Over the last few years, there has been an ongoing witch hunt against spinners with suspect actions, and its time some consideration was given to the agenda that drives it.
The official party line is that the ICC are cracking down on bowlers with suspect actions because it is part of the rules of the game. They are just doing their job. Just following orders.
Cricket has now got three raging formats, the newest of which being Twenty20 (T20).
It is the double expresso, to the steady Americano, Test cricket.
When it first emerged, many saw the big bats, short boundaries and high intensity, and thought that it would simply destroy spin.
Nobody really considered that it may become a format where slower bowlers could thrive. Looking back, it is amazing it took almost a decade for mystery spinners, and fast bowlers that variate well, to really excel.
The T20 machine that is projected onto the global audience is one of being a batsman’s game, undoubtably.
The hard hats, the six cards, the crowd catching rewards. It’s all the batsman.
Yet, today, International cricket has many spinners that have had incredible success in T20. They get attention, sure. But why are they now getting the ICC’s attention, for their actions? Many of these bowlers have been around for 10 or 15 years, and have had nothing.
The current ICC T20 International bowling rankings prove that the plan hasn’t quite worked.
Seven spinners in the top 10. Eight of the current ICC ranked bowlers between 10-20 are also spinners.
It’s flooded. Saturated with slow bowlers.
But it isn’t even just International cricket. Even in the IPL, three of the five highest wicket takers to date are spinners too.
The cynical traditional cricket fan inside says that this was never the intention for T20. The even more pessimistic and doubtful voice says that the ICC are now trying to put brakes on the situation.
The rules of the game outline that bowlers are allowed a 15 degree flex of permissible straightening of the elbow joint for all bowlers in international cricket.
Spinners with questionable actions, i.e. those that flex more than 15 degrees, can generate huge amounts of turn, both ways. It allows variation, but more importantly, pressure.
In 2013, the ICC released an 18 page document called ‘ICC Regulations for the Review of Bowlers Reported with Suspected Illegal Bowling Actions‘. It goes into great detail with regards to the process for reporting suspect bowlers. Although it outlines that umpires still have access to the right to call illegal actions; now it will be much more official. There will be greater ICC involvement and more use of technology, to really snuff out those responsible.
The ICC, currently chaired by former BCCI chairman N. Srinivasan, is the same ICC that failed to achieve consensus regarding the use of Umpire’s Decision Review System due to opposition by BCCI on grounds of a lack of faith in technology.
But of course, when it comes to suspect actions, technology is a must. Anything to ensure that T20 remains a game in their control.
It may be less humiliating for bowlers to be probed in a lab for a suspect action than to be called on the field in front of thousands, but in terms of effectiveness, it is far potent.
As bowlers are now less likely to be called on field, they will be more thoroughly checked off it. It is going to be more rigorous and official process, enforced without time limits, or the possibility of having an impact on the game that it allegedly occurs in.
Whereas nobody questions the 15 degree rule as long as it is in place;, it is arguably the case that there is an agenda behind this witch hunt.
In International cricket, even bowlers with an illegal action are still massively under pressure in a batsmen dominated game.
In limited overs cricket T20 cricket, the bats are bigger than ever, the boundaries are in, the field restrictions are on, even the ball is now harder than before, because there are two new cherries from each end.
Every element of the game is geared towards big hits, and big totals.
A world class spinner would go and ruin that.
Whether its a big time bowler like Saeed Ajmal or a part timer like Kane Williamson, there is a clear new discourse.
There is nowhere to hide. It doesn’t matter if you are a big spinner or a small spinner. You are a suspect. Spinning as a art, is now suspect.
As skilful as mystery spin is to watch on TV, it has the potential to remove the entertainment factor of T20 that the administrators crave.
The big hitting.
If it can be sufficiently stigmatised and criticised, then the onslaught against mystery spin may be able to embed a high sense of insecurity for spinners in the International game.
Sooner or later, orthodoxy may reign once more, for the sake of T20.