Cricket: Ajmal banned … but will it stick?

Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan’s spin wizard and the taker of over 400 combined international wickets since 2008, was banned from bowling in all forms of the game having been found to have an illegal bowling action.

For those who missed it the ICC has been quoted thusly:

“An independent analysis has found the bowling action of Pakistan’s offspinner Saeed Ajmal to be illegal and, as such, the player has been suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect,” the ICC said. “The analysis revealed that all his deliveries exceeded the 15 degrees level of tolerance permitted under the regulations.”

The testing was undertaken at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane by an ICC accredited panel of bio-mechanical experts.

Whilst there are conspiracy theories already abounding on social media about Ajmal’s tests and banning and there have just as many advocates for simply allowing Ajmal to keep bowling because he, and his ilk, are “good for the game” it is important to note that, as the laws of the game presently stand this is the only decision available to the ICC given the view that the bio-mechanical experts have taken.

The conspiracy theorists and Ajmal advocates clearly do not understand the law or the process.  That being the case it is worth setting same out as follows.

The Law

Law 24, Clause 3 of the Laws of Cricket defines a fair delivery with respect to the arm:

A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.

Since 2003 this law has been interpreted as having a level of tolerance when it comes to straightening the elbow joint by no more than 15 degrees.  Put differently: a bowling action will be illegal if, in delivery, the elbow joint is straightened by more than 15 degrees.

The process from here

Effectively, Ajmal is now banned from bowling in all forms of cricket until he can prove that his bowling action, for all deliveries, is legal. Because this is Ajmal’s first suspension he can apply for reinstatement at any point in time.

Of course, there is an appeal process which can be summarised as follows:

  • The player can seek a hearing appealing the decision of the bio-mechanical experts.
  • The appeal is held in front of bowling review group selected by the ICC.
  • This group will review evidence and decide, by a simple majority vote, on the legality of the player’s action.
  • If the player is cleared the suspension will be lifted immediately.  If not the player can still apply for reinstatement assuming he can prove that he has corrected his action.

Will the ban stick?

It will be very interested to see if Ajmal’s ban is upheld when the inevitable appeal is made.  Ajmal has been quoted in the press as follows:

“My elbow is not usual so that’s why it seems that I bend it more than the normal 15 degrees allowed.”

This is an argument that has been in defence of other bowlers with questionable actions who have been allowed to continue to play the game and, indeed, set bowling records.

Ajmal is a one of the best bowlers in the game.  He is presently the number 1 bowler in the ICC ODI rankings.  His banning is massive news in the game.  That said: if his action is in breach of Law 24, Clause 3 then he, just like any other player must go through the process.

I, for one, hope the ICC resists the temptation to subvert their own process and, absent compelling evidence on appeal, set aside Ajmal’s ban on the grounds of his stature in the game.  I also hope that Ajmal takes remedial action and returns as bowler with a legal action because his bowling a delight to watch when he is in form.

This is certainly not the last we have heard of this story by a long chalk and the next machinations will fascinate.

Cricket: the Mankading “controversy” … Why controversial one asks?

I have reading, with much bemusement, about the controversy overnight surrounding the Mankading of Jos Buttler by Sachithra Senanayake in the 42nd over of the 5th ODI fixture between England and Sri Lanka.

My bemusement comes from the fact this dismissal is actually controversial! Consider these facts:

1. Senanayake warned both batsman in the 42nd about backing up too far.

2. Buttler ignored both warnings and backed up a significant way out of his crease on the ball that led to the dismissal.

3. Mankading, as a dismissal, is part of the laws of the game. Indeed in 2011 the Laws of Cricket were amended to make the mankad easier to pull off.

4. The spirit of cricket, which ostensibly is a fairness standard, allows for this form of dismissal in the context of the batsman both being warned and repeatedly offending in backing up too far.

Why then the alleged controversy? All we have seen in this game is the laws and spirit of the game actually working. I could understand umbrage being taken if no warning had been given but to have warned twice and then acted strikes me as conduct entirely within the game’s spirit.

English fans will no doubt make some allegation of cheating against Sachithra Senanayake but frankly the only cheats on the ground in the 42nd over over night were the batters backing up too far. The fact that one of them was dismissed by a bowling knowledgeable in the laws of the game and the spirit surrounding there application ought be lauded rather than demonised!

Well played Sachithra Senanayake for following the game’s laws and Angelo Matthews for backing his player in upholding the appeal.

If anyone should be hauled over the coals for breaching the spirit of cricket doctrine it is the English players for their over the top sledging of Matthews and others when it came Sri Lanka’s turn to bat but, of course, the ICC is part run by the ECB now so the chances of that happening are slim at best.

Cricket: Don’t like a DRS decision? Don’t blame the 3rd Umpire!

I have written a bit recently about various interpretations of the laws of cricket as well as changes I would like seen made to said laws. As part of my rereading of the laws for the first time since I had a crack at becoming an umpire nearly a decade ago, I have read for the first time the Playing Conditions as they relate to the Decision Review System (DRS). For those interested, you should check out Appendix 2 to the ICC's Standard Playing Conditions for Test Matches.

Now there has been much angst and, dare I say it, vitriol directed at the 3rd umpires in the current test series between England and Australia directed at decisions made upon review of decisions using the DRS. Considerable newspaper column inches have been used to lament such decisions and social media timelines have been swamped with responses to such decisions that have trod the length of emotions from mockery right through to hatred. That got me thinking about about the process that the umpires go through in undertaking a DRS review at the request of a player.

Let's take the now infamous Usman Khawaja decision in the 3rd test recently completed at Old Trafford. I think everyone concedes that the on field umpire got the original decision wrong and that the 3rd umpire got the review decision wrong. The question of how this happened has been hot on the lips of many including the Prime Minister, so lets have a look at what the Playing Conditions prescribe should happen upon a review being made.

Clause 3.3 of Appendix 2 of the Standard Playing Conditions is the key and provides (in full) as follows:


a) On receipt of an eligible and timely request for a Player Review, the on-field umpire will make the sign of a television with his hands in the normal way.

b) He will initiate communication with the third umpire by confirming the decision that has been made and that the player has requested a Player Review.

c) The third umpire must then work alone, independent of outside help or comment, other than when consulting the on-field umpire.

d) A two-way consultation process should begin to investigate whether there is anything that the third umpire can see or hear which would indicate that the on-field umpire should change his decision.

e) This consultation should be on points of fact, where possible phrased in a manner leading to yes or no answers. Questions requiring a single answer based on a series of judgements, such as “do you think that was LBW?” are to be avoided.

f) The third umpire shall not withhold any factual information which may help in the decision making process, even if the information is not directly prompted by the on-field umpire’s questions. In particular, in reviewing a dismissal, if the third umpire believes that the batsman may instead be out by any other mode of dismissal, he shall advise the on-field umpire accordingly. The process of consultation described in this paragraph in respect of such other mode of dismissal shall then be conducted as if the batsman has been given not out.

g) The third umpire should initially check whether the delivery is fair under Law 24.5 (‘fair delivery – the feet’) and under Clause 42.4.2(a) (‘full toss passing above waist height’), where appropriate advising the on-field umpire accordingly. See also paragraph 3.10 below.h) If despite the available technology, the third umpire is unable to answer with a high degree of confidence a particular question posed by the on-field umpire, then he should report that the replays are ‘inconclusive’. The third umpire should not give answers conveying likelihoods or probabilities.

i) Subject to paragraph 3.3 (j) below, specifically when advising on LBW decisions, the requirement for a high degree of confidence should be interpreted as follows:

i) With regard to determining the point of pitching the evidence provided by technology should be regarded as definitive and the Laws as interpreted in clause 3.9 (a) below should be strictly applied.

ii) With regard to the point of impact

– If a ‘not out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the point of impact is between wicket and wicket (i.e. in line with the stumps), the evidence provided by technology should show that the centre of the ball at the moment of interception is in line within an area demarcated by a line drawn down the middle of the outer stumps.

– If an ‘out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the point of impact is not between wicket and wicket (i.e. outside the line of the stumps), the evidence provided by technology should show that no part of the ball at the moment of interception is between wicket and wicket.

iii) With regard to determining whether the ball was likely to have hit the stumps:

– If a ‘not out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is hitting the stumps, the evidence provided by technology should show that the centre of the ball would have hit the stumps within an area demarcated by a line drawn below the lower edge of the bails and down the middle of the outer stumps.

However, where the evidence shows that the ball would have hit the stumps within the demarcated area as set out above but that:

• The point of impact is 300cm or more from the stumps; or

• The point of impact is more than 250cm but less than 300cm from the stumps and the distance between point of pitching and point of impact is less than 40cm, the original decision will stand (i.e. not out).

– If an ‘out’ decision is being reviewed, in order to report that the ball is missing the stumps, the evidence of the technology should show that no part of the ball would have made contact with any part of the stumps or bails.

j) In circumstances where the television technology (all or parts thereof) is not available to the third umpire or fails for whatever reason, the third umpire shall advise the on-field umpire of this fact but still provide any relevant factual information that may be ascertained from the available television replays and other technology.

k) The on-field umpire must then make his decision based on those factual questions that were answered by the third umpire, any other factual information offered by the third umpire and his recollection and opinion of the original incident.

l) The on-field umpire will reverse his decision if the nature of the supplementary information received from the third umpire leads him to conclude that his original decision was incorrect.

Now: having read all of that I have to say I have renewed appreciation for the process that the umpires have to go through in a short period of time under intense scrutiny.

That said: the biggest thing that I got out of reading the law is this: the 3rd umpire at no point makes a decision. That is right, read sub-clause (k) above again … it is the on-field umpire that makes the decision having asked questions of the 3rd umpire about the decision and received answers. Given the prohibition in sub-clause (e) on questions like “was it out?” it is obvious that the destiny of every DRS referral rests heavily on the questions being asked by the on-field umpire to the 3rd umpire.

If we return to the Khawaja example again: the role of the 3rd umpire in that scenario is to answer the questions posed by the on field umpire and feedback what he is seeing in real time. If the on field umpire wasn't convinced, and we have to assume that he was not, that what he was being told by the 3rd umpire was enough to show that his decision was wrong then he has NO option but to maintain the original decision.

All of this leads to this conclusion: the responsibility for a DRS decision still rests with the on field umpire armed with the extra information the 3rd umpire has provided him. So the next time you are baying for the 3rd umpires blood perhaps you ought shift your ire to the man in the white hat and black trousers on the playing surface because it is he who is actually making the decision!

The Ashes: The Silicon Tape Fiasco … what do the laws say?

Much has been made in the press, Australian principally granted, of an allegation, which has been denied in the strongest possible terms, that certain players participating in the current Ashes series have used silicon tape to mask the hotspot “flare” caused by an edge.

Law 6 of the Laws of Cricket deals with the Bat and provides:

1. The bat

The bat consists of two parts, a handle and a blade.

2. Measurements

All provisions in sections 3 to 6 below are subject to the measurements and restrictions stated in Appendix E.

3. The handle

(a) One end of the handle is inserted into a recess in the blade as a means of joining the handle and the blade. The part of the handle that is then wholly outside the blade is defined to be the upper portion of the handle. It is a straight shaft for holding the bat. The remainder of the handle is its lower portion used purely for joining the blade and the handle together. It is not part of the blade but, solely in interpreting 5 and 6 below, references to the blade shall be considered to extend also to the lower portion of the handle where relevant.

(b) The handle is to be made principally of cane and/or wood, glued where necessary and bound with twine along the upper portion.

(c) Providing 7 below is not contravened, the upper portion may be covered with materials solely to provide a surface suitable for gripping. Such covering is an addition and is not part of the bat. Note, however, 8 below.

(d) Notwithstanding 4(c) and 5 below, both the twine binding and the covering grip may extend beyond the junction of the upper and lower portions, to cover part of the shoulders as defined in Appendix E.

4. The blade

(a) The blade comprises the whole of the bat apart from the handle as defined above. The blade has a face, a back, a toe, sides and shoulders. See Appendix E.

(b) The blade shall consist solely of wood.

(c) No material may be placed on or inserted into either the blade or the lower portion of the handle other than as permitted in 3(d) above and 5 and 6 below, together with the minimal adhesives or adhesive tape used solely for fixing these items, or for fixing the handle to the blade.

5. Covering the blade

All bats may have commercial identifications on the blade. Type A and Type B bats may have no other covering on the blade except as permitted in 6 below. Type C bats may have a cloth covering on the blade. This may be treated as specified in 6 below.

Such covering is additional to the blade and is not part of the bat. Note, however, 8 below.

6. Protection and repair

Providing neither 4 above nor 7 below is contravened,

(a) solely for the purposes of either

(i) protection from surface damage to the face, sides and shoulders of the blade or

(ii) repair to the blade after damage material that is not rigid, either at the time of its application to the blade or subsequently, may be placed on these surfaces. Any such material shall not extend over any part of the back of the blade except in the case of (ii) above and then only when it is applied as a continuous wrapping covering the damaged area.

(b) solid material may be inserted into the blade for repair after damage other than surface damage. Additionally, for protection from damage, for Types B and C, material may be inserted at the toe and/or along the sides, parallel to the face of the blade.

The only material permitted for any insertion is wood with minimal essential adhesives.

(c) to prevent damage to the toe, material may be placed on that part of the blade but shall not extend over any part of the face, back or sides of the blade.

(d) the surface of the blade may be treated with non-solid materials to improve resistance to moisture penetration and/or mask natural blemishes in the appearance of the wood. Save for the purpose of giving a homogeneous appearance by masking natural blemishes, such treatment must not materially alter the colour of the blade.

Any materials referred to in (a), (b), (c) or (d) above are additional to the blade and not part of the bat. Note, however, 8 below.

7. Damage to the ball

(a) For any part of the bat, covered or uncovered, the hardness of the constituent materials and the surface texture thereof shall not be such that either or both could cause unacceptable damage to the ball.

(b) Any material placed on any part of the bat, for whatever purpose, shall similarly not be such that it could cause unacceptable damage to the ball.

(c) For the purposes of this Law, unacceptable damage is deterioration greater than normal wear and tear caused by the ball striking the uncovered wooden surface of the blade.

8. Contact with the ball

In these Laws,

(a) reference to the bat shall imply that the bat is held in the batsman’s hand or a glove worn on his hand, unless stated otherwise.

(b) contact between the ball and either (i) the bat itself

or (ii) the batsman’s hand holding the bat

or (iii) any part of a glove worn on the batsman’s hand holding the bat

or (iv) any additional materials permitted under 3, 5 or 6 above shall be regarded as the ball striking or touching the bat or being struck by the bat.

The placing of silicon tape on the bat for a purpose other than as an adhesive or to prevent or repair damage to the blade, shoulders or edges of the bat would obviously fall foul of this law.

The question then becomes: what is the punishment for breaching Law 6?

There is no specific provisions of the Laws that deal with punishment for breach. The ICC Code of Conduct for Players does provided some guidance however. It provides inter alia that the following will be Level 1 offenses under the Code:

1. In clause 2.1.1 a breach of the ICC’s Clothing and Equipment Regulations during an International Match; and

2. In clause 2.1.8 conduct that is relatively minor but that brings the game into disrepute or is contrary to the spirit of the game.

Apropos clause 2.1.1 above the ICC Clothing and Equipment Regulations provide in Part D Section 2 that:

It shall also be prohibited under these regulations for any individual to wear any clothing or use any equipment that has been changed, altered or transformed (whether to comply with these regulations or otherwise) in any way that, in the opinion of any Match Official, undermines the professional standards that are required of all elite players.

The penalty for such an offence, if proven, is set out in Article 7 of the Code of Conduct which prescribes that for a first offence the sanction is a warning / reprimand and/or the imposition of a fine of up to 50% of the applicable Match Fee.

It would seem likely, in my view, that if a player has put silicon on the edge of his bat for the explicit purpose of defeating the DRS there is another possible charge that could be laid that carries with it much more severe sanction. It is a Level 2 offence under the Code for a player to make any attempt to manipulate an International Match for inappropriate strategic or tactical reasons. An argument could be made that wilfully purporting to defeat the DRS is an attempt to manipulate the game. The penalty for such an offence is the imposition of a fine unto 90% of the players match fee and / or unto two Suspension Points. A single suspension point would see a player miss a One Day Match or a T20 International. A penalty of two suspension points could see a player miss a test match.

All in all this is a sorry saga that needs to be dealt with with alacrity. If there is a case there for anyone to answer, the match referee must move swiftly to deal with it. The more likely course though is that there is no case to answer because the test match in question is completed and no complaint was made during the match.

Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what steps are taken by the MCC and ICC in the next round of rule changes to pre-empt attempts to thwart the DRS and to install a clear offence in the Code for doing just that.