Six years after Shane Warne called on the International Cricket Council to test the legality of bowling actions in match conditions instead of laboratories, Australian scientists have developed a prototype to do just that.
The biomechanist leading the project, Marc Portus, believes the technology, commissioned by the ICC and Marylebone Cricket Club, should be ready for use in first-class matches about two years from now, and will help rid the game of illegal actions.
Bowlers who competed in the under-19 World Cup have tested the technology at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in recent days.
Ultimately, bowlers will wear two sensors, each about the size of a 20c piece, one above and one below the elbow, to measure the degree of elbow flexion, and the results will be transmitted wirelessly to a laptop in the grandstands or near the training nets.
Under the system now, bowlers reported for suspicious actions have their action tested in an ICC-approved laboratory to determine whether they exceed the 15-degree threshold.
One of the drawbacks is that they can, deliberately or subconsciously, modify their actions or the amount of work they put on the ball. It can also be difficult for umpires to detect suspicious actions in games when bowlers wear long sleeves.
''Testing in a lab does bring some limitations, and one of them is that it's very hard to recreate the environment of elite match play,'' said Portus.
''With words exchanged between players, a batter getting on top of a bowler, when it's hot on day five of a Test match and you need two wickets to win, it's almost impossible to recreate that in a lab environment. That's always been one of the criticisms, no matter how good the science is, so this is a way to bridge that gap.
''It's definitely going to help. I'm biased, I believe science has made the issue a little less emotive even though it's still not without its frustrations. But this is going to help get the issue resolved more clearly in terms of who has an illegal action and what an illegal action looks like. Hopefully it helps nip the problem in the bud if there can be more analysis, more identification at junior level so we can do something about it, because once they're playing international cricket it's very hard to fix.''
In 2006, Muttiah Muralitharan consented to voluntary testing of his action at the University of Western Australia, and was found to bowl with elbow flexion of 14.4 degrees, just within the legal limit. At the time, Warne said the testing was flawed because it did not simulate match conditions, and called for a new, match-based method in the fight against throwing.
ICC boss David Richardson said he was encouraged by the Australian research.
''The ICC is keen to see this technology implemented in elite cricket, and believe it will be a significant stride forward in detecting illegal bowling actions in match conditions. We would also like to see the technology used in training environments to help bowlers correct their flawed bowling action,'' he said.
Portus believes most bowlers will consent to wearing the sensors. The project, with Griffith University, Australian Institute of Sport and Cricket Australia's Centre of Excellence, is in its second phase of testing. In 2014, the team will ensure the technology is light, comfortable and not hinder performance.
''There's general consensus within the cricket community it's a good solution,'' Portus said.
- FFX Aus
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