Curious Case of Muralitharan’s Chucking

It was the iconic Boxing Day match in 1995 and more than 50,000 spectators had arrived to witness the exciting clash, but this match is remembered for all the wrong reasons as to what happened between the umpire, Darrell Hair and Muralitharan. On the first day of the match, Darrell Hair called out Muralitharan a whopping seven times in just three overs for throwing and since then, the debate of whether Muralitharan chucked or not has divided the cricket fraternity. What is your opinion on Muralitharan’s chucking?

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So, did Muralitharan chuck or not?

From https://www.rediff.com/cricket/2004/may/15murali.htm , we were fortunate to get the complete report of the tests Muralitharan had gone through at the School of Human Movement and Exercise Science, University of Western Australia in Perth. To make it clear, I am not a professional but I have tried to present the parts of the report which will give you clarity about the situation.

So, at that time, the official limit given by ICC of bend for fast bowlers was 10 degrees and it was 5 degrees for spinners.

One point to note when we try to analyze Muralitharan’s situation is his natural deformity. When we stand straight, our arms can be stretched straight but Muralitharan has by default his arms bent at an angle when he stands straight. This was mentioned in the report where it was said that, “The anthropometry assessment clearly shows that Mr Muralitharan has a natural 35 degrees of elbow flexion while standing, which during the delivery action (under load) reduces to a value of approximately 24 degrees. Therefore, any biomechanical assessment of his bowling action must take this 24-degree angle into account.”

The report also addressed the issue that why Muralitharan’s action is perceived as chucking by most. It was mentioned in that report, “However, the external rotation at the shoulder, combined with the 18 degree ‘carry angle’ and 24 degree of permanent elbow flexion (see dynamic flexion above) will give the impression of ‘preparation for a throw.’ This is particularly true when the action is viewed in two-dimensions (e.g. television, or when observed by an umpire from a fixed position).”

Now let’s move on to some data which was collected in the report. One point which has to be noted that it was only Muralitharan’s doosra delivery where his bowling action was questioned and hence only his doosra variation was tested.

When Muralitharan’s bowling action for six doosra deliveries was analyzed, it was seen that his mean elbow extension range was recorded at 14 degrees. At that time, the laws permitted only 5 degrees for spinners and hence it was 9 degrees above what was permitted at that time but the report addressed this issue too that why the permitted 5 degrees had to be modified and why Murali’s case isn’t similar to a normal spinner. Let us know why.

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Their team had at that time had recently tested a Pakistani fast bowler, Shabbir Ahmed Khan. In the test, it was found that Muralitharan took 0.072 seconds to rotate his upper arm from the horizontal to the release point which was found to be faster than even the fast bowler, Shabbir Ahmed Khan. Due to the similarity of Muralitharan’s action with the fast bowler, it was mentioned in the report that, “Therefore a case can certainly be made for some spin bowlers such as Mr.Muralitharan to have the same range of acceptability in elbow angle to that of fast bowlers.” In the same link, it is mentioned, “Murali’s arm velocity from horizontal to ball release is very similar to that of Shabbir Ahmed’s, a fast bowler recently tested at the University of Western Australia. This raises the question of why 10 degrees of extension for a fast bowler is acceptable, with only 5 degrees of tolerance granted to a spin bowler whose arm speed is similar.” These points made a strong case that why the laws needed to be modified considering how Muralitharan’s arm speed was similar to the fast bowlers.

At the time, the permitted extension for fast bowlers was 10 degrees so even by that metric, Muralitharan action was theoretically not allowed as his extension had come out to be 14 degrees, 4 degrees more than what is permitted for fast bowlers. Muralitharan went through a period of remediation and the next time Muralitharan’s bowling action was checked, it was found that the mean extension had reduced to 10.2 degrees from 14 which was within fast bowling guidelines. The story wasn’t over yet.

The report said the current limit of extensions of ICC that is 5 degrees for spinners and 10 degrees for fast bowlers need modifications. Let’s look at what else the report said about why ICC needed to modify the rules:-

  • “The question also has to be posed as to when does a bowler gain an advantage from ‘straightening’. Marc Portus, in his latest research into fast bowling, suggests 15 degrees as being a point after which there may be some speed advantage gained by the fast bowler. However, no such research has been conducted into spin bowling. It may be that 15 degrees of extension be allowed to all types of bowlers no matter what speed they bowl at, beyond which it be termed an illegal delivery.”

So according to this para in the official report, it is after an extension of 15 degrees that a fast bowler may gain a speed advantage so ICC did pay attention to that and changed the rules and allowed 15-degree extension for all types of bowlers in November 2004. According to this updated law, Muralitharan’s bent arm of 14 degrees before the remediation becomes legal too.

Research has shown that 99% of bowlers used to throw at that time and in fact, even legendary bowlers such as Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock often went over the limit which is 10 degrees and bent their arms up to 12 degrees often, which is more than what is permitted. You can read more about it here, https://www.espn.in/cricket/story/_/id/23124202/icc-study-reveals-99-chuck

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At the end of the official report, it was finally mentioned, “In conclusion, Murali, who has been tested more than any other bowler in the history of the game- 1995, 1999, and now 2004, possesses different physical characteristics which make him a unique bowler. The results from these tests suggest that a straightening of 10 degrees when he bowls his doosra is not excessive and that should not, therefore, be deemed advantageous.” Muralitharan’s bowling action was hence cleared.

Credits:-

Featured Image:- Rae Allen from Brisbane, Australia / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

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