ICC crackdown on illegal bowling actions

In the sport of cricket, strict rules govern the method of bowling the ball. The rules relates to the bending of the arm at the elbow, the extent of which has always been open to interpretation by the umpires. More recently, the ICC has attempted to codify the maximum permissible flexing of the elbow as 15 degrees.

If an umpire or match official deems that a bowler is contravening law 23.4, he details this in the match report which is passed on the match referee. Within 24 hours of the conclusion of the match, the match referee provides the team manager and the ICC with a copy of the match report. A media statement is also issued that the player has been reported.

The first step in this process is an independent review of the player’s bowling action which is carried out by a member of the ICC panel of human movement specialists, who will furnish the ICC with their report. If this report concludes that the player does have an illegal action, he is immediately suspended from all international cricket until he has remedied his action.

If however, only a particular delivery is illegal, he can continue to bowl in international cricket provided he does not use the delivery in question until it has been remedied. Throughout the period of this independent assessment, the player can continue to bowl in international cricket.

If the player does not agree with the report, he can seek a hearing from a bowling review group made up of experts appointed by the ICC. This group will review evidence and decide, by a simple majority vote, on the legality of the player’s action. If the player is cleared the suspension will be lifted immediately. A player who has been suspended from international cricket can continue to play domestic cricket under the supervision of his cricket Board.

A player who has been suspended can at any time apply for a reassessment of his action. This usually happens after the player has completed a period of remedial work on his action. This reassessment is carried out in the same manner as the independent review. If the review concludes that the player has remedied his action his suspension will be lifted with immediate effect and he can start bowling in international cricket.

If the player is reported and suspended a second time within two years of his last report, he is automatically suspended for a period of one year before he can apply for a reassessment of his action. This event usually ends up effectively terminating a player’s international career.

Suspect actions in the news since June

3 June: Sri Lanka off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

22 June: New Zealand off-spinner Kane Williamson is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

28 June: The ICC Cricket Committee meets in Melbourne and recommends an increased focus on bowlers with questionable actions.

12 July: Senanayake is banned from bowling by the ICC after undergoing official testing in Cardiff.

23 July: Williamson is banned from bowling by the ICC after undergoing official testing in Cardiff.

11 August: Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

15 August: The ICC confirms three newly accredited testing centres will be unveiled in the coming months.

22 August: Zimbabwe off-spinner Prosper Utseya is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

25 August: Bangladesh off-spinner Sohag Gazi is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

25 August: Ajmal begins official testing at Cricket Australia’s National Cricket Centre in Brisbane.

9 September: Ajmal banned with immediate effect by ICC. Pakistan Cricket Board say they will weigh up their options, while Ajmal says a medical condition is to blame and he remains confident of playing in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.

10 September: Bangladesh fast bowler Al-Amin Hossain is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.

13 September: PCB release details of ICC report that show Ajmal was found to be straightening arm nearly three times the legal limit.

26 September: PCB suspend 16 domestic cricketers with suspect bowling actions.

28 September: Oppo CLT20 match officials report Lahore Lions captain Mohammad Hafeez and Dolphins bowler Prenelan Subrayan for suspect bowling actions.

30 September: Oppo CLT20 match officials report Kolkata Knight Riders spinner Sunil Narine for a suspected illegal bowling action

2 October: Sunil Narine is reported for a second time and disqualified from bowling in the Oppo CLT20 final

Frequently asked questions

What is an illegal bowling action?
An illegal bowling action is one in which the bowler’s ‘elbow extension’ exceeds 15 degrees while he is in his delivery stride. The ICC set the 15-degree limit for all bowlers in November 2004.

What constitutes elbow extension?
Elbow extension includes flexion (in this case, the closing of the elbow joint) and extension (the straightening of the elbow joint).

Does a bent arm automatically signify an illegal action?
If the arm is bent at the onset of the delivery stride but remains rigid or does not flex or extend beyond the permissible 15 degrees during the duration of the stride, the action is not illegal. An action is only illegal if the arm flexes or extends beyond the permissible limit while in the delivery stride.

What happens after a bowler’s action is reported by the match officials?
Once the match officials’ report is received by the bowler’s team management or home board, he must undergo testing on his action at an ICC-accredited facility within 21 days. At present, there are ICC-approved centres in Brisbane and Cardiff, and another one in Chennai is expected to be functional soon. The player is free to bowl until the results of the test are out.

What does the test involve?
The bowler is expected to replicate the action he uses during an international match and bowl at the same speed too, for the various deliveries being tested. His action is captured by multiple cameras and his movement is monitored using sensors placed on his body. The test, which is conducted by biomechanists and human movement experts, measures the degree of flexion and extension for every delivery and determines whether the action violates the prescribed 15-degree limit.

If the action is found to be illegal, what then?
The player will be suspended from bowling in international cricket immediately and a report of the test will be sent to the player’s home board. On receipt of the report, the board has the option of appealing the results to an ICC-appointed bowling review group (BRG) within 14 days. However, should the appeal fail, the BRG could impose a ban on the player for a period of time.

What is the process if the player’s board decides not to appeal?
The player will have to undergo remedial work on his action. He can apply for retesting at any point of time, and if his remedied action passes the ICC’s 15-degree rule, he will be allowed to resume bowling in international cricket.

What happens if the bowler’s action is found to be illegal a second time?
If the player is suspended a second time for an illegal action within two years of the first instance, the second suspension – from bowling in international cricket – shall last for a minimum of one year. He will be allowed to apply for reassessment only at the completion of the one year.

What if only one of a bowler’s deliveries is deemed to be illegal?
If testing shows that the bowler’s action is illegal only for a particular delivery, say the doosra, he will be banned from bowling just the doosra in international cricket until he corrects his action for this particular ball and has it passed as legal. If he is found to have bowled the doosra in an international game without having it reassessed first, he will be reported and suspended from bowling in internationals altogether, and the suspension shall be considered a second suspension in keeping with the terms mentioned in the previous question.

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