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MOHAMMAD Hafeez...third time lucky.
MOHAMMAD Hafeez...third time lucky.

WHILE it is delightful news indeed that Hafeez has been cleared for bowling by ICC, it begs the question why he was banned in the first place. This is the third time he has had to go and have his action monitored for legality. And this is the third time he has been given the green light to go out and, well…bend it like Beckham. Within acceptable limits off course.

So is it that the umpires have made an observation that may not have been valid? After all he has received clearance for the third time in a row; where some claimed off the record that the first two times he had not done too different in the lab than what he had on the field of play. This is symptomatic that an umpire may have misjudged his call. Is it not time therefore that technology is used on the field of play that ascertains whether the elbow bend is more than the legal limit?

It is said that this time he has remodeled his action more than last time and has therefore passed an assessment at Loughborough University this week, after he had been reported again for a suspect action during an ODI against Sri Lanka in October 2017.

It must be recalled that his first reported infringement was back in 2005 in a three way ODI series and then six months before the 2015 World Cup when he was clearly Pakistan’s asset in the bowling department, often opening the bowling and compiling admirable returns. By then he had become more of an off spinning all-rounder, such was his impact with the ball.

Every time that he has been cleared in the final lab test one feels that to the naked eye there is hardly any change in his bowling action. Considering he and Narine have been the most penetrant of off spinners, there is cause to question whether a conspiracy is hatched to keep them off the grid just before ICC tournaments. Ridiculous, will retort the ICC and will win any argument on it as no proof can be submitted for this theory.

But when you look back at accusations of harbouring Weapons of Mass Destruction and the ability to launch it in 45 minutes against the countries you want to invade, this is small fry that the conspirators have for a snack.

Strange too that when an Asian bowler works with foreign experts like Hafeez did with spin bowling consultant Carl Crowe and with biomechanics specialist Dr. Paul Herron in England in December, he gets cleared even though he had failed an unofficial test at LUMS a few weeks prior to having it tested at Loughborough University. Remember Saeed Ajmal worked with Saqlain Mushtaq and failed to the extent that he had to so much straighten his arm that he lost all effectiveness. Of course it has to be seen whether, at 37, Hafeez can rein in batsmen with his reported (no pun intended) new action, as he has a reputation to do in ODIs.

I therefore propose that in a world of Hawk Eye, given its borderline confidence interval, perhaps it is time we look at applying it, or something on the same lines, as due diligence after an umpire has observed some anomaly in a bowling action. The player need not know he is under observation by the technology. Only when the umpires and match referee have concluded that the bowler is taking an unfair advantage should the bowler be reported and taken off bowling until he clears the lab test.

The other option could be to put soft, skin coloured electrodes with a long lasting, heat absorbent gel to the bowlers’ chest, arms and elbow. The angle can then be monitored wirelessly in the match referees room. A computer software would send out a beep every time the allowable angle is exceeded. After all we have close to 30 cameras watching every move on the field of play. While six of them are devoted to following the ball to spot any ball tampering, another six to eight are zooming in on the bowler as he comes in to bowl. Just look at the number of angles an action replay brings to you.

Sweat around the electrodes and because of it will cause irritability to the bowler will say some. Well, in the world of today I’m sure sweat absorbent lightweight electrodes can be manufactured given a brief by ICC. Or even an elastic 4-6 inch band with inbuilt electrodes and monitoring points that measure the angle in real time can be worn by the bowler on the elbow. If you look at Hawk Eye graphics there is often an angle shown as to how much a particular ball turned compared to it having gone straight the previous ball. That means measurement of angle is possible.

It will take away the subjectivity and needless pressure on the bowler in the three weeks he has been reported. It makes him conscious and at the time of delivery his mind is distracted toward his elbow bend; surely he can’t concentrate totally on pitching the ball where he intends to.

And then in the laboratory Test he is supposed to bowl the same set of deliveries he bowled at the time he was reported. Once again consciousness permeates the bowler’s mind.

Wearing electrodes or lightweight elbow band or a strip that extends to both sides of the elbow will also take away the innuendos that are attached with such decisions and conspiracy theories. Such as why India spinner Ashwin isn’t called when he bowls one that turns to off for a right hand batsman, considering experts say it is near impossible to bowl a leg break with an off spinners action. Each electrode’s light will go off in the monitoring room if it drops off and another can be immediately replaced. In an elbow band or strip this won’t be necessary at all.

The idea is to do away with the hassle that bowlers have to endure for the testing, not to mention the time they have to be away from playing until they pass the Assessment. With real time assessment every ball by match referee it will take away the burden away from on field umpires, just as they have been relieved of the complete responsibility of shouting out a no ball. In fact the third umpire can signal a no ball every time the elbow bends beyond acceptable limit. That makes wicket taking impossible if you have bent the elbow beyond the legal limit.

There are fears of course that the system may be hacked considering it is wirelessly transmitted to the match referee’s room. But then the mind of any one umpire can also be that of a ‘hacker’, who may have a grudge or be part of a master plan. At least in this case with firewalls built in a hacker’s entry can be immediately spotted by the software. How many can do that with an umpire out with a vendetta? Not likely? Remember Darrel Hair at The Oval 2006?

For those who think this idea of a monitored elbow band or strip is far-fetched, do recall the famous reported utterance in 1899 by Charles H. Duell, the Commissioner of US patent office: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2018