Many cricket fans will know that from 1995 onwards Muttiah Muralitharan was hounded by a wide range of powerful figures in the cricket world, individuals mostly located in Australiaand New Zealand. Threatened by Darrell hair’s unconventional umpiring action on 26 December 21995, Murali’s bowling action was deemed legal by the scientific analysis of the Department of Human Movement & Exercise Science at the University of Western Australia after Daryl Foster, an Australian man of common sense and true friend of Sri Lankan cricket, initiated a test in January 1996; while similar work by Dr. Ravi Goonetilleke at the University of Science Technology in Hong Kong confirmed this finding.[i]
I have never understood why the ICC and the various Sri Lankan Boards running cricket between 1996 and 2003 have not aired the distilled footage created by the UWA unit, footage that has been shown to both ICC and MCC committees at various points of time between 1995 and 2005. I have presented this criticism in mild form in Incursions and Excursions, alas a work that will never be read by many cricketers outsideSri Lanka (if that) and will certainly not reach the men who count in the ruling circles of cricket. As in the book, I insist, here, that such weighty evidence should be widely publicized for the benefit of celebrity idiots of the Bedi variety.
The weight of such visual imagery as evidence has recently been brought out – in passing let me stress – in a recent book by Malcolm Speed, the former CEO of the Australian Cricket Board who then became CEO of the ICC. This significant act of witness relates not to the initial assault on Murali’s action in 1995/96 and then again in 1999, but rather to the subsequent questioning from circa 2003 onwards of his delivery of the new invention, the doosra. When Chris Broad, as Match Referee at a Test Match in Colombo, formally questioned the action (perhaps in order to resolve the whisperings) on 16 March 2004, this became an official investigation that focused on Murali in particular.[ii]Fortunately a couple of bio-mechanical movement scientists, Marc Portus of the ACB and Mark Hurion at the England end,[iii] had also been deploying improved camera technology and chipping away for several years from 2002, if not earlier, by filming and studying a number of bowlers, both in laboratory conditions and secretly in the course of competitive matches.
In the meanwhile, faced with this new threat to Muralitharan, a few individuals in Sri Lanka pursued an innovative idea derived by Mahinda Wijesinghe from a reading of biographies on CB Fry and developed an elbow brace which prevented an arm from being bent. The idea was for Muralitharan could prove to the world that he could deliver the doosra while encased in this restricting mechanism. This little cluster of ingenious workers comprised the following:
- Wijesinghe as the original ideas man;
- Dr. Mandheep Dhillon, an Indian doctor at theApolloHospital, who became the Marconi devising an elbow brace; and
- Kushil Gunaesekera (Muralitharan’s Manager) as facilitator and organiser par excellence.
After a secret test at SLC’s indoor nets at Maitland Crescentrevealed that Murali could indeed produce the doosra with the brace on, the next step was to show the world this FACT as moving visual evidence — moving in several senses This is where Kushil Gunasekera’s network of connections, assisted also by Sri Lanka Cricket, came into play. Critical supporters in Kushil’s ‘outreach’ propaganda work were Glucka Wijesuriya in England and TV personality Ravi Shastri in India.
To cut a long story short, as I have indicated in Incursions and Excursions, some segments of the cricket world received the benefit of this evidence when Channel Four, with Mark Nicholas as compere,[iv] aired it inEngland in July 2004. A Sri Lankan lawyer inUK, Glucka Wijesuriya, was a central force in persuading Channel Four to take up this task as a documentary (but prefers to stay in the background – a wish I have partially ignored). This was seconded when ESPN filmed their own documentary of Muralitharan bowling with a brace to Michael Slater at the Premadasa Stadium and Ravi Shastri serving as master of ceremonies. This filming was done quietly but then aired during est series againstIndia inSri Lanka.
As indicated above, the impact of this video work on some of the sceptics has recently been attested in Malcolm Speed’s biography Sticky Wicket (2011, Harper Collins). The relevant text runs as follows:
“Murali’s doosra had been tested it came in at 14 degrees, and after remedial training had been reduced to a mean of 10.2 degrees……There were still many who were suspicious……I was keen to hear Holdings views as he had agreed with former Indian spinner Bedi that Murali’s action was like a javelin throw. Holding satisfied my doubts with a strong opinion after the Dubai meeting, he said:”The scientific evidence is overwhelming ….when bowlers who to the naked eye look to have pure actions are thoroughly analysed with sophisticated technology now in place they are likely to be shown as straightening the arm by 11 and in some cases 12 degrees. Under a strict interpretation of the Law, these players are breaking the rules. The game needs to deal with this reality and make its judgement as to how it accommodates this fact.” The ICC ratified the new rule in 2005. Murali still has doubters. He has a very unusual action. He has a congenital defect in his right arm and uses his wrist extensively in the delivery action. I was convinced of the legality of his action when he undertook tests in which his arm was encased in a brace made of steel bars set into strong resin. With the brace on it still looked as if he straightened his arm, even though the brace made it impossible to do so. His unique shoulder action and amazing wrist action seem to create the illusion that he straightens his arm.”
Thus, in summary, Speed’s recounting supports the two main contentions that have been spelt out in the article “Saving Murali,” within Incursions and Excursions, namely, A) that hardline critics of the ICC’s sensible adjustments of the no-ball law, such as Holding, were blown apart by the power of the visual video evidence assembled by and Dr. Bruce Elliot (UWA), Portus and Hurion at an ICC Committee meeting on this issue at Dubai in October 2004;[v] (B) that others were converted by the documentary films aired by Channel Four and ESPN
The air is not crystal clear however. Neither of these films has been aired in Australiaand New Zealand. Many cricketing men in that part of the world, including Adam Gilchrist, Malcolm Conn and Martin Crowe, are convinced that the no-ball rule was tinkered with in order to protect Murali.[vi]
It is possible that, unlike Speed, some of these obdurate men will remain entrapped in the dark dungeons of dogma even were they to be exposed to such visual evidence. We know that there are incorrigible Americans who believe that 9/11 was the work of their government; while others insist that Obama is Muslim. At no less an occasion than the prestigious Colin Cowdrey Lecture in 2006 Martin Crowe displayed to the cricket world how enmeshed he is in incorrigible obduracy when it comes to this topic.[vii] So, there are limits even to the power of the scientific visual.
[i] For further details, see Michael Roberts, “Saving Murali: Action On-field and Off-field,, 1995-2005,” in Roberts, Incursions and Excursions in and around Sri Lankan Cricket,Colombo, Author, 2011, pp.11-38.
[ii] Roberts, “Saving Murali,” pp. 123-30.
[v] Note Angus Fraser, “Murali in the clear as ICC revolutionises chucking laws,” The Independent, 10 Nov. 2004.
[vi] Roberts, “Saving Murali,” pp. 123-30.