The new variant 'elbow spin' - part one

Murali Muralitharan took his first wicket in 1992 aged 20

Murali Muralitharan took his first wicket in 1992 aged 20. Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA - Credit: Rebecca Naden/PA

The laws of cricket state that, in the bowling action, the elbow joint must not be straightened until the ball has left the hand.

This limits the amount of pace, or spin, which can be applied to the ball by what would, otherwise, be a 'throw'.

Throughout cricket history, brave umpires have 'no-balled' bowlers who have 'thrown', and have received support from cricket’s governing bodies.

Offending bowlers have been suspended, and told to revise their actions before being allowed to bowl again.

In 1992, a Sri Lankan called Muralitharan (Murali) made his Test debut, and bowled his off-breaks with a strange new action during which his elbow, very clearly, straightened.

In the Christmas Test against Australia, in 1995, he was no-balled by umpire Darrell Hair, and, later, by Ross Emerson.

Both umpires received death threats, and the ICC remained silent, allowing Murali to continue to bowl. This sent a message to other umpires, and, whatever their private views, they chose to follow suit.

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In effect, they had been silenced! 

By 2003, Murali had become the world’s most successful bowler, and, in Devon, a Pakistani professional using the same action, had become the county’s leading wicket taker.

In world cricket, there were now 33 other first class Asian cricketers employing an action which we all knew to be illegal, but, despite this, the authorities continued to ignore it.

While this was happening, I was chairman of the Devon Cricket Coaching Association, and, with my friend Ian Western, I had operated a cricket coaching school in Torquay for the past 16 years.

Perhaps out of a sense of mischief, rather than a sense of necessity, I decided to offer to teach this new action as one of our 2003/04 senior courses.

One of our SDCCA age groups in 2002

One of our SDCCA age groups in 2002 - Credit: Roger Mann

However, since this was 'the action that dare not speak its name', and was not being taught anywhere in the world, I thought I should discuss my plans with the coaching department of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) first!

My phone call was met with: “Good luck with it! We wish you every success!” 

But, then, a few days later, I received a letter from Hugh Morris, the performance director of the ECB, telling me that 'under no circumstances must the action be taught'!

Hugh Morris was performance director of the ECB.

Hugh Morris was performance director of the ECB. - Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

I replied by letter asking: “How can you have a 'legal' action which can’t be taught? Surely, the International Cricket Council (ICC) must decide whether this action is legal, and teachable, or illegal, and ban it! You can’t have it both ways!”

In April 2003, I wrote a letter to the Cricketer magazine expressing my frustration, and it was awarded 'Champagne Letter of the Month'.

The Champagne letter to The Cricketer

The Champagne letter to The Cricketer - Credit: Roger Mann

This magazine had a worldwide distribution, and it must have caused a rethink.

In May, I got another letter from Hugh Morris saying that the ECB had  re-considered, and that I could coach it, but, only if I had access to a bio-mechanical video at each session, and that sessions were always attended by a 'staff' coach (one qualification higher than mine).

I could almost hear the ECB saying: “That’ll shut him up!”

At first, I thought I should give up the fight, but then, realising that they had decided to take the aggressive option, I knew that I couldn’t 'wimp' it any longer!

After a night’s sleep, I wrote back thanking them for this opportunity, and explaining that I would hire the video equipment, and that my close friend Bob Cottam, a former national coach now living in Dartmouth, had agreed to attend the sessions. 

I ended by saying that my courses would begin in February, 2004.

From that moment on, after every coaching session, I spent an hour teaching myself how to bowl with this new strange action.

Since traditional spin bowlers either bowl 'Finger Spin' or 'Wrist Spin', I decided to call this new variant, 'Elbow Spin' knowing that such a name would be both accurate, and upsetting to the ECB!

The governing body of cricket in England had thrown down a glove, and I had picked it up... I mused that, perhaps, it was time to put my helmet on!