VVS Laxman delivered the MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture © IANS
VVS Laxman delivered the MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture © IANS

By Veturi Srivatsa

Now VVS Laxman has joined the ranks of anti-chucking brigade. True to his character he sympathises with all those celebrity bowlers whose action has come into question and suggested that the authorities should try and weed out the malice at the first sight when a youngster starts turning his arm over. One of those sitting in the audience to listen him deliver the Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi lecture in Kolkata on Thursday was Bishan Singh Bedi, a vociferous campaigner for swacch (Hindi for: Clean) bowling for years.

Poor Bedi, a former India captain, invited the wrath of those who got away with illegal deliveries as well as the officials who backed them for reasons other than cricket. Unlike Bedi’s forthright condemnation of what he calls the chuckers cheats, the gracious Hyderabadi is saddened to see these bowlers caught at this late stage in their careers to worry about the degree of their bent arm. His sympathy for them is understandable because he has played against some of them.

Bedi, who calls a spade a shovel, has been forthright in his criticism of the bowling action of world’s highest wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan. He wouldn’t take the argument that the Sri Lankan off-spinner was bowling with a physical disability. For Bedi, all Murali’s 800 wickets are run-outs by his accurate throwing at the striker’s end! To be fair to Bedi, he is not even diplomatic in questioning Harbhajan Singh’s action either.

Like civil servants going to public administration institutes for periodic training, Muralitharan and the ilk are sent shamefacedly to undergo biomechanical analysis at the University of Western Australia to get the degrees of their bent arm measured. The Sri Lankan also went to the University of Hong Kong for a second opinion after the controversial Australian called him for chucking and both said his action only created the “optical illusion of throwing”.

The Australians are not satisfied: He was no-balled again three years later by Ross Emerson and to complete the cycle, the ICC match referee Chris Broad reported his action in 2004. Sadly, Murali had to go through this witch-hunt by the Australians, many others got away with murder. Most bowlers may not pass muster when it comes to the degrees in straightening their arm. Some unfairly accused the ICC of bringing in the 15 degree elbow flexing to bail out Murali and a couple of other bowlers from the powerful boards in the subcontinent

Ironically, Murali, who vowed never to visit Australia again after he was called a second time Down Under, has been engaged by Cricket Australia to mentor its spinners when they went to United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan. Bedi gets emotionally worked up when he talks of chuckers and is livid looking at some of the Indian off-spinners bowl sleeves buttoned up. He blames some senior Indian board officials for the mushrooming of bowlers with illegal action.

It’s all vote bank rajneethi (Hindi for: Politics) and the powerful Indian board had supported boards in the subcontinent so that the block of four votes stayed intact. All the four countries nursed these bowlers who happened to be key men in their attack. Better late than never, the ICC has at last woken up to the damage these bowlers with dubious action are doing to the game. Within a couple of months five bowlers have been sent to the reformatory to get their action modified.

This going to Perth has also become a kind of joke. The bowlers come back somewhat reformed, to the extent they could bowl their sleeves rolled up. But then they find it difficult to get wickets. They realise that without their potent delivery ‘doosra’ they can’t survive and they are back to their old ways.

Laxman, who is fast emerging a credible voice on cricket matters, has politely yet firmly stated that rules are there in place and they should be respected and adhered to. He is also worried that a youngster at an impressionable age could model himself watching a bowler with illegal action. Like all those who have seen him or heard tales of Pataudi’s Hyderabad days, Laxman paid a rich tribute to the former India captain for being such a great influence on Indian cricket.

He touched on a variety of issues confronting cricket. A self-professed old-timer he surprisingly endorsed day-night Test cricket qualified it saying that’s the only way the traditional form of cricket can survive. He also felt nothing wrong in playing to our strengths by doctoring pitches by making them spinning tracks to maximise our advantage. He hastened to add that the Indians should not only nurse its spinners but also make sure there is one pitch in each zone that plays like those the Indians are likely to bump into overseas.

Not many may know, some so-called experts in England carried a whispering campaign questioning Bedi’s left-arm bowling action, not because they genuinely believed that there was something seriously wrong with classical spinner’s delivery. The Englishmen childishly tried to get even with the Indian captain in the wake of the Vaseline controversy during England’s 1976-77 tour of India.

Englishmen were stung by the allegation that their fast bowler John Lever used vaseline to induce the ball to swing prodigiously. Northamptonshire, which had contracted Bedi to play county cricket, first terminated his contract and then inspired a weird whispering campaign, questioning his validity of his bowling action! It did not take off because Bedi’s action couldn’t be faulted. It only goes to prove that cricket is played in the board rooms, not out on the greens.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at v.srivatsa@ians.in)