Sri Lankan off spinner Sachchitra Senanayake has become the latest bowler to be reported for a suspected illegal bowling action. He will now have to undergo corrective procedure for the same. The incidences of bowlers being reported for alleged unfair action has become rather common, which points to the fact that the rules the ICC has put in place to deal with the menace is not quite having its desired impact. As of now bowlers can carry on bowling in international cricket until their actions are checked as per ICC rules. This means that even if his action is found to be suspect under the rules, he would have bowled in a few games with that illegal action. Of course, it would be unfair to dump a player without giving him a fair chance. Then again, this gives the bowler with the illegal action an unfair advantage.
What should the ICC do then? One option could be that such bowlers do not reach the international stage at all. This could be done by implementing strict rules at the domestic level, wherein bowlers whose actions are suspect are immediately sent for corrective treatment as per ICC standards, and if their actions are not found to conform to international standards, they must be suspended until they get their actions right. It would be easier to implement the same at the domestic level as opposed to the international level.
Also, the earlier a bowler's action is changed, the easier it will be for him to adjust. In contrast, by the time players have reached the international stage, they would have gotten used to their action, and it would be very difficult for them to modify their action just as a batsman would find it hard to change his style of play later in his career.
Another issue could be that some players have birth defects which lead to bending of the arm of which much cannot be done. This was extremely clear in the case of Muttiah Muralitharan, whose arm bend was naturally more pronounced than the others. For such players, the ICC has come up with a rule wherein the arm bent is allowed to a certain extent. While the rule is understandable since the ICC doesn't want talented players to miss out owing to birth defects, ensuring that it doesn't give unfair advantages to such bowlers is also important. There has to be a fair balance.
The fact is that too many bowlers have been called for suspect actions over the last decade unlike the 90's, where the focus mostly was Murali, apart from rare cases like Rajesh Chauhan and Kumar Dharmasena. In contrast, the cases of bowlers being reported for suspect action have become dangerously high in recent times. Worryingly, the list has featured big names like Harbhajan, Shoaib Akhtar, Saeed Ajmal and more recently. While all have returned to international cricket after getting their actions corrected, it would be great for the sport if such situations are avoided in the first place.
The menace cannot be completely rooted out, but there are ways to reduce it for sure. It is upto the ICC and the respective boards to take the desired action. There are too many issues plaguing the sport. Cricket could do without this.
--By A Cricket Analyst