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MODERN DAY CRICKET

Chuck it. It's the IPL!

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MATE, YOU : After doubts weres raised over Marlon Samuels' action in the IPL recently, his Pune skipper Sourav Ganguly was quick to jump to his defence

If Marlon Samuels gets warned for his action, then there are a few others bowling in the IPL who are much worse than him. " Sourav Ganguly, Samuels' skipper in Team Pune, may have swiftly come to his West Indian bowler's defence, but when he did so, Ganguly was forgetting that he was also the BCCI Technical Committee chairman.

It was clearly the Pune skipper's desperation to back his spinner as his team tried to float around in the fiercely contested league. Had he been wearing his BCCI hat, he wouldn't have made such a comment, but typically, Ganguly has stirred a hornet's nest.
According to former Indian captain Bishan Singh Bedi, the IPL has become a "breeding ground for chuckers" and unless something is done with immediate effect, "the art of spin bowling is going to die". "It's happening because of the money that is involved and no one is ready to raise a voice. I can easily point out 15 bowlers in this league who are chucking, " thunders Bedi, for long a lone voice against the increasing spectre of chucking in modern-day cricket.

Recently, Bedi found he is not the lone crusader. He found a most unlikely ally in Arjuna Ranatunga, who has come out with a statement that has shaken the cricket world. "When the Muralitharan issue started, I knew there was an issue with his hand, which was genuine, " he told a Gulf daily last week. "However, watching some of the bowlers' actions today, I think I might have created a monster. Now you do not know whether a bowler is bending 15 degrees or over 30 degrees, " Ranatunga had added, deeply disappointed with the way things have shaped up over the years.

Both Bedi and Ranatunga are not far from the truth. According to an IPL team insider, team managements are telling their spinners with suspect action that "they cannot bowl with half-sleeve shirts" so that the 15-degree-plus bend doesn't look pronounced. And even if somebody like a Samuels gets questioned, the machinery starts working overtime to ensure that such queries are put to rest as soon as possible, the team official, a former India player, says.

Bedi feels that the tournament itself is losing its credibility just because the management is allowing these bowlers to go scot-free. "In Mumbai, there's Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha, in Rajasthan there's Johan Botha, in Pune, there's Samuels, in Kolkata, there's Sunil Narine, and Banglaore, of course, has the king of the racket - Muttiah Muralitharan. The list goes on and on and you'll have to stop the tournament if you start calling these guys, " Bedi says.

Modern cricket's saga with chucking began with the Muralitharan issue, which first started in 1996 when the offie was called seven times by Australian umpire Ross Emerson. Skipper Ranatunga stepped in, made Murali bowl leg-spinners in that particular game and allowed the storm to blow over. It reared up again in 1999 when the Lankan was again called for chucking in Australia and this time Ranatunga put his foot down.

He was on the verge of staging a walkout and, subsequently, the Asian block in world cricket stood by him as Murali's case was legalised. "We fought over that and had I not taken it up strongly in Adelaide (1999), his career would have been over, " Ranatunga says.

Murali, of course, went on to take 800 Test wickets, but the bowler didn't sound too happy when asked about Ranatunga's current remarks. "I don't want to comment on it, but isn't it the skipper's duty to back his players to the hilt? I guess that's why he is the skipper, " Murali said when asked about it.

Bedi also brings in the reference of Pakistan and the politics of world cricket during the late 1990s that allowed "chuckers to carry on with their trade".

"Then, Shoaib Akhtar was also chucking and it became a major issue. But the then president of ICC, Jagmohan Dalmiya, was desperate to keep the Asian block together and these bowlers were allowed to carry on, " Bedi says.

The 15-degree law came in subsequently, which the former Indian captain terms as "bogus". "If somebody is chucking, everyone can see it. You don't need to go to a Western Australian university to find out whether it's 15 degrees or less, " he added.

With the 15-degree law, spinners from all around the world looked to make the most of it with the subcontinent heroes leading from the front. Shahid Afridi suddenly became the most feared spinner with a faster one that goes at 125 kmph while Saeed Ajmal has now come up with a new variation, the teesra. Sachin Tendulkar, unable to read him during the Asia Cup, raised the issue and the Indian team management had a talk with ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat. But according to people who are in the know of things, it was merely a mind-game that the Indians were playing with a probable final with the arch-rivals in mind.

M Venkataramana, former India offspinner, though, feels that there is a role of clinics where the actions can be corrected. "I completely agree that bowlers with suspect action should not be allowed to bowl. But at the same time, the clinics play a very important role. The people who are in charge should be very rigid. . . Then only a bowler can come back with a clean action. "

He gave the example of Shane Shillingford of West Indies, who was barred from international cricket, but was later cleared by ICC after his action was corrected. "I saw Shillingford's action very closely in the ongoing Test match against Australia and it looks absolutely clean, " Venkataramana, who played one Test and ODI for India in the late 1980s, says.

Bedi is clearly frustrated. "Somebody has to be honest about it and call the bluff. The other option is to legalise chucking so that critics like us can stop talking, " he says.

With the system, in a sense, backing them, the bowlers in question are hardly bothered about it. While Ajmal took a dig at Tendulkar saying "the Master is at the fag end of his career", Samuels was far from apologetic. "They are evil... (It's ) because they can't send me into the galleries. I had to work very hard in the nets to acquire the faster one and it's a weapon in limited-overs cricket, " he said.

With the ICC, too, taking a soft stance with the demands of the market, the Samuels and Ajmals of the world are going to rule the roost in the days to come.

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