Night cricket was in full swing on one of the most spacious road intersections of the locality when the captain of the host team tossed the ball to his young multi-talented player. As he ran in and bowled his first bullet delivery, every member of the visiting team, sitting on the side walk, leaped on to the pitch (road) shouting “batta fast, batta fast” and “no ball”. Eventually, as emotions settled, it was decided that the bowler with the jerk action would be allowed to bowl the rest of the over only if he continued it as a spinner or slow armer.
‘Batta spin’ is a very common term in street cricket where a fast bowler who might throw or have an illegal bowling action is allowed to bowl spin or slow with the same tainted chucking action.
Many legendary Pakistani cricketers consider street cricket as a basic learning step.
Fast bowlers, here, who may not be hoarding a proper, genuinely legal action, are allowed to bowl spin with the same chucking action.
This relaxation is traditionally ongoing and granted to ensure that no one who is willing to bowl is left out of the opportunity.
However, this batta bowling is not limited to street cricket only.
With the passage of time, new technological advancements that would help ascertain the arm extension and gauge the straightening or flexibility at different junctures of a complete bowling action resulted in drafting and amendment of laws which would give bowlers a certain limit of bending, flexing and extending the arm beyond which the action would be deemed illegal.
Needless to say, the affordability and availability of the technology was indeed one of the core reasons behind the sudden increase in the rate of bowlers being reported locally and internationally.
Many ‘spin doctors’ here sneak in the wrong action under the garb of slow bowling
Nothing to hide
You may find it odd but spinners especially off-spinners in professional cricket are generally found wearing long sleeves contrary to most of their teammates.
No secrets to hide. One may argue that fielders who have been throwing themselves on the field would do it, too, while trying to save the extra run and avoiding a bruised elbow simultaneously.
But then again how many spin bowlers over the years are known for their fielding skills.
No wonder the intention was the same when the cheeky Sri Lankan Kumar Sangakkara welcomed the in-coming Indian batsman Harbhajan Singh on to the batting crease during an Asia Cup match with a taunt that mischievously or deviously pointed to the probable concealed secret.
His remark: “Hey Bhajji, you look handsome in your short sleeves. Why don’t you wear them when you bowl?” The remark fetched him a fine, considering the fact that Harbhajan’s action was already investigated for being suspicious.
From the magical spinner Saeed Ajmal and the wily professor Mohammad Hafeez, the young and rising Bilal Asif to the experienced Shoaib Malik, Pakistani bowlers, especially spinners, have consistently been under the scanner and hammer! Along with these relatively new Pakistani bowlers, the issue of illegal bowling action was also raised against the fiery Shoaib Akhtar and the lanky fast bowler Shabbir Ahmed as well adding to all the natural and unnatural reasons that are a source of constant distraction to Pakistani cricket as a whole.
But we are not the only ‘blessed’ ones.
Who can forget the Bishan Bedi’s title of “Javelin thrower” that he gave to the all-time greatest Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan after he was accused of throwing by Australian umpires in back-to-back tours, even prompting them to march off the field?
The unorthodox action, in part due to a certain birth-defect, was termed diabolical by the controversial umpire Darrell Hair in his autobiography Decision Maker: An Umpire’s Story.
Bangladesh’s share of grievances started with Abdur Razzaq, followed by Sohag Gazi, Al-Amin Hossain, Arafat Sunny and pacer Taskin Ahmed.
The last two were banned during the recently concluded ICC World T20 2016.
Concern remains among the opposition regarding the local heartthrob Shakib al Hasan’s action that is, however, just within the 15 degree requirement.
Only in Asia?
One wonders, sometimes, why it is mostly Asians that are under scrutiny. People talk about conspiracies and plans but some aspects are here by default. For instance, the dead, deteriorating wickets, the hot weather of the subcontinent and its impact on the ball makes it all conducive to spin bowling and indeed any local player who can even rotate his arm may easily come up with some sharp spinning deliveries.
Thus a bigger number of spinners results in greater chances of being called. To be frank, even if an English or South African spin bowler is called for suspect action, he is highly likely to be of Pakistani or Indian origin.
Still, it is surprising to see the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez representing Pakistan at the highest level and not being called throughout their domestic career.
With such advancements, it is only the lack of interest and sheer negligence on the part of the authorities here to come up with measures to work on the youngsters while they are developing their actions rather than being reported and disgraced at the international level.
Spinners, especially off-spinners with front on actions are highly likely to get called for suspect actions.
These issues can be addressed and nipped in the bud during school years or at the under-15, U-17 and U-19 levels.
There were some eyebrows raised when India’s Ravichandran Ashwin was rested in the buildup series just before the 2015 World Cup. Was Dhoni trying to protect him (his action) till the World Cup began?
Was it a precautionary measure, just in case?
The bowler is usually criticised heavily over the social media for his dodgy action.
Incidentally, this was during the same time period when one after another Mohammad Hafeez, Saeed Ajmal, Prosper Utseya (Zimbabwe) and Sohag Gazi were reported and banned.
Pakistan’s coach Waqar Younis had criticised ICC’s timings for cracking down on the spinners with suspect actions as the preparation for the World Cup was then in its final stages.
Ashwin’s case was not the only grey area.
West Indian off-spinner Sunil Narine came under pressure during the 2014 Champions League T20.
The mystery bowler pulled himself out from the ODI World Cup in 2015 to work on his action.
After his return, the concealing Caribbean was again reported and suspended for his bowling action by the ICC.
Amazingly, he was cleared after the conclusion of the World T20 2016, just before the beginning of the IPL, for domestic and international cricket.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 1st, 2016