Home > Cricket > Columns > Daniel Laidlaw
Holding leads by example
May 17, 2003
The dramatic events of the fourth Test -- the McGrath/Sarwan conflagration, followed by the record run chase -- have somewhat overshadowed what would ordinarily have been the most explosive story to emerge from any match: the reporting of a bowler for a suspect action. Usually, that would be a good thing, as it is an issue which is normally blown out of proportion. In this case, however, the relative lack of attention has been a little unfortunate, for the handling of the issue by those concerned in the West Indies has been instructive.
You will recall that in March last year, former West Indies great Michael Holding, a member of the ICC's bowling review panel, got himself into trouble for saying he agreed "110 per cent" with Bishen Bedi's claim in a Wisden interview that Muttiah Muralitharan's bowling action was illegal. Holding was swiftly condemned at the time by the Sri Lankan cricket board (BCCSL), which protested to the ICC, for "very publicly" commenting on Murali while a member of the ICC panel, and among other things making remarks "harmful to the game of cricket". Sri Lankan newspaper the Daily Mirror even went as far as to intimate an Anglo conspiracy, with Sri Lanka touring England later that year. That Holding didn't actually say anything of his own was apparently irrelevant.
On Monday, day four of the fourth Test, young West Indies fast bowler Jermaine Lawson, who took a career-best 7/78 on day one, was officially reported by umpires Shepherd and Venkataraghavan for a suspect action. Two days earlier - before Lawson was reported - Holding had become the first notable ex-cricketer to publicly question Lawson's action, labelling it "dicey". Holding, who is known to advise the West Indies' current generation of fast bowlers, reportedly approached West Indies coach Gus Logie to offer advice on how Lawson's action could be remodelled -- again, before it had been reported to the ICC.
Holding, it should be noted, is Jamaican. Lawson, the bowler in question, is also Jamaican. Despite the region's notorious inter-island rivalry, Holding evidently saw it as no slur whatsoever on Lawson to admit his action was dicey. Rather, it was viewed as a technical problem to be overcome, and Holding wanted to help him.
Holding was calm in assessing Lawson's problems. "It's not the smoothest action in the world and he has to do some work on it," he told The Australian. "There are a few deliveries that don't look quite right and I wouldn't say it's necessarily his effort delivery. The first over he bowled in (Australia's) second innings was quick. The first ball he bowled was 90-odd miles an hour, and they were perfect -- absolutely nothing wrong. I think it's just sometimes he doesn't get to the crease as he should, as balanced as he should and it just interferes with his action," Holding said.
Notice the honest assessment, the level-headed analysis, and the total absence of outraged denials and conspiracy claims -- all before it is even officially recognised that Lawson has a problem.
Now contrast Holding's approach with how the Sri Lankan management deals with suspect bowlers, like with the case of Ruchira Perera in England last year. During the third day of the first Test at Lord's last May, replays clearly showed Perera throwing, and the media picked up on it. Sri Lankan manager Chandra Schaffter called the replays "disappointing and unfair", complained about the emphasis placed on Perera's action, and brought out the familiar defence: "Ruchira has played Test cricket around the world and he has never had any problems before."
Coach Dav Whatmore was also in denial. "We're confident his action is OK," Whatmore said. "(Perera) has had every encouragement from his team-mates, coach and manager."
At the conclusion of the Test, Perera was officially reported by umpires Venkataraghavan and Harper, which drew perfunctory acknowledgement from Schaffter. Subsequent analysis then showed that oops, yes, Perera's action did in fact need remodelling, and he quietly disappeared from the scene to undergo this.
"When we studied the footage, which the ICC had given us, there was an obvious problem and we rectified that with Ruchira," a member of the BCCSL-appointed panel to analyse Perera told CricInfo last July. One wonders what Schaffter and Whatmore were watching during the first Test, then.
Still, despite the Sri Lankan method of burying their heads in the sand, there are still valid questions of consistency in the reporting process. Umpire Shepherd, for example, was involved in five of Lawson's previous six Tests, without initiating a report. Why did he wait until Lawson took 7 wickets before reporting him?
West Indies Cricket Board president Wes Hall made more or less the same point. It is frustrating reports tend to occur this way, but not necessarily sinister. A wicket-taking bowler will naturally attract more scrutiny, and more slow-motion replays, than one being belted around the park. In addition, actions can change or deteriorate over time, or when a bowler attempts a particular delivery. The "he's never had any problems before" defence is not impregnable. Those reviewing Perera reportedly stressed his dubious action developed just prior to or during the England tour.
Holding also has concerns with a different kind of consistency, claiming there are six other bowlers in international cricket whose actions flout the law. "There are spinners who are chucking, there are fast bowlers who are chucking, and yet nobody is saying anything about it," Holding told The Australian in the same report. "Now this young man (Lawson) comes on the scene, and of all a sudden he's being reported to the ICC and they want to look at tapes (of his action). Why don't they look at tapes of the other six?"
Holding's pro-active approach with Lawson, and his frank comments on others, shows that there must be room for honesty and integrity in dealing with suspect bowling actions. Unlike the Sri Lankan management, Holding actually has an interest in helping West Indies' young fast bowlers, not damaging their careers by pretending nothing is wrong until they are officially put on notice.
As Holding's intervention demonstrates, it is primarily the responsibility of every coach and country to ensure the actions of their bowlers are legal, not the ICC. The message is to fix the problem as early as possible, because doing otherwise can only hurt the career of the bowler concerned.