The prestigious World-Cup 1996 is just 5weeks away. All eyes of the cricketing world, no doubt are focused at ICC and on Sri Lanka’s leading test match wicket taker, Muralitharan. Is he really contravening any accepted rules? If not, is there anything more to this controversy? All these are still under careful scrutiny. Leading cricket personalities, very knowledgeable media personnel & 101 others have said 1001 things. Many vital questions have been raised, but regretfully only a handful had been selected yet, for answering, when contacted, said Ajith Perera, a former international panel senior cricket umpire of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.

Over a period of time symptoms of a suspected illness had been identified and many reasons are still being debated whilst the patient is critically ill at present. Past is dead. The need of the hour is to put all heads together, to find an effective remedy to cure him fully and permanently from this dreadful sickness, without leaving room for a possible relapse. It’s essential that we act very promptly & sincerely, but systematically adopting a professional approach, not only to prevent premature death but also to resurrect a healthy giant for the immediate future, added Mr. Perera, who is an authority on the game, at the start of this interview.

Q: How does a delivery become illegal? Please clarify this for us.

A: Well, in about seven ways this is possible. But let’s deal with only that aspect, relevant to us now, The requirements of the arm of the bowler. There is, One and only one criteria, as per the requirements of the laws of cricket, that could and should be used to judge, for fairness or unfairness of a bowler’s delivery action. At the point of releasing the ball in his delivery action, the elbow of the bowling arm, either fully or partially, should not in any way be straightened. Straightening of the arm’, is the key phrase. It is this particular movement of the arm only & nothing else, that form the legal requirements, for a ball projected to be fair or not. This is thus the only tool that could and should be used for all judgements, in this regard. Thus, all one has to determine to judge a fair delivery from an unfair delivery would be,. At the point of delivery, is he straightening his arm in any way, either completely or even partly or not. If there is any straightening – it is an illegal delivery. If there is no straightening – it is a fair delivery. Of course, each delivery should be judged separately on it’s own merits. Many spin bowlers have a Bent Arm bowling action and there is nothing specific in such to violate rules. If this bent arm does not in any way straighten in delivery action, it meets this criteria for acceptance and hence is a fair delivery. Any other observation or happening, is of no use for judgement of fairness or unfairness nor be of any direct or indirect clue. Behaviour of deliveries & the amount of turn the bowler is able to generate in comparison to other bowlers, are of no value at all, towards judgements. Unorthodox, peculiar and suspicious bowling actions are quite common and like in all other walks of life it is common to raise doubts & curiosity in oneself. All that is required in such instances is to use the criteria I just explained as the judgement meter and then analyse judiciously. All suspected or peculiar actions or even the majority are not at all illegal, when judged judiciously but the viceversa is true. It is not strange to see very many falling for these hidden traps, due to ignorance of the proper criteria and understanding.

Q: Some blame the local umpires, for allowing bowlers like Muralitharan to get away with such suspected action. How do you feel about this?

A: As I just said, very many without knowing facts, fully and properly, run into incorrect conclusions in life. This is no exception. In this regard, bowlers fall into four main groups. (a) Regular obvious thrower. (b) Odd-delivery, obvious thrower. (c) Those with unorthodox/ peculiar/suspected actions, which is not obvious to the eye, with no deformities/ abnormalities/ injuries in their bowling arm/ palm/ wrist. and (d) Same as (c) above, but having deformities/ abnormalities either from bith itself or thereafter, due to accidents/ surgery/ etc. restricting their free movements fully or partially.

With an alert mind & adequate experience, types (a) & (b), could be detected, have been detected and reported by our umpires to those concerned. With (c) & (d), one may sense & feel that something is not quite right with his action, but human faculty of vision with its limitations, does not and cannot permit any one, to arrive at any firm & fair conclusions. Vision on the other hand, is not a straight forward direct affair as most of us think. It’s complicated process with many limitations, involving the eye & brain, both. Vision in reality, takes place not in eyes but in brain. Greater the swiftness of occurrence of an act, lesser the chances the brain will, have to register things properly leading to greater uncertainties in judgements. Usually, umpires have only a fraction of a second to watch simultaneously, many things in the delivery stride, even from the strikers’ end. Things get further complicated with type (d) bowlers, like Muralitharan, because with shoulder rotations, such affected arms give false impressions of straightening of elbow, although no actual straightening occurs. Video filming of such suspected bowling actions coupled with super-slow several action replays covered from many angles is the only effective remedy. Unfortunately, the umpires are not fortunate enough to have (ready) access to such facilities. As explained earlier, suspicion should never be taken to conclude illegality and rush to act foolishly, based on such imagination. In such circumstances, all what a poor umpire can do is, to indicate tactfully the need to video such bowler, which had been the case very many times, I assure you not only with Murali but with few others. Some time back Mr. Bandula Warnapura who initiated such a scheme, never received assistance but resistance, hence the project died prematurely. BCCSL now having the resources, as part of their planned future training activities, should re-embark on such a mission, systematically.

Q: You would have seen very many times in the past, Muralitharan bowling in reality on field of play in umpiring matches. What are your personal views on his bowling?

A: Yes, I very well remember him playing for his club Tamil Union C & AC in 1991/92. He falls to my group (d) type, said before. No doubt he bowls with a peculiar unorthodox wrist action. When elbow comes into play gives rise to all these doubts. As I stressed before, doubts & abnormalities do not indicate anything firm. Of course, I never had the chance to view any of his video tapes. Over the recent TV replays, I now have seen some. Although arm is bent (which is permitted, as said before), I have not seen then nor am convinced now, of him straightening bowling arm, even partly, in his delivery action at the point of delivery. In fact his arm comes down without a straightening across his body. As such, his deliveries do not qualify to be termed unfair or illegal, in accordance with the laws governing cricket.

Q: Is there anything more, you may like to add now, in this regard?

A: Yes, perhaps two things. (1) Dr. Buddy Reid well known Melbourne based surgeon confirms after a thorough examination he has fixed deformities in both arms from birth, right elbow more prominent than left which is said to be a natural condition amongst all members of his family. As a result of these natural flaws, 1.1 His bent bowling arm is reported unable to straighten at all, even partially. This means nature protects him at all times completely, from contravening the legal requirements for a ball to be deemed projected unfairly. Thus even if he wishes, he is unable physically, even to throw the odd delivery. Here he has the legal & medical backing. 1.2 Deliveries in which his shoulders rotate the arm prominantly, it gives a false impression of the elbow straightening up. Movement of extention of the wrist tends to enhance such false effect. (2). In 1991, he was under the direct care of Bruce Yardley. Having corrected initial flaws in Murali, he has turned him to a really world class bowler and even now assures there is absolutely nothing wrong in his delivery. Then from July 1995 to-date, he is also under Davenall Whatmore. After filming him from several angels, he too confirms that there is nothing in him that needs correction. Now these are two very competant & qualified cricket coaches of great repute.

Q: Would you like to express your views on Umpire Darrel Hair’s action, in no-balling him for illegal bowling, 7 times in 3 overs, during the 2nd test match at MCG on December 26, 1995?

A: Responsibility for dealing with bowling actions suspected for illegal deliveries, is a demanding one with possibility of serious ramifications. Every umpire has a duty to ensure that the game is played strictly in accordance with the laws. He must have courage to act against any unfair play, without fear or favour. He must act firmly without any hesitation but with abundance of tactfulness and commonsense, as the intention should be eradication of the actual ”illegal bowling” and not the bowler .

What really matters is ”What the umpire interprets at that instance”. Unfortunately, information so far available to us do not say what was that he really found objectionable, beyond any doubt, in those 7 deliveries out of the 228 bowled. Perhaps he may have done his job correctly. He must have in his mind interpreted what he has viewed from behind as ”Murali’s bent arm straightening at point of delivery”, in those 7 projections whilst in others deemed fair, such unlawful straightening never took place. This may and should have been his interpretation of the next 120 deliveries viewed from side-on position. If, that is the exact truth, most certainly he then has done his job very well.

Q: However, this episode has opened doors for lots of criticism, controversy, confusion, doubt and unrest in the minds of tens of thousands cricket lovers around the world, than any other single happening in the test match arena for a very long time. What are the causes for all these happenings?

A: Possibly 6 to 7 major factors, all combining to produce an enhanced synergic effect, leaving us all, confounded still. I feel these include the following.

1. The way it happened and the manner in which Darrell Hair acted, in calling Muralitharan.

2. Lack of uniformity in the interpretation and application of the legal criteria for judgement, Law 42.2, by the ICC Independent Panel of Umpires, with respect to Muralitharan’s bowling.

3. Remarks made in this regard, by well accepted past and present day cricketers and highly knowledgeable reputed media personnel, from all around the world.

4. Rather passive role, played by the ICC match referee Graham Dowling in this regard, to date.

5. Recent chain of unsporty activities, witnessed in Australia, since the arrival of our team.

The manner in which the ICC, supreme controlling body for world’s cricket, has acted so far.

Q: Could you please clarify and elaborate on these points?

A: (a). Darrell Hair is unique in being the first ever umpire in test cricket history, to call a bowler for illegal arm movement, from the bowler’s end itself. There is nothing in laws, to prevent or discourage in doing so from that position and in fact B/E umpire is in a better position to pick-up a bent arm straightening action. But, when a bowler is in his delivery stride, B/E umpire needs greater concentration with minimum head movements, to watch very closely with great alertness, bowler’s front and back foot placings, flight and path pick up of the projected ball and then of course the arm of the bowler, all these occurring simultaneously within a fraction of a second. As such, humanly it’s an almost impossible task to devote adequate attention to the bowler’s arm movements to judge legality of delivery, specially with my type (d) bowlers like Murali. Usual accepted practise thus is to request assistance from the striker’s end umpire, in working more closely with him, a thing that never happened.

(b). Just 4 days before this happening, in umpiring the 50 overs match in Sydney, Hair did not called nor even raised even the slightest doubt over Murali’s action.

(c). As per the ”Page” newspaper reports, Hair had given a warning to the Sri Lanka team taking field after the tea interval on first day, inducting his determination to continue to call him from whatever end he bowles there after. Hence Muralitharan did not bowl thereafter.

(d). In the light of all these happenings, it is difficult to ignore the very bad reputation Umpire Hair earned in being ”accused of bias”, just one year ago in umpiring that decisive 3rd test against South Africa in Australia itself.

In this very match itself, we had 2 umpires conveying rather two different opinions, based on how each one has interpreted the movement of the arm. To Steve Dunne scrutinizing 228 deliveries over two consecutive days, both from behind as well as from the side-on position nothing illegal happened. But Darrell Hair viewing from behind, in spite of his other vital simultaneous jobs, has been able to differentiate and detect 7 deliveries in 3 consecutive overs, some flaw in Murali’s arm, no complying with the laws.

He too does not spot anything illegal, immediately thereafter in viewing from side-on position 120 deliveries projected. Prune and Davis umpiring the very next B and H game in Hobart, both have vindicated his action after close scrutiny, each one from both ends, over 60 deliveries. Further confusions occur next when Ross Emerson who was earlier under one match suspension and standing in his first one-day international, from bowler’s end calls seven times in 25 deliveries, in spite of Murali bowling Leg spin from the wrist. What’s amazing is, seeing one delivery being judged unfair and the very next which appears identical to the naked eye, being judged fair! Video recordings and statements by umpires confirm that, there had been no differences at all in his actions, over this period.

About 15 Members of the ICC Panel of Umpires and 10 Referees have seen Muralitharan in action over long spells. Out of these, 03 umpires and 03 referees have interpreted differently. This again confirms divisions in opinions even amongst the world’s best, very much in favour of Muralitharan.

In fact scientifically also, there is accepted evidence to confirm of differences in the interpretation of same act by two or more people, specially when time-duration of an act is very little, like in these instances, as it hampers, the capacity of the brain to discriminate and register finer details of the act. Based on each individual’s perceptual style, brain will analyse and interprets visual perception of an act leading to the formation of conclusions and thus decision making. Quite often, the relationship between actual happening, image registered and final visual perception by the brain, due to many factors, is not the expected 1:1:1 ratio. This also leads to such great controversies.

Very eminent personnel like Everton Weeks, Zaheer Abbas, John Reid, Venkataraghava, Frank Cameron and Peter Vandermerwe all who have acted as ICC referees, have seen nothing unusual at all in his deliveries to report to the ICC. Richie Richardson and Carl Hooper who faced the 25 deliveries when he was called 7 times and Tony Greig were all in disbelief and has openly defended Murali. Colin Croft the famed West Indian fast bowler commenting over ABC radio has remarked that ”The ICC rules seem to be pretty flexibly applied by some Aussie umpires”.

Allan Border amongst many others admits he is unorthodox but not illegal. The much respected Peter Roebuch over the ABC radio was wondering if Sri Lanka had been easy meat, compared to other nations when placed in similar situations. All these goes on to prove one thing in common – their great disapproval of all that’s going on in Australia.

One of the main objectives in having a match referee as per the ICC code of conduct and regulations, section (1)(b), is for him to ensure the spirit of the game is observed and conduct of the game maintained by players, umpires and officials, both on and off the field. To what extent at this turbulent period has he acted in accordance with these legal expectations?

We now here of unsporty tactics creeping into the game and unethical practices being adopted, given the Nelsonian eye of those who are concerned, all against the spirit of the game, even violating the rules by the very same who make them, through a series of well planned and times activities, to unsettle batsmen, bowlers and even an entire team, aimed specially at those deemed as thorns in the flesh of homesides, with ”Inviting home to Insult” like attitudes.

Cricket at test match level, is no more a game nor form of entertainment, but a highly commercialised competitive profession, on which the existence and survival of many depend. Australian media campaign speculating on Murali’s action and raising questions loudly on it’s legality on the eve of the 1st test match, tour itinerancy making even a kangaroo ill, substandard facilities given for all warm-up matches and of course that infamous false accusation against an entire team of an illegal tampering with the ball and many others we are experiencing for the first time, has become part and parcel in this war without guns and ammunitions.

The Herald Sun of December 28 has spoken of discussions among influential officials over Muralitharan’s action weeks before he was called. Much respected and admired former Australian team leader, Allan Border, is on record saying boldly and clearly the ”It’s been a bit of a set-up”. (Daily News issue of 11.01.96)

Source : Daily News