At Last, Some Meat

Part One: The Chuckers


At last something happened in one of my Merk games that has some ’umpiring meat’ to it. This year has been rather barren; no penalty runs, unusual dismissals, or errant captains to work with but last week I had not one ‘chucker’ but two.


Oops, we have to say, or rather implement, our Doubtful Action Procedure, as outlined in Appendix Something in our Mercantile Rule Book. Calling a chucker, out on the field is now a no-no. Having to say doubtful action rather than chucking reminds me of the way politicians of the left cannot bring themselves to say Muslim or Islamic terrorists when a deranged Muslim ploughs a truck through a crowd. You sometimes just have to call things as they are, and call a chuck a No Ball, but on a cricket field, we umpires, have now been given instructions to do, basically nothing, when a chucker comes on.


Before I start, let’s think about no balls. Why are they in the game? A common umpiring quiz question is to name all the ways an umpire can throw out his arm a yell ‘no ball’ but I want you to consider, into what general classes, do no balls fit.


There are three categories

1.     To stop fielders interfering with a batsman playing at the ball

2.     To stop a bowler from gaining an ‘unfair’ advantage

3.     To curb and punish behaviour that is considered dangerous or unfair

I hope to get a few of those that fit 1 and 3 this year. Already this year one of my umpiring friends called a no ball because the keeper’s gloves came in front of the stumps as the bowler was running into bowl. The delivery bowled the bloke much to the chagrin of the bowler, embarrassment of the keeper, and sheepish delight of the batsman. The umpire had a wry grin on his face by all reports as well. Such things amuse little minds.


But where did the concern about straightening the arm come from? Why do we insist on a “straight arm’? To know why  this is a requirement means a journey into very early cricket history.


Cricket started as a game where the ball would be rolled along the ground. To make the ball bounce was considered unfair. There was no prepared pitch. The captains would select a piece of the field and ‘pitch’ the stumps twenty two yards apart. The driving force of the development of cricket was the maintenance of the balance between batting and bowling and this is still true today. Think about the restrictions on bats, tampering with balls and the bowling and fielding restrictions that abound in international cricket while you learn what was happening in cricket in the eighteen hundreds.


The fields were getting better prepared. Mowers were replacing flocks of sheep that used to keep the grass short at Lords and at the MCG. The MCG had a pen where sheep were permanently housed. Despite years of searching I can find no useful historical information on the roller, a device which I think was far more important to the evolution of cricket than the introduction of the third stump. Suddenly, on flat hard surfaces rolling the ball along the ground would mean that batsmen would bat forever. So bounce the ball up the pitch. Now, start to generate more pace by raising the arm, but not above the elbow of course. That was a later controversy.


Now some of these underarm bowlers of the early eighteen hundreds did straighten their arms when bowling but by 1851 the MCC had been describing throwing (they used the term ‘jerking’, a term I miss) and the allowable height of the arm while delivering a cricket ball for many years. There are two famous cricket matches that are the pivot points of these continual bowling evolutions: one involving a player Willes in 1822 and one in 1862 involving Willsher of Kent.


I have always enjoyed the description of Willes behaviour after he was no balled. He jumped on his horse and rode away in a frightful temper. I always thought the Sri Lankans did much the same thing after Hair no balled Muruli at the MCG.


By the 1880s most bowlers were bowling overarm, the early Australian sides were an important part of the change, but there was still a healthy discussion on straightening the arm when delivering a cricket ball. Spofforth had a novel suggestion to anyone who thought that this is not an important issue. ‘Just let anything go for a year and see where it gets us’, was his rather terse reply.


So I am letting this discussion go until next week when I will look hard at the regimes used by Park cricket associations and the ICC and we shall see where we finish up.


  1. Interesting as always Phil. I’m consistently confused by authorities’ approaches to chucking. If an umpire sees someone chucking it is in the interests of safety and fairness that they are called immediately. Ask any of the Australian cricketers that faced Charlie Griffith in the West Indies in 1965. At the other end of the dangerous scale but high on the fairness scale we currently have spin bowlers that have been done for a questionable action in the past that are allowed to bowl with long sleeves, preventing the umpire from making any assessment of the elbow. Like I say, confused.

    IN terms of the roller a quick Trove search finds the earliest reference to rolling pitches in Australia was an 1830 article on the laws of the game (later becoming Law 7) which prohibited rolling of pitches without both parties’ consent. An article from 1836 reports the importation of a roller to Sydney with the intent of preparing a cricket ground on Hyde Park

  2. Oh dear I am a dinosaur.

    Cricket, A Weekly Record of the Game, Wisden, The Cricketer and all the other standard references I have lovely collected from Roger Page have no mention of rollers but you find one in this Trove thingo.

    It is in England that the real search needs to be done for the roller. How do I do it?

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