Milind Rege, Rahul Mankad and Kiran Mokashi on the 15-degree rule for bowlers

Muttiah Muralitharan’s action underwent biomechanical analysis and it was revealed that when he bowled the doosra, his arm straightened by 14 degrees © AFP

The 15-degree limit for elbow extension of bowlers has caused much heartburn. Nishad Pai Vaidya discusses the vexatious subject with off-spinner Kiran Mokashi, Milind Rege and batsman Rahul Mankad — all of whom played for Mumbai with distinction.

In 2004, the International Cricket Council (ICC) set a 15-degree limit for the elbow extension of bowlers, which meant at the point of delivery, a bowler cannot straighten his arm more than 15-degrees. Many were skeptical of this rule and felt it has given a huge leeway to the bowlers in the modern era. The authorities justified it by saying that any straightening over 15-degrees is visible to the naked eye and the umpires can then take a call.

Can an umpire say with conviction if a bowler has straightened his arm over the 15-degree mark? Can umpires be 100% sure when they report a bowler with a suspect action? Even after they report their doubts, biomechanical tests may show that the bowler was well-within the permissible limits. In such cases, wouldn’t the whole premise — which says any extension over 15-degrees is visible to the naked eye — be flawed?

CricketCountry spoke to three former Mumbai cricketers, Rahul Mankad, Milind Rege and Kiran Mokashi about this rule and its implications.

Mankad, said, “Frankly, it seems to have been brought in after the advent of the ‘doosra‘. The cynic in me says it was introduced to legitimise chucking!”

Rege, an off-spinner in his days, also had an interesting point, “Either you have a clean arm or not. Why should you bend and give the bowler an unfair advantage? Why have such rules in the first place?”
Mokashi, also an off-spinner, said, “How does one measure the 15-degree on the field of play and say whether it is more or less? This is where the controversy arises.”

How did this rule come about all of a sudden? When it was introduced, it did surprise many and the reactions of the three former players CricketCountry interviewed make that very evident. For a much clearer picture, one must revisit the events of 2004, when this was introduced.

Where did it come from?

Turn the clock back to 2004 when this rule was made. A few bowlers who were known to have clean actions were also found to have an extension up to 12 degrees. Earlier the limit for fast-bowlers was 10 degrees, medium-pacers was 7.5 and for spinners it was five.

Muttiah Muralitharan’s action underwent the biomechanical analysis. Sydney Morning Herald reported that the tests revealed that when he bowled the doosra — the delivery in the eye of the storm — his arm straightened by 14 degrees. Thus, the rule that came out later drew a lot of flak. Geoffrey Boycott then told BBC, “I think it’s been brought in through pressure from Sri Lanka and Murali’s supporters. It’s a sad day for cricket that this pressure can allow Muralitharan to bowl whatever he wants.”

Even, Ricky Ponting, the then Australian captain voiced his displeasure. Sydney Morning Herald reported, “It seems like they are playing around and changing these rules all the time. You know what that says to me as well — it looks like Murali will be able to bowl his doosra again.”

At the same time, one must look at the Marylebone Cricket Club’s Law 24 (3), which says, “A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, 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 definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.” This is read with Law 24(2), which also contains the provision, “If, in the opinion of either umpires, the ball has been thrown, he shall call and signal No ball and, when the ball is dead, inform the other umpire of the reason for the call.”

Although the ICC Regulations for the Review of Bowlers Reported with Suspected Illegal Bowling Actions does say that the rules do not override Law 24, you won’t see any umpire calling a no-ball if he believes the bowler is throwing. In fact, these guidelines do not exclude an umpire from calling a bowler during a game, but that is not how it works now. The bowler can carry on in a game and would only be reported at the end of the match. Doesn’t that help the bowler in a particular match situation? Up to what extent has this margin helped the bowlers?

How much has it benefited the bowlers?

So, a bowler can complete his spell in a game although the umpire may have his own suspicions. That allows him room to bowl those lethal deliveries with suspect actions, which is detrimental to the batsman’s cause.

Rege said, “Suppose you bowl me with a delivery with the arm straightening more than 15-degrees. The umpires can call the bowler only after the game and it would be technologically proven in a few months. The result of the match is gone. You cannot rectify that. All those tests are done, but what happens to the immediate result?”

Mokashi voiced a similar point, “What about the batsman who gets out there? The report takes time to file and then there is also a corrective measure after that. The game is gone”

Consider the umpire. He may feel a bowler is chucking, but would only file a report later and doesn’t raise his arm to call a no-ball. So, in a way, have these rules clipped the wings of the umpire?

Mankad says, “Absolutely. It is a joke now. Apart from [Ravichandran] Ashwin and [Graeme] Swann almost all off spinners in particular have dodgy actions and they are thriving in the game at all levels. To be honest, the umpires have not taken a stand on this. They have succumbed to pressure by ICC and teams.”

Mokashi opines, “No one wants to bell the cat. They can only file reports and it is taken up in some time.”
After a report is filed, the bowler may undergo tests. Even if he is found to breach the limit, he still has hope. After all, he can correct his action and then show that he falls within the limit. But, how much do these corrections help?

What about corrections?

Once his action is rectified to fall within the limit, and the tests support it, then the bowler is permitted to resume bowling. Yet, doubts remain and there are chances that they may be reported again.

Mankad says, “What do ‘corrective measures’ constitute? Either you chuck or you don’t. It is very simplistic to tell a bowler to keep his/her arm straight when that bowler has been playing for many years. The remedial aspect must translate into a cleaner bowling action as a result but one cannot just stop what one is used to — particularly in match conditions and when the pressure is on.”

That is the very fear shared by many. Even if a bowler is corrected and satisfies the biomechanical tests, there is a possibility that he may still chuck in any game in the future. And, if he unleashes one of those deliveries during a crucial point in a game, it is certainly unfair on the batting side.

Mokashi says, “Correction is superficial. There is no guarantee that he will not chuck again, that too in critical situations in a match. Once a chucker, always a chucker; it cannot be on and off.”

Once a bowler is corrected, what happens to his natural style? Rege says, “They lose venom. That is what happens. Until then, the batsman has no hope as he may be dismissed in a game to the deliveries.”

Speaking about the doosra, Rege said, “A doosra can never be bowled without a bent arm. That is where there is an unfair advantage for the bowler.”

So, if a particular bowler bowls a deceptive doosra with a bent arm to an opposing batsman at a critical stage and gets his wicket, there is no way it can be remedied as discussed earlier. The bowler may have been even cleared earlier and he may go on to bowl the odd delivery and may even go unnoticed.

What is the solution?

With the 15-degree rule coming in, numerous bowlers have got away; in a previous era, they may have been called for throwing. The ICC needs to look at the rule and also evaluate the merits and demerits of the ‘correction process.’ Shane Shillingford, the West Indies spinner has been reported for the second time in his career recently. Why would such a thing happen when the particular bowler has gone through the correction process? This very clearly exposes a lacunae in the system and the ICC has to look at this very closely.

CricketCountry had spoken to Mankad before Shillingford was reported. He said, “I think the ICC must re-look at this rule and bring in harsh but sensible measures to stop chucking. The umpires must be empowered to call as they see it. There is sufficient technological backup these days to review bad actions. Remedial measures must only be allowed once. Repeat offenders should be taken out of the game.”

Rege says, “Cricket didn’t have such a rule for years. You cannot bowl with a bent arm, unless it is naturally like that and cannot straighten anymore — which would be a deformity.”

“The situation is bad. It could get worse and wreak havoc. It will go on till someone challenges it,” Mokashi says.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)