Navigating the Complex World of Illegal Deliveries in Cricket

Cricket, often referred to as the gentleman’s game, is governed by a complex set of rules to ensure fairness and sportsmanship. One crucial aspect of these rules revolves around the legality of deliveries bowled by cricketers. Not all bowler actions are permissible, and there are strict guidelines in place to regulate them. In this article, we’ll explore the intricate world of illegal deliveries in cricket, from the controversies that have arisen to the rules that define them.

Understanding Illegal Deliveries:

In cricket, not every delivery is considered fair. The Marylebone Cricket Club, through the Laws of Cricket, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) have established comprehensive guidelines that define legal and illegal deliveries. Let’s delve into some common types of illegal deliveries:

  1. Throwing (or Chucking): Throwing, colloquially known as chucking, occurs when a bowler throws the ball towards the batsman. The Laws of Cricket, specifically Law 24, 3, stipulates that a ball is fairly delivered if the bowler’s arm does not straighten partially or completely from the point where the arm reaches shoulder level during the delivery swing.
    • Notable Case: The legendary Sri Lankan spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, faced scrutiny due to a minor elbow deformity that caused a slight bend during his deliveries. Despite this, his action was deemed legal as it fell within the permissible guidelines.
  2. The 15 Degree Rule: Throwing in cricket is quantified by the 15-degree rule, established and defined by the ICC. Under this rule, if a player’s elbow bends more than 15 degrees between the horizontal motion and the time of release, the delivery is considered illegal. This presents a challenge for umpires, who must often use their judgment to determine if a delivery breaches this rule.
    • Rule Evolution: Initially, the rules regarding elbow flexing were stricter, with varying degrees allowed for different bowler types. The 15-degree limit was eventually adopted due to the impossibility of visually detecting slight variations with the naked eye.
  3. Underarm Bowling: While underarm bowling is now relegated to informal cricket games, it was once an accepted form of bowling in international cricket. However, this changed in 1981 after a controversial incident between Australia and New Zealand.
    • Infamous Incident: In a tight match, Australia captain Gregg Chappell instructed his brother, Trevor Chappell, to bowl underarm and roll the ball towards the stumps. This controversial tactic prevented New Zealand from scoring the required runs. As a result, rules were altered, and underarm bowling is now permissible only with mutual agreement between captains before a match.
  4. No Ball: In addition to throwing and underarm bowling, various forms of no-balls exist in cricket. Common causes include overstepping the crease, dangerous deliveries (often bouncing too high), and failing to adhere to fielding restrictions in limited-overs formats.
    • Penalty: A no-ball results in the batting side being awarded one additional run. In limited-overs cricket (T20 and ODI), it also grants the batsman a “free hit” on the next delivery, where they can only be dismissed by run-out, obstructing the field, or hitting the ball twice.

Addressing Suspect Bowling:

Suspect bowling, where the legality of a bowler’s action is in question, is dealt with seriously in professional cricket. Umpires are authorized to issue warnings to such bowlers. If the bowler repeats an illegal delivery, they can be suspended from bowling for the rest of the innings.

  • Resolution Process: After suspension, the player must attend an ICC Accredited Testing Centre, where they bowl in front of advanced equipment and movement experts. Based on these assessments, a decision is made regarding the legality of the bowler’s action.

Famous Cases of Illegal Deliveries:

Throughout cricket history, many renowned bowlers have been embroiled in controversies over their actions. While some faced sanctions, others emerged unscathed.

  • Brett Lee: Australian pace bowler Brett Lee had his action scrutinized after two Indian umpires reported him in 1999. Although he was cleared, his action earned him a reputation as a suspect bowler.
  • Harbhajan Singh: The Indian spinner, Harbhajan Singh, faced questions about his doosra delivery in 2005 but was eventually cleared. He had previously addressed concerns about his action in 1998.


Illegal deliveries in cricket are a pivotal aspect of the game’s intricate rules. They exist to protect batsmen and maintain fairness in the contest between bat and ball. Understanding these rules, from chucking to no-balls, is essential for players and fans alike. While the rules have evolved over time, their primary purpose remains consistent: to preserve the spirit and integrity of cricket.

Leave a Reply