The Doosra has been called the most controversial delivery in the cricketing world. Its origin lies in a Pakistan-Australia Test series that took place in Sharjah more than two decades ago. To the surprise of many, a young off-spinner by the name of Saqlain Mushtaq started bowling a delivery that very much resembled a leg break. Unlike normal off-break, which moves from off to leg for a right-handed batsman, this new delivery moved from leg to off.
Moin Khan, who kept wickets for Pakistan, kept asking Saqlain to bowl the “doosra” and it was not long before TV commentator Tony Greig picked up the term from the stump mikes. He linked this term, the “doosra”, to the mysterious new delivery and began to use it in the commentary. Saqlain confirmed that the ”doosra” is the offspinner’s “wrong’un” in post-match interviews. In other words, it is the off-spinner’s equivalent of the leg-spinner’s googly, which also spins in the opposite direction to the leg spinner’s stock ball.
From that point on, the “doosra”, which means “the other one” in both Hindi and Urdu, quickly became part of the cricketing mainstream. The doosra is bowled from the back of the hand, and many experts consider it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to bowl it with authentic action. Whilst Saqlain was able to bowl the Doosra without violating the ICC rules for bending the elbow, other bowlers have experienced far more problems.
Perhaps the most famous episode relates to Muralitharan’s version of the Doosra, which became the subject of an official report by match referee Chris Broad during Australia’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2004 for an “illegal” bending of the arm at the elbow during Muralitharan’s bowling action Subsequent biomechanical tests at the University of Western Australia showed that Muralitharan was straightening his arm by angles which were well outside the ICC’s acceptable guideline of five degrees for spin bowlers.
After conducting further research into bowling actions, the ICC found that many international bowlers including Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Stephen Harmison, and Shaun Pollock, whose actions were previously deemed legitimate, were breaching the acceptable limits set out in the ICC rules. The rules were consequently amended during a meeting of ICC chief executives in 2005 so that it became legal for any bowler to straighten the arm up to 15 degrees and in this way Muralitharan’s doosra became legal again.
Biomechanical studies had concluded that 15 degrees were the point where “throwing” or “chucking” became visible to the naked eye. Other practitioners of the Doosra have not fared as well as Muralitharan. Saeed Ajmal, Johan Botha, Shane Shillingford, and Sachithra Senanayake were either banned from bowling for a period or prohibited from bowling the Doosra in international cricket. Although some of these bowlers underwent rehabilitation to reconstruct their actions, their new actions rendered their deliveries less effective than before.
Many experts believe that it is nearly impossible to bowl the Doosra legally and that most off-spinners bowling the Doosra will struggle to stay within the ICC’s 15-degree guidelines.
At a time when the balance between bat and ball has become more skewed in favour of the batsmen than ever before in cricket history, it is unfortunate that off-spinners are no longer able to call upon the Doosra.