West Indies cricket lost Shane Shillingford to a suspension yesterday, when the ICC deemed his bowling action illegal. After losing the second Test against New Zealand with shocking ease, this news lessens the likelihood of a Windies revival to tie the series.
In the absence of Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, Shillingford has often been the only West Indian bowler who looks capable of taking a wicket. While this must be devastating for Shillingford - whose international career now looks to be in jeopardy with his second suspension - the WICB must shift focus to Sunil Narine.
The board seems to be of the opinion that Narine is only a limited overs bowler, not suited to the longer format. His results in 5-day cricket have been underwhelming. Ian Bishop has talked extensively on-air about Narine’s problems - he believes they are due to Sunil’s unwillingness to bowl a fuller length. The thinking holds that the shorter length works for Narine in shorter formats because batsmen are forced to attack him, whereas they can play him off the pitch and the back foot in Tests.
Bishop’s logic is sound. However, like him, I believe the board has not shown enough patience with Narine, and willingness to develop his bowling at Test level. Shillingford’s suspension now gives the WICB an opening to cement Narine as the team’s #1 spin option in all formats. The board has to get this right. If they mishandle this situation, Narine’s confidence may never be able to recover.
As for Shillingford, hopefully he can recover from this. My main concern regarding the suspension is that the ICC doesn’t seem to have a uniformed way in dealing with these issues. The on-field umpire has to report the bowler during a match for any punitive action to be taken. Can the ICC, under this system, be certain that all teams are being treated in the same way? The opinion of the umpire will always be a subjective business.
Is Shillingford’s action more illegal than Saeed Ajmal? Or Harbhajan Singh? Ajmal has been reported before, with his action ultimately deemed satisfactory. Still, it is probable that bowlers will utilize multiple actions during any given innings and so how can the ICC effectively police this?
The issue at hand is the proliferation of the doosra, a delivery utilized by off-spin bowlers. It is meant to have the same effect as the googly bowled by leg-spinners, whereby the ball spins in the opposite direction as expected by the batsman. If you believe, as I do, that it is unlikely that the doosra can be bowled with a legal action (less than 15 degrees of elbow extension), then we must conclude that the system is not fair.
Cricket Australia has already banned its coaches from teaching the doosra to young spin bowlers, as it is of the same opinion that the delivery cannot be bowled legally. This promises to be a major issue for the ICC going forward.
Narine has also answered questions about his bowling action in the past. Hopefully he can avoid the fate dealt to Shillingford when his bowling comes under the heightened scrutiny of Test cricket. In the meantime, this is a crucial moment for West Indies cricket’s Test fortunes in the coming years.