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Preventative action needed

 THE valid objections to the International Cricket Council (ICC) suspension of Shane Shillingford is not so much against its finding that his elbow is bent at more that its stipulated 15 degrees in delivery (it became increasingly more apparent as the fatigue of 187 overs in four Tests innings in India and New Zealand took its toll) but its failure also to move against others, past and present, with similar kinks.

Andy Roberts’ protest last week was made with the same sharp precision that earned him 198 Test wickets.  

“You have pelters who have world records who they are not calling and you have pelters who are top of the ICC rankings today who they are not calling,” he said. 

Their identities were unambiguous – Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan twirler with the Test record 800 wickets for whom, for all the ICC’s denials, the allowable flex of 15 degrees was introduced, and Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan ‘doosra’ specialist who is No.1 on the current ICC bowlers’ rankings.

Michael Holding, Roberts’ equally forthright partner throughout most of his Test career, openly questioned the elbows’ legality of Ajmal and Ajmal’s teammate, off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez, in his tv commentary on Pakistan’s 2011 tour of the West Indies.

This is nothing anyone watching on their screens at home or, indeed, from the stands, cannot see for themselves. 

Murali’s action was no-balled three times in Australia by Australian umpires in the 1990s; the third time, in an ODI in Adelaide in 1999, his captain Arjuna Ranatunga threatened to take his team off the field and, with a lawyer and support from the government, successfully argued that umpire Roy Emerson’s decision was restraint of trade. The ICC introduced the implausible protractor solution soon afterwards.

Under it, both Ajmal and Hafeez have been reported but cleared by the ICC. 

So why Shillingford and not Ajmal and Hafeez and, according to Roberts, “three or four” among the ICC’s top ten?

Roberts’ explanation is: “They are from countries that have clout and West Indies have no clout in international cricket.”

It is not known whether the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has made representations to the ICC to have every suspect action taken out of the game, not just theirs. In Shillingford’s case, they might want to use the original Sri Lankan threat of “restraint of trade”.

It won’t be the kind of Christmas Shillingford anticipated, even if he is back home in Dominica with support from his family, the government and the people. He has had to repeatedly come back after such setbacks; perhaps he can again but, at 30, his future in the game that has been his life is uncertain.

The dark cloud of controversy has hung over his action since he was a teenager. 

He was called by Steve Bucknor, the West Indies’ senior umpire, three times in the Windwards match against the Leewards in the 2001 season (twice from square-leg, once from the bowler’s end). He was not yet 18; figures of seven for 66 against Jamaica on debut in the previous match confirmed his potential as an off-spinner.

 In spite of Bucknor’s judgment, he was on the West Indies team to the 2002 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand and continued to claim plenty of wickets for the Windwards.

West Indies selectors, perhaps wary of exposing him to international umpires, waited until 2010 to pick him again, initially for the ‘A’ team and then for his Test debut against South Africa.

After his first overseas Test, against Sri Lanka in Galle in November that year, the umpires found fault with his action and he was sent to the ICC’s special unit in Perth for remedial action. 

Once approved, he returned to the Test team in 2012 against Australia; five or more wickets in an innings and two of ten in the match have followed. He has carried the attack for the last three series.

It is a blow, not just for him but for West Indies cricket. The moral, as it was when fast bowler Jermaine Lawson’s flawed action ended his career, is for the deliveries of all emerging bowlers to be monitored to ensure that they remain legal.  —Tony Cozier

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