It's a bad time to be an off spinner in international cricket, with the International Cricket Commission (ICC) cracking down on suspect actions. One of Pakistan's most successful bowlers, Saeed Ajmal, is merely one of a group of bowlers who have been banned from bowling and told that they need to take part in remedial work before they can return.
Ajmal will be deeply missed as perhaps one of the most important cogs in the Pakistani bowling machine of recent years - taking almost a third of their wickets in Tests he has played in. But, some of the other players banned are almost as important to their teams, Sunil Narine and Prosper Usteya cases in point. Narine has been a key component in the West Indies' Twenty20 successes - one of the few bright lights for the once mighty cricket team - and Utseya has captained his nation and played an important role in many of their victories.
The willingness of the ICC to take a hard line on suspect bowling actions has brought praise from those who say it is long overdue, but has equally provoked strong opinions amongst those who see it as overly harsh or racially motivated. Whatever side of the argument you are on, the question has been asked - could all this have been avoided if the ICC had done the right thing two decades ago?
Genius or cheat?
Those who have followed cricket for a long time may remember the furore caused when Darrel Hair became the first umpire to call former Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking (bowling with a suspect action) - on the big stage of a Boxing Day Test in Melbourne in 1995. That was the start of an ongoing saga for Murali, and accusations of chucking would haunt him for the rest of his career and, in some ways, taint his legacy as the statistically greatest bowler of all time.
Many people were concerned with the fact that sub continental bowlers seemed the focus of these allegations, and Murali was the highest profile of them all. After much indecision, the ICC eventually decided to sit on the fence, not realising how many splinters that would bring. Pleasing nobody, they declared that vast majority of bowlers flexed their elbows past the accepted limits of the time and introduced a blanket limit of 15% permissible flex of the elbow for all bowlers - removing the previous distinctions between fast and slow bowlers.
This didn't convince anyone who held an opinion regarding Murali to change their views, with those in his corner saying "everybody does it", and those not saying, "they changed the rules for him".
Unto the next generation
While many of his supporters argued that Murali was a special case due to his double jointed arm, which gave the impression of more flex than was actually happening, the ICC's tacit support of his action led to a new problem. Murali was a hero and inspiration to entire generation of upcoming off spinners who sought to emulate his success - and action - without possessing his physical attributes.
Of the spinners who have been reported in this latest round, the majority are more in the Murali mould than the classical vein of Jim Laker, with a reliance on mystery balls and vicious turn, rather than nagging accuracy.
While Murali may have been able to bowl without violating the rules, and incorporate the (a ball bowled by all an off spinner that turns like a leg break) into his repertoire, it seems that many of his successors cannot. One has to feel sorry for them, growing up watching Murali bowl and wanting to be like him, they now find themselves being penalised.
Perhaps if the ICC had handled things differently, and cracked down harder on suspect actions, players would have been less inclined to imitate, and coaches would not have been so willing to overlook suspect actions in their desire to have match winning off spinners in their teams.
An unexpected consequence
Over the past decade, Australian cricket had received a great deal of criticism for refusing to teach the and discouraging mystery off spinners like Murali, instead preferring to focus on more traditional off spinners. Ashley Mallett, a former off spinner of that ilk, has been particularly vocal on the subject, going as far to say that it promotes illegal actions. But, as Australia has desperately sought to fill the spinning void left by leg spinning genius Shane Warne, more and more people started to ask whether this stance needed to be reassessed, especially as none of these bowlers have lit the world on fire.
But, this harsher line from the ICC may see other nations moving away from off spinners in the Murali mould, and back towards more orthodox off spinners. Once seen as a dying breed, with only England's Graeme Swann a true world class example, it may mean a resurgence in off spinners who use flight, accuracy and consistency rather than mystery deliveries like the . If so, the more conservative line of pundits like Mallett may prove remarkably prescient.
Whatever happens, the ICC does not have a smooth ride ahead, so watch this space.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html