or in the cricketing jargon, the umpire will "call" the player).

But, because of a slight deformity of his elbow, Murali is unable to straighten his arm. So although it may look like he's bending his limb when bowling, officials have decided, he isn't. His action, therefore, is within the rules.

4. And it's anyone's guess where the ball is going
Murali is, without doubt, a remarkable cricketer who is able to spin the ball all over the place, and take wickets at an alarming rate. Only two players have ever taken 200 Test wickets in fewer matches than him.

He is still young and the future should hold great things. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, of BBC Radio 4's Test Match Special, wrote last year that Murali could - if he plays for another 10 years - even become cricket's biggest ever wicket-taker.

And yet there's that Achilles elbow.

Far from being cherished by the cricketing world, rarely has there been a subject of more bitter debate.

  • Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga has been fined and given a suspended ban from the game, after arguing with umpire Ross Emerson and stopping a game for 15 minutes after Murali was no-balled.
  • Emerson was also strongly criticised, for his decision to no-ball Murali, after television replays showed the particular bowl was no different from others Murali was bowling.
  • Darrell Hair, the most famous Australian umpire, faces disciplinary action by the International Cricket Council after publishing a book in which he called Murali's action "diabolical". Hair no-balled him seven times in 1995.
  • Australian crowds shout "no-ball" every time Murali bowls.

Australian passions on the subject run particularly highly, but they are not the only ones. England coach David Lloyd is believed to have narrowly escaped losing his job last summer after saying he had told officials of his concerns about Murali.

There is nothing particularly partisan in the strength of Aussie feeling - Mark Waugh and Shane Warne both felt the wrong side of public opinion in the recent "cash-for-pitch reports" bookmaker scandal. But there is a certain irony.

It was, after all, an Australian player Ernest Jones, who was the first Test player to be no-balled for throwing, in 1897-98. Strict umpiring put a stop to the problem, and until the 1950s, it hardly happened.

Tony Lock, a Surrey slow left-arm spinner, was occasionally no-balled in the 1950s when he bowled a quicker ball. He resolved the situation by sticking to his slow ball. Australian Ian Meckiff was criticised in the press during the same period. And on the 1960 tour of England, South African Geoff Griffin was no-balled 11 times. He responded by bowling underarm.

The case of Meckiff was also averted in the end - for after he was no-balled four times in one over in the Brisbane Test against South Africa in 1963-64, he did not bowl in the match again and announced his retirement shortly afterwards, aged 32.

Nor are bowlers the only ones to suffer, for it reflects badly on umpires who call, particularly if their decision is questioned.

The case of Murali poses different problems, however, for there is no immediately obvious way to avert the disagreement. Sri Lanka would hardly consider giving him a diplomatic illness (in truth, without him, the side would be very weak), and feeling is so strong among his detractors, they are unlikely to turn a blind eye.

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11 Jan 99 | Cricket
23 Jan 99 | England on Tour
26 Jan 99 | England on Tour

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