Riding Murali’s coattails to fame


Last week I was forwarded several emails from an anonymous source. These emails included an email from a Roy Bishop of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka which was sent to various news agencies, journalist, ICC officials, officials of other Test playing countries, and Sri Lankan cricketers both past and present.

Along with Mr. Bishop’s email were two responses to Mr. Bishop. One from former England skipper Nasser Hussein, the other from the General Manager of the International Cricket Council (ICC), Dave Richardson.

Mr. Bishop’s email titled: ‘MURALI FILE- THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH THEY WILL NOT PUBLISH,’ explains how two articles he wrote were never published by the Sri Lankan media. According to Roy Bishop, the media chose not to publish his opinion on Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action due to fear, cowardice, or both.

"But truth – inconvenient or dangerous will not go away," Mr. Bishop wrote, in the email dated June 12, 2010.

"Please read the attached with a fair and unencumbered mind and ask yourself if those who impose censorship on unbiased and sincere writing should get away with it.

"Ask also why does the ICC continue to bury their head in the sand, refuse to even reply to my emails and would not just go out and buy a coaching Performance Analysis Program and run a Murali video through it?"

Attached along with the above mentioned email were two articles which Mr. Bishop says were never published by the media. One was a response from Mr. Bishop to Roshan Abeysinghe’s article titled: ‘The Murali files’ published on The Sunday Times, and the other titled: ‘CAN CHUCKING BE STOPPED IN CRICKET.’

It is the latter that I will address in this post. But, to be fair to Mr. Bishop, I chose to publish his article in full below before responding to it.


The International Cricket Council (ICC) is planning another project to test bowlers with suspected illegal bowling actions (chucking).This test will involve bowlers wearing attached electronic sensors on their bodies during matches to determine whether they are throwing.

The ICC currently tests suspected bowlers in laboratory tests in Australia using high technology filming. The results have been viewed as suspect in some quarters because it is not possible to replicate bowling actions exactly as in match conditions.

Another valid reason is that bowlers are unwilling or unable to bowl exactly in the test as they would do in a match. Bowlers are human and they may not consciously or sub-consciously commit themselves to an action that may end their careers.

In this new trial the results may again be open to suspicion as the tested bowler knows they are being tested and the bowling may not be as in “real time”.

So how can reported fast bowlers and spinners such as Marlon Samuels, Johan Botha and Muttiah Muralidaran be tested once and for all and be shamed or cleared of chucking?

The benchmark for legal bowling should be understood. Firstly, The Laws of Cricket states in Law 24: A legal delivery is: “ once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand.”

This means that the bowling arm elbow must NOT STRAIGHTEN BY ANY DEGREE in the last quarter of the arc prior to delivery. The Law does not say the elbow cannot be bent at delivery; only that it cannot be straightened from a bent position. This means that if the original bend is 5 degrees then the delivery bend must be the same.

This is the Law that governs all cricket matches and most fast bowlers and some spinners such as Botha, Samuels and Murali are chuckers according to the Law.

Secondly, in all official international matches the ICC REGULATIONS apply as well as the Laws. These regulations permitted fast bowlers to straighten the elbow by up to 15 degrees because it was deemed impossible to verify otherwise by the naked eye.

Following the testing of Murali in Australia, the ICC cleared him of illegal bowling (chucking) after extending the 15 degrees fast bowlers’ allowance to spinners as well. There was and is no logical reason to increase the spinners’ allowance to15 degrees because the spinner’s arm speed in the delivery swing is slow enough for the naked eye to detect any elbow straightening.

This was a decision of convenience for the ICC (but not the MCC whose Law is quite clear – any straightening of the arm is illegal); without this relaxation of the rules for spinners there would have been a few spinners banned form international cricket.

Instead of using body sensors, modern technology is now so advanced in sports broadcasting that it is possible to test suspect bowlers in real time. By using the “super slow- motion” replay facility it is now feasible to film a bowler’s delivery swing (both side-on and front-on) in a match and to compute the extent of elbow straightening.

High technology Performance Analysis Programs are now used in cricket coaching. These utilise super slow-mo and frame-by-frame analysis of players’ performance. This technique could be adapted to record and measure a suspected bowler’s maximum and delivery elbow bends and thus determine whether a bowler’s action is legal or illegal.

PhotoAs a demonstration, the bowling action of Murali can be put to this test quite easily by using published pictures of his bowling action.

The iconic image of him (used repeatedly in his various adverts) in Picture A below shows his enormous elbow bend above shoulder level of 70 degrees. (Why does he continue to use this incriminating picture?)

The image of his delivery in Picture B shows a 22 degrees elbow bend at delivery which is consistent with his claims that he has an elbow abnormality that prevents his elbow from straightening completely.

However the crucial statistic is the DIFFERENCE between the two elbow bends: 70 minus 22 equals 48 degrees. Put simply, in this (albeit non-scientific test) Muralidaran’s arm straightening in real match time is around 48 degrees and therefore it is illegal in both the Laws and the ICC Regulations.

Two questions need to be answered. First: Is the bowling action in the pictures a one- off occurrence? This cannot be possible because every part of his run up and delivery is metronomic and grooved. Second: How is it possible that the high technology test in Australia failed to record such a large degree of arm straightening? The technology cannot be that inaccurate.

These and other implications ought to be considered by the ICC in its quest to stamp out the scourge of illegal bowling – chucking- in world cricket.

Roy Bishop
Sri Lanka

It doesn’t surprise me that even in 2010 this issue is still being brought up. There will always be conspiracy theorist, those who feel they know more than the experts appointed by the game’s governing body and those who want to ride Murali’s coattails to fame. Whatever the motivation, there is a degree of ignorance always involved.

There are several flaws in Mr. Bishop’s views, but the single biggest flaw is his use of an image (a two dimensional object) and a protractor to determine if Muralitharan chucks when the ICC required the expertise of biomechanist, high speed cameras and motion sensors for 3D analysis to determine the same.

photoEven on a bent stick there is one angle that will make it look completely straight. How then does Mr. Bishop know for certain that the two images he is using to compare in his example are taken from the same angle, let alone the correct angle?

The rotation of the upper-body during delivery makes it impossible to tell if the bowler is exceeding the 15 degree mark, even when photographed from the same direction. As the bowler swivels during delivery, the stationary photographer is exposed to several different views of the elbow joint, which makes judging bowling actions with the use of still images impossible.

The photos provided by Mr. Bishop are clearly taken from two different angles. How he can then take an accurate measurement is beyond the grasp of my understanding – it defies logic.

Felling Mr. Bishop’s theory, in one of the emails forwarded to me, the ICC’s General Manager, David Richardson, had this to say: “Any biomechanical expert will tell you that it is not possible to analyse the action of a bowler using photographs, which provide a 2D perspective only.”

Furthermore, Mr. Bishop says,

“Following the testing of Murali in Australia, the ICC cleared him of illegal bowling (chucking) after extending the 15 degrees fast bowlers’ allowance to spinners as well. There was and is no logical reason to increase the spinners’ allowance to 15 degrees because the spinner’s arm speed in the delivery swing is slow enough for the naked eye to detect any elbow straightening.”

It then becomes evident that Roy Bishop knows very little about the testing conducted by the University of Western Australia’s faculty of Life and Physical Sciences (School of Human Movement & Exercise Science). He appears to have no clue about the findings of Professor Bruce Elliott, Ms. Jacque Alderson and Ms. Siobhan Reid from the ICC sanctioned study in 2004.

The study in 2004 concluded that Muttiah Muralitharan recorded the same arm speed to that of a fast bowler.

“The speed of his [Muralitharan’s] upper arm rotation is as fast and in some cases quicker than fast bowlers,” the 2004 report stated.

Mr. Bishop also appears to be unaware that although the MCC have not amended the basic laws of cricket, the proposal to amend the throwing laws and introduce the current ICC regulations was forwarded by the ICC to the MCC’s bowling review sub-committee who approved the change. [source]

“We realised that some slow bowlers’ arm actions were as quick as those of fast bowlers, so the question arose whether to treat them as fast bowlers or spinners,” said Ehsan Mani, the ICC president at the time.

“Instead of getting involved in that sort of discussion, we thought it better to have same level for everyone.

“So we are sending the whole proposal back to the MCC bowling review sub-committee, headed by former England captain Tony Lewis, to get their feedback on how relevant is the law that we are proposing now.”

Eventually the MCC bowling review sub-committee presented with this overwhelming scientific evidence in front of them, and after reviewing the findings, agreed to the new regulations.

It is hardly, as Mr. Bishop says, a “decision of convenience.”

The MCC’s input was sought in the decision making even though Mr. Bishop insinuates that the MCC had no part to play in the change to chucking laws. Any amendment to include current ICC regulations in the MCC’s Law 24 would make playing the game amongst smaller leagues and schools impractical; these teams would have no means of sending bowlers for testing. And It is not because the MCC does not agree with ICC regulations, or the change to the law to allow a maximum of 15 degrees.

Not only were spinners such as Botha and Muralitharan chuckers under the old laws, but even the likes of Glenn Mcgrath and Shaun Pollock whose bowling actions were thought to be exemplary, were measured at 12 degrees; the old law/regulations had only allocated 10 degrees for fast bowlers. [source]

“The current law states that there should be no straightening or partial straightening of the bowling arm during delivery, and research conducted with precise instrumentation has revealed that even bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, considered examplars of the classical action, occasionally go over the prescribed tolerance limit, bending their arms by as much as 12 degrees,” Cricinfo reported in 2004.

Mr. Bishop’s view that a high definition, super slow motion camera can accurately detect if a bowler is throwing, or not, in live match conditions is also flawed thinking.

The following is an excerpt from the 2004 ICC sanctioned study,

“The identification of elbow and shoulder joint centres in on-field data collection, where a shirt is worn also involves large errors. In a match the ability to differentiate anatomical movements such as “elbow extension” by digitising segment end-points, particularly if you have segment rotations, is extremely difficult and prone to error. This is certainly the case with spin bowlers. It is therefore not surprising that laboratory testing is preferred, particularly for spin bowlers, where an appropriate pitch length and run up can be structured. This is clearly the only way to test players, where data would be able to withstand scientific and therefore legal scrutiny.”

Therefore, Mr. Bishop’s theory of using Performance Analysis Software, or even a super slow motion camera to determine if a bowler is chucking is inane.

I urge you all to view the video below. It is a three dimensional (3D) reconstruction of Muttiah Muralitharan’s bowling action. The same 3D reconstruction generated by several sensors placed all over Muralitharan’s body in April 2004 at the University of Western Australia. It is perhaps the first time ever that these moving images have been made available to the public via the World Wide Web.

According to British physiotherapist Sammy Margo, it is not unusual to see other joints in the body adapt to accommodate the lack of straightening in the elbow amongst individuals with a congenital deformity of the elbow. This explains Murali’s unusually supple helicopter rotor like wrists and the manner in which his shoulder joint allows him to position his arm to deliver the ball without throwing it.

“We met in a hotel in a restaurant for breakfast. Inside 10 minutes of meeting him, he takes his shirt off, which quite surprised me over breakfast. He was able to show me exactly what he could do with his shoulder,” Alex Stewart reminisced during an interview for Sky Sports. [Video]

Stewart who was once an outspoken critic explained how that meeting with Muralitharan helped change his mind.

“Having left that meeting, I was convinced he doesn’t throw it. He can almost dislocate his shoulder. His shoulder almost came out of its socket to get it to such angle that he could bowl both deliveries [Doosra and the off spinner],” Stewart added.

The naysayers forget that no bowler in the history of this great game has been scrutinised this intensely. And after playing over a decade of cricket, no video footage exists which can prove conclusively that he does indeed chuck during match conditions. That’s because he does not.

The critics are also oblivious to the fact that several Australians — some critics of Muralitharan — witnessed the testing take place. When Muralitharan was tested in 2004, Bruce Yardley (former Australian off spinner) was assigned to determine if the deliveries in lab conditions were similar to those he bowled during match conditions.

In another report titled ‘Laboratory versus field testing in cricket bowling: A review of current and past practice in modelling techniques’ published in the Journal of the International Society of Biomechanics in Sports (volume 6, Issue 1 January 2007), Professor Bruce Elliott and Ms. Jacqueline Alderson from the University of Western Australia say: “Although there is a paucity of objective data related to in-field and laboratory testing, biomechanists must be guided by the greater accuracy of opto-reflective than video-based systems and so testing, at least for the present, should be conducted in a laboratory setting.”

One cannot expect everyone to grasp all this, and as such, there will always be a few cricketers who will still continue to remain sceptical; this information can be overwhelming to some.

“All tests on Murali have shown his action to be within the legal limits and this matter should now be put to bed,” former England skipper, Nasser Hussein, said in his reply to Mr. Bishop’s email.

Hussein is considered to be one of England’s finest captains, and unlike some of the other former Test players who have publicly voiced their doubts on Murali’s action, Hussein has a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Durham. Which explains why he ‘gets it’ and some others don’t.

If I was Roy Bishop, I would not be flustered with the fact that the media chose to ignore my writing, but more embarrassed that I actually put my name next to such a ridiculous theory and then tried so hard to get some recognition for it.

Mr. Bishop’s desire to have his article published in full has finally become reality. His work is now available for all to see.

© Hilal Suhaib/ Island Cricket.

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