Was he a target? Is he another in a long line that will be banned? How will Pakistan go without him now?
These are all good questions that surround off-spinner Saeed Ajmal. Banned by the International Cricket Council this week for throwing, after having been once cleared in 2009 of any illegal action, this ban is an eyebrow-raiser. Yet, it could well set a precedent of future punishment.
Taking it back a bit though, and Pakistan are the biggest losers in this case. For a man who has taken 284 international wickets over the last three years – more than any other pace or spin bowler – the ICC have made a sudden, but scientific based move.
In simple terms, Ajmal has been deemed to have an action that exceeds a bend in the arm “of more than 15 degrees.” What’s more, it is not just one, but all of his deliveries that have been deemed illegal.
An article on ESPN Cricinfo from Osman Samiuddin this week looked at how the amount of bowling Ajmal is doing in international cricket is/has affected his action. Over the course of the last two decades, the law has adapted to allow the 15 degree flex; but many bowlers flex at least a few degrees, according to recent research in relation to the laws.
With the ICC’s stance on illegal actions, match-fixing and corruption all, at some point, seemingly failing, the ban on Ajmal begs the question as to whether cricket’s governing body can continue to put pressure on players to ensure they’re bowling within regulations.
But back on Pakistan, and they’ve lost their frontline spinner. It will sting. What seems most surprising though, is the ICC’s change of perspective/tack on Ajmal’s bowling action.
In 2009, the then testing centre in Perth cleared him of any illegal action. Now, though, the laws have spoken enough to rub someone out. From only the doosra, to the full repertoire, Ajmal has been through the wringer.
An interesting point on social media compared Ajmal’s ban to other facets such as the size of current bats and boundaries, and how better control over those, to perhaps negate powerful hitting being too overwhelming, could also be “cracked down” as well as bowling actions.
Ajmal has reportedly said he has a medical condition which means his arm naturally flexes in a bend deemed illegal under the bowling laws. At 36, there is no doubt that Ajmal’s career is not in the “prime stage”, despite an incredible haul in the last three years.
Former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has now come on board to help Ajmal rectify his action, but that only solves the fixing of the player; it does not completely answer how the ICC can use this as a “promotional tool” to other bowlers. If it has been a question of workload, then Pakistan coaches and management have poorly handled the situation.
“There is a law, and science has apparently proved that Ajmal’s action breaches that law. It does not say Ajmal is a cheat or a villain. He is someone simply bowling with his body and muscle memory wired the way it is.”
One thing batsmen can breathe a sigh of relief about is they will not have to face up to Ajmal’s guile until his action is deemed legal for him to return to international cricket.
If Ajmal has deliberately taken it upon himself to develop an action that has an arm bend extending past 15 degrees, that could be labelled “cheating”, and the ICC have made the right call. If it is a matter of developing the right action, and the bend is a natural occurrence, the ban should be rightly reversed.
Like match-fixing, many are calling for stronger deterrents and measures to curtail situations such as this. Until the ICC can sit down, straighten up in the chair, and see things far more transparently than the current state they are in.