Sri Lankan ergonomist offers scientific resolve in Murali case

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Sri Lankan scientist and ergonomist Dr. Ravi Goonetilleke now based in Hong Kong has offered his services to resolve the Muralitharan dilemma once and for all.

Constant dithering by the ICC and Australian authorities has made this fiasco into a recurring nightmare for a young player hailed as a world class spinner of the ball.

The chucking controversy has degenerated into a circus act with West Indies captain Richardson and all-rounder Carl Hooper who were facing Muralitharan during a three-over spell when he was no balled seven times by umpire Emerson, being mystified at the decision.

Dr. Goonetilleke is a Professor of Ergonomics at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Clear Water Bay. Dr. Goonetilleke has set up a world class Human Performance Laboratory to enhance the science of Ergonomics during his 16 month stay in Hong Kong. He has been practising in this specialised field for over 14 years in the United States and Hong Kong. Prior to his present position in Hong Kong, he headed the Ergonomics Research Division at the NIKE Sports Research Laboratory at their Headquarters in Oregon USA. He has been constantly involved in various research activities and projects with world class athletes and sportsmen and women while working at the world class fitness company, NIKE, Inc. Ergonomics is the science that deals with the interactions between humans and the tools and equipment they use. In simpler terms, it deals with various human-machine interactions. One primary component of this science is the measurement of posture during work or sports activity. Dr. Goonetilleke is confident that with his expertise and the internationally utilised equipment he possesses in his lab in Hong Kong he can accurately and objectively determine Muralitharan’s bowling action which has so far only being based on subjective opinions of Australian umpires.

Dr. Goonetilleke who has also served as an Ergonomics consultant in the US dealing with occupational injuries and sports biomechanics for the Biomechanics Corporation of America in New York, may be just the expert Sri Lanka needs to put the Murali saga finally to rest. According to Dr. Goonetilleke, there are a number of techniques available today to measure dynamic posture using computerised equipment. One of them is an electrogoniometer which weighs no more than a few games, and which is attached across the elbow joint using adhesive or tape. Dr. Goonetilleke explains that postural measurements taken using this electronic equipment, during Muralitharan’s bowling action and performed under normal field conditions would accurately determine the three dimensional elbow angles during the bowling action. The information collected of the elbow angles at sampling rates of over 25 angles per second can be downloaded directly to a portable computer. However, in a field setting he possesses a data logger of the size of a computer mouse which can be carried around in one’s pocket in a very noninvasive manner. These data logger’s are so powerful that they can store more information than one can ever think of.

At the end of a recording session, or an actual playing session to be precise, the information in the data logger can be downloaded into a computer for further analysis to determine the elbow angles throughout the bowling action to make an unbiased decision of the throwing controversy now existing.

In Dr. Buddy Reid’s welcome analysis of Murali’s action, he is diagnosed to have a fixed deformity of 32 degrees at the elbow on his right arm and 26 degrees on the left elbow at birth. His analysis also reported that as Muralitharan’s shoulder rotates the arm, and the arm continues forwards, and downwards, the forearm then becomes straight in line with the arm, giving an impression of a straightening of the elbow although no actual straightening occurs. The only unfortunate points in these arguments are (which some Australians were quick to point out) that the measurements were taken in a clinical setting in static conditions and the inability to support the impression of a straigthening. The method proposed by Dr. Goonetilleke will reveal the elbow angle in a dynamic situation which will critically determine whether the Sri Lankan spinner has indeed a chucking action.

Dr. Goonetilleke who is in Sri Lanka on a short holiday at the moment has already communicated his willingness to scientifically investigate this issue, directly to the Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs and Rural Development, and to the Cricket Lovers Association (CLA) through Dr. Hemamal Jayawardena.

Cricket has changed over the years to now include match umpires and a third umpire who determine decisions on slow motion video replays where the field umpire is unable to make a judgement due to the inability of the naked eye and determine information precisely. It may be time that the ICC utilised state-of-the-art equipment such as electro-goniometers to quantitatively determine and evaluate bowling actions. Bowlers should be scientifically monitored rather than called subjectively, based on umpire opinions which are normally made on perception which can give rise to significant perceptual illusions, especially since the umpires angle of view can be as large as 30 degrees from the longitudinal pitch axis at point of ball delivery. In this decade of computerisation, it is a pity that ICC countries are unaware of state-of-the-art technologies to resolve subjective opinions using more objective measurements.

It is to be hoped that all this, will in the end prevent a crucifixion of one of the world’s best off spinners. Meanwhile the unassuming 23-year-old seems reasonably well balanced to handle the psywar practised on him.

The Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs & Rural Development S. B. Dissanayake, is to be commended for taking prompt action to present Sri Lanka’s case together with a full report from Prof. Ravi Goonetilleke, to the ICC through the Board of Control for Sri Lanka, and the handling this highly volatile situation with the greatest of efficiency and concern for the spirit of the game. (Daily News issue of 11.01.96)

Source : Daily News