So what’s the ICC angle?

October 5, 2014

It is feared that with the ICC hunting down off-spinners with a sniper rifle, there may come a time when the young -- fearful of being banned even if they were to have the capability to bowl legitimately -- will switch to other modes of bowling

So what’s the ICC angle?

What the International Cricket Council (ICC) is doing today reminds me of the Laffer Curve we studied in economics back in business school. This curve shows the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue collected by governments and is shaped like an inverted bell placed on the table as seen from sideways.

With revenue collected from people plotted on the y-axis and tax rate on the x-axis, the curve suggests that as taxes increase from low levels tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It then shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue.

The theory is that if tax rates reach 100 percent, all people would rather not work because everything they earn goes to the tax collector.

The revenue department of the government would therefore like to be at the peak of the curve so as to collect maximum amount of tax revenue as people at that point are willing to give the most and consider the tax rate a fair deal.

Paradoxically, applying this supply side economics model to off-spin I can say that the more ICC decreases the approved bending of the elbow at the time of delivery beyond a certain point, the more counter-productive it will be to the expansion in the art of off-spin.

It has been after years that off-spin has received the admiration it has merited. It peaked when Jim Laker took 19 wickets in a Test match against Australia in 1956; it threw up heroes like West Indies’ Lance Gibbs, Australia’s Ashley Mallet, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan from India and Pakistan’s Tauseef Ahmed.

When Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan took a bow at the turn of the century there was a period of a few years (as there had been before Saqlain emerged in 1995) when it seemed that Shane Warne dominated the hearts and minds of the global teens who all wanted to bowl leg-spin.

Now I fear that with the ICC hunting down off-spinners with a sniper rifle, there may come a time when the young -- fearful of being banned even if they were to have the capability to bowl legitimately -- will switch to other modes of bowling.

Already the young are more interested in batting, considering how the laws of cricket and playing conditions are being deliberately tilted so heavily in the favour of batsmen.

The conspiracy theorists are already crying out that the axe seems to be falling on the Smaller Seven than the Big Three and men of colour, the odd white man notwithstanding.

That is of course open to question as cricket is ruled by brown sahib India and also because both England and Australia have no off-spinner worthy of the name. But if the off-spinners who are being sanctioned are from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh (for the moment South Africa and Zimbabwe have no penetrative off-spinners either) it is because they have a surfeit of off-spinners who have grown up inspired by Saqlain and Muralitharan and recently Saeed Ajmal.

Both Ajantha Mendis and Sunil Narine have been iconic bowlers too with their carom ball and doosra. With the West Indian and KKR off-spinner now being reported as well in the CLT20 there is the fear that the reemerging art of off-spin may well be reduced to a mundane line and length and predictable turn, while the leg-spin continues to have its lethal options.

Pakistan have been in the glare of publicity as they were when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis ran rings around the batsmen with their reverse swing at high speed. Now even Hafeez has been called and though the circle of violation is within CLT20, the message has gone across to all umpires who will be officiating him from now on.

Sounds of discontent are starting to come in from the coaches and captains, especially with the World Cup so close. Waqar is of course the most vocal because Pakistan have been relying on Ajmal and Hafeez to bowl 20 of the 50 overs in every ODI. If they are not bowling then Waqar and Co will have to discover in a matter of weeks two bowlers who can be as effective as these two, in strike rate as well as runs per over conceded.

Considering that chairman PCB himself has (stupidly) admitted in a public statement that just about every off-spinner in Pakistan chucks, it seems that Plan D has to be thought about.

Waqar Younis has said that the laws dealing with the elbow extension limit should have come after the World Cup in February-March, implying that it would not have uprooted the strategies that were to be harvested in Australia and New Zealand. But would he have said that if he had been coach of, say, Australia?

The point is that if something is illegal and it has been identified to be in practice on a large scale, then it should be clamped down upon immediately.

It looks suspicious of course the way it has been done and because of its timing, but it can also be seen in a positive sense that bowlers have been given some seven months from the time the warning came from ICC to modify their actions before they set foot in World Cup matches.

Talking of Plan D, Pakistan can also play the young Raza Hasan, who has heaps of talent and continues to impress. He perplexed many a good batsman with his guile when he played the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka two years ago before injury set him back. Coaches, batsmen and analysts haven’t seen much of him and if Pakistan play him selectively they may have an ace up their sleeves by the time they walk out into the games of the 2015 World Cup.

So what’s the ICC angle?