Biomechanics guru says off-spinners are unfairly targeted
Pakistan's Shoaib Malik (above) undergoes testing at the University of Western Australia in 2004 (Getty)
One of cricket's most experienced biomechanical experts says pace bowlers have gone under the radar of the International Cricket Council's recent crackdown on suspected illegal actions.
Dr Daryl Foster, a former Western Australia coach who has worked with the world's leading cricketers since 1973, when he helped Dennis Lillee redefine his action after the legendary quick broke down with stress fractures, says fast bowlers with potentially dangerous actions have long slipped through the net, while he believes off-spinners have been unfairly targeted.
Dr Foster worked with Muthiah Muralidaran when the scandal around his action first erupted in 1995 and was the world's foremost authority on bowling actions for a number of years, working with a team of biomechanists at the University of Western Australia.
Since December, off-spinners Shane Shillingford and Marlon Samuels from the West Indies, New Zealand's Kane Williamson and Sri Lanka's Sachithra Senanayake have all been banned from bowling certain deliveries after their actions were deemed illegal by the ICC.
And this week, Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal was ordered to undergo testing by the ICC after he was reported for a suspect action during a Test match against Sri Lanka in Galle.
Quick Single: Ajmal reported for suspect action
The spike has coincided with a recommendation from the ICC's cricket committee in June, which was of the view that "there are some bowlers operating with suspect actions that should be scrutinised a bit more closely".
Dr Foster says fast bowlers who bowl with an elbow extension greater than the legal limit of 15 degrees, particularly when bowling faster short balls, are a safety issue for batsman.
But the 75-year-old is not as concerned about off-spin bowlers who push the 15-degree limit, adding the enhancement of the craft has been exciting for the game.
"It wouldn't worry me if a spin bowler bowled at 20 degrees, personally. But it certainly would worry me if a fast bowler did that," Dr Foster told cricket.com.au.
"Murali and Saqlain (Mushtaq) developed the doosra and now people are developing the carrom ball.
"Others like (Ajantha) Mendis and Senanayake are able to bowl a leg-break with basically the same sort of action.
"Everyone's trying to invent things to, I think, make the game better.
"But sometimes they slip over the 15 degrees and they need to be modified."
Dr Foster's sentiments were this week echoed by former England captain Mike Atherton, who wrote in The Times that the development of off-spin bowling was "far too important and beautiful to lose — provided things do not get out of control".
Until March, the UWA was the ICC's sole testing facility for players who had been reported for suspected illegal bowling actions.
Since the Murali scandal almost 20 years ago, Dr Foster and his team have worked with around 40 suspect bowlers, including off-spinners Johan Botha, Shoaib Malik, Harbahjan Singh and Ajmal.
He's also worked with pacemen Shoaib Akhtar and Shabbir Ahmed – both of whom have been suspended for an illegal action since Murali was called for chucking in 1995.
Several other fast bowlers since the Murali saga, including Australia's Brett Lee, have been reported for a suspected illegal action but were later cleared.
The UWA now operates independently of the ICC's backing and is currently working with Senanayake in Perth as he bids to have his action cleared by the ICC.
Quick Single: ICC to broaden testing centres in chucking clampdown
Dr Foster says he's "personally not worried at all" about the wider issue of chucking, but adds that the ICC needs to broaden its target beyond off-spinners to make the recent crackdown fair.
"At the moment, the only bowlers who are being reported are right-arm off-spinners. So there's definitely been a crackdown on them," he said.
"It really disturbs me a little bit because I think there are fast bowlers, past and present, who probably have exerted a little bit more extension when they bowl their bouncer.
"And that's the ball that's going to kill somebody; the one that comes at eight or ten kilometres faster all of a sudden.
"People say they just put more effort into it. Well, how did they put more effort into it?
"I think if there's going to be a crackdown, there's got to be a crackdown on all aspects of bowling, not just the right-arm off-spinners."
Dr Foster expressed sympathy for bowlers who have been reported and banned for throwing, saying he'd never come across a player who "intentionally goes out of his way to chuck".
He added that the bowlers he's dealt with have all been eager to re-model their action in a bid to get back on the field.
"If you're talking about bowlers from the subcontinent, this is their livelihood," he said.
"This is their way of making money for their family. It's just so important to them.
"Because of little changes over time, trying to gain extra skills, bowl a bit quicker or try to turn it a bit more, they develop bad habits. And that's what I think it is.
"If all the Test playing nations were vigilant about these things, I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem."
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 15 August, 2014 12:01PM AEST