I came across this interesting story a while back, but feel it is worth delving into somewhat. Despite coming to cricket in his late teens and never having heard of Muttiah Muralitharan before the age of 16, Maurice Holmes as bowled to a lot more international batsman than someone who drops out of the County system at the age of 22 usually do. The reason behind this is a unique action which is supposedly reminiscent of Murali. The former Kent and Warwickshire off-spinner is reported to have a host of variations in his armory, including doosra which is a rather controversial topic outside the sub-continent due to people feeling that one cannot bowl it without extending the arm beyond 15 degrees. The emergence of unorthodox bowlers such as Murali, Malinga and Mendis from Sri Lanka has promted some people to admire the way that their ‘strangeness’ was not coached out of them and the way the coaching setup allowed them to just be themselves. The same cannot be said for the short career of Maurice Holmes. Like I said, he came to cricket late and unlike most players whose talents are recognized at a very young age and join County Academies and mix cricket with full time education. Had Holmes joined the Kent or Warwickshire’s youth teams at the age of between say 10-14, it may well be that his action would have been corrected by coaches and he would have lost some of the variation he has now but might well still be a County professional. He possesses wrists that can spin the ball in both directions and according to him his shoulder blades are “physiologically in the wrong place.”
The article on the Spin blog which is the dedicated cricket blog of the Guardian charts his rise to County cricket really well. Born in Kent he found himself bowling at Rob Key during winter nets in 2008. He impressed so much he was offered a spot in Kent’s Academy. Then the next year he was bowling in the nets at the New Zealand batsmen as they prepared for the World T20 which was held in England in 2009. During those net sessions further comparisons to Murali were made by those who had faced the great man extensively before and would be later in the tournament and then in an upcoming tour to the Island where he worked alongside specialist spin coach Saqlain Mustaq. I’m not sure how well the Kiwi players learned from it as they lost the two Test series heavily with Murali taking 13 wickets. It seems that the NZ set up were quite pleased with his contribution, though with glowing recommendations from Geoff Allott who was General Manager and some of the New Zealand players supposedly even ribbed him if he had any Kiwi ancestry that they could exploit.
Soon after he found himself bowling at the likes of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell at a Warwickshire net session, after which he was offered a contract on the spot provided he pass a biomechanical test at Loughborough University. He did not pass that Test and subsequently the offer was withdrawn. But he worked on his action at the University (where he also enrolled) and passed a biomechanical Test in 2010 and got offered the Warwickshire contract again where he would be playing in the 2nd XI. This provided an opportunity for the staff and researchers at the University to study his action in a match situation. On his 2nd XI debut against Durham MCCU he took a wicket with his first ball but was then reported again. What the next round of testing at the University found was that Holmes did not bend his arm beyond 15 degrees but his doosra was significantly slower than when he bowled it during the match (they had video footage of him bowling in previous matches vs Notts 2nd XI and Leicestershire in the CB40). After this he was banned from all forms of cricket by the ECB and was subjected to further testing.
In August 2011 he was cleared to play at 2nd XI level but by this time his contract at Warwickshire was coming to an end and a month later he was let go by Ashley Giles as they decided to go with slow left-armer Chris Metters instead. At around about this time he was cleared to play full County Cricket with the proviso that he does not use his doosra, but without a County contract, he went back into club cricket and higher education. In January of this year it emerged that he had taken a year out of studying at Loughborough University to take another stab at professional cricket. The Cricketer reported that he had joined (and paid his way t0) the Global Cricket School in Pune, India where he would work on his action alongside current County players during the off-season, which is surprising in itself, given the reluctance of the BCCI to accommodate English cricketers in their facilities, prompting the likes of Derbyshire and Hampshire to train in Sri Lanka instead. There are also rumours of him being looked at by Essex for the upcoming County season after previously impressing Alastair Cook in bygone net sessions.
I should mention at this stage that I have not actually seen Maurice Holmes bowl. There are precious few pictures of his action and there is next to no videos of him bowling on the internet. But there is something to be said for the distrust of such phenomenons like the doosra and other unorthodoxies in English (and Australian) cricket. There are a lot of people, like Sir Geoff Boycott, who say that the doosra cannot be bowled within the 15 degree limit. There are those who claim that the only reason the limit is at 15 degrees is because the sub-continental superpowers did not want to outlaw Murali; which in itself is a childish allegation to make given it was made with evidence from extensive research from an Australian University. Also, the main reason why Holmes had his doosra warned against and Murali was allowed to continue with his was that Murali bowled his doosra at the same pace as he did in matches and Holmes for whatever reason, could not. Now the researchers over here have differing views and a different set of regulations for testing bowling actions as outlined in George Dobell’s Cricinfo piece. Maurice Holmes has been let down by the ECB as well in terms of the support they have given him. They were quick to announce that he had been suspended from cricket, but did not put out a press release when the suspension was lifted, nor did they mention that his doosra did not exceed the limit leaving the whole thing open to speculation. Warwickshire decided not to take a punt on him, despite the suspension being lifted and despite him working extensively on his action and all the testing he had gone through. I think the cynicism over the doosra and unorthodox spinners will change just all the other old-fashioned views have gone. If Maurice Holmes does make it as a County Cricketer and perhaps more, it might be a watershed moment in English cricket in this aspect. They have had bowlers with problematic actions such as James Kirtley and Jenny Gunn but this is something very different and involves someone who was not even allowed the chance at making his mark.It would also help if the law on bowling actions was clarified as well. According to Holmes:
It is proven that you can bowl the doosra within the limits; that is a scientific fact, there is no morality about it. I have proven that I can bowl it within the limits…There will always be the English view, that something different is not necessarily something good…There are people who tend to take the traditional view that things can and should only be done in one way.
At it is, it might not necessarily be the end of the road for Maurice Holmes. A unique talent might not be lost to English cricket after all if a county decides to take a risk on him for the upcoming season, even if it is at 2nd XI level. He might not go on to represent England and might go back into the cricketing wilderness such as Alex Loudon and Chris Schofield but it must not be for the lack of opportunities – which despite the amount of promising youngsters coming through the ranks – would ultimately be a stain on the reputation of the ECB and English Cricket as an entity for coaching and be a disadvantage for them as the rest of the world moves forward.