Pakistan v England, 2011-12 February 8, 2012

Unravelling the mystery of Ajmal

The ICC have explained the science behind the offspinner's action after a TV interview caused confusion

A combination of language difficulties and scientific misunderstanding created the confusion over the legitimacy of Saaed Ajmal's bowling action.

Ajmal, man of the series as Pakistan inflicted a 3-0 whitewash upon England in the Test series in the UAE, sparked confusion in the aftermath of the third Test by appearing to suggest that the ICC had given him special dispensation to straighten his arm beyond the 15-degree tolerance currently permitted.

Speaking to the BBC, Ajmal appeared to volunteer the fact that the ICC had allowed him 23.5 degrees to compensate for an accident in which he injured his arm. Ajmal said: "Someone is telling me my action is bad because the ICC allowed me as a bowler 23.5 degrees, because my arm is not good. A few years ago I had an accident. Otherwise, no problem, the action was cleared by ICC."

The ICC soon denied that was the case and issued a partial explanation but a separate statement from the PCB seemed only to further muddy the waters due to an understandable, though unfortunate, error.

ESPNcricinfo has visited the ICC's headquarters in Dubai, spoken to Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket and seen the report compiled by the ICC's Panel of Human Movement at the University of Western Australia in 2009, and can now clarify the misunderstanding.

The bottom line is this: Saeed Ajmal's action is well within the ICC range of tolerance. It is legal. While he does bowl with a bend in his arm, it does not straighten more, on average, than about eight degrees.

Now for the science bit: as Ajmal begins to bring his arm over to bowl, there is, on average, a 23.5 degree bend in his elbow (elbow flexion) - the angle to which Ajmal referred in his BBC interview. As he delivers the ball, his arm straightens (elbow extension) by, on average, eight degrees - well within the 15-degree range of tolerance for international cricket set by the ICC.

This means that his arm is flexed by around 15.5 degrees at the moment of delivery - but it is vital to remember that it is quite legal to bowl with a bent arm: it is the degree that it straightens from the bend that is monitored.

The situation with Ajmal is complicated further by the fact that his elbow also abducts - or rotates sideways - by around 15 degrees in delivery. This is not something that is limited by the rules on the bowling action but helps to create the illusion that his arm has straightened more than it has in reality.

Many well known international bowlers - including bowlers from England - have demonstrated similar amounts of flexion and straightening but, due to the way Ajmal's elbow abducts, the straightening in his action can appear magnified.

While this has led to some apparently incriminating photographs, in this instance the camera can certainly mislead, if not lie.

Furthermore, contrary to widespread conjecture, Ajmal's off-break and quicker ball actually cause his arm to straighten more - though only a fraction more - than his doosra. The 2009 tests also obliged Ajmal to demonstrate his quicker ball - a delivery that approaches 100kph - and found that, in terms of flex and abduction, it did not differ from his stock delivery.

"Ajmal's action has led to some apparently incriminating photographs but in this instance the camera can mislead if not lie"

Any umpire with any concern over Ajmal's action - or that of any other previously tested bowler - has the facility to freeze-frame any delivery from any international match and compare it to images taken during the test procedure at the University of Western Australia. It is understood that there has been no significant change in Ajmal's action since the tests in 2009.

Ajmal, in conducting an interview in a foreign language and attempting to explain a complex bio-mechanical process, inadvertently awakened a controversy that should have been resolved in 2009.

Ajmal tormented the England batsmen in all three Tests, claiming 24 wickets in the series at an average of just 14.7. Their inability to distinguish between his off-break and doosra caused particular confusion and vastly reduced the effectiveness of England's much-vaunted middle order. Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen all failed to average more than 13.

Richardson confirmed on Tuesday that Ajmal's action does not fall outside the 15-degree tolerance limit. "There is nothing preventing a bowler bowling with a bent arm, provided he does not straighten it beyond the permitted degrees of tolerance," he said.

The PCB also issued a statement attempting to clarify the situation although their claim that Ajmal's elbow has a natural angle of 23 degrees didn't match Richardson's explanation that it was 15 degrees, which also happens to be the ICC's tolerance limit for the degree of elbow extension (elbow straightening). It appears, in retrospect that the PCB confused flexion - which is the amount the elbow bends - with abduction - which is the sideways movement of the elbow.

The accident to which Ajmal referred took place on a bus while he was on Pakistan duty. The ICC suspect, however, that the unusually high elbow abduction - the angle at which the forearm leads from the elbow - has been with him from birth.

Differing opinions are, generally, to be welcomed and respected. On this subject, however, there can be no room for further speculation or doubt. Ajmal's action is fine. That is a scientific fact.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Asad on February 12, 2012, 14:27 GMT

    To be fair, it's not the English team or Ajmal that should be blamed for this fiasco. Just the newspaper columnists and journos that need a story that would create some drama. Good on you Dobell for clearing it up.

  • Dummy4 on February 11, 2012, 8:35 GMT

    Ajmal is a good bowler no doubt.... and he should not be criticized whatsoever....

  • Biso on February 9, 2012, 16:10 GMT

    @beastbuddy . You have hit the nail on the head. That 15 degree rule was brought about when the so called pundits in ICC realised that the Australian fast bowlers were all worse than the much maligned Murali. That had no choice but to find a way out of the mess.LOL. But, the point is every bowler flexes, more or less. Hence the degree rule. You can debate about how much should a legitimate delivery be. But, without flexure it is impossible to bowl.

  • Biso on February 9, 2012, 16:00 GMT

    It is impossible to bowl any delivery in cricket without a certain degree of flexure( straightening of the elbow). Impossible. Ask the doctors who are specialists in human motion or for that matter orthopedics. The point is- what is the extent that is permissible? The faster one bowls the greater the straightening. It may or may not be apparent to the naked eye. But it is certainly there. On this account the naked eye can be misleading. It was found during extensive studies of bowlers that some one like Mc Grath had a higher degree of flexure while bowling his cutters than Murali. And we all know that Murali received a raw deal from a few umpires and media. Ajmal's case is similar. The English media sat in judgment for obvious reasons. BTW Ajmal will be playing county cricket.

  • Bob on February 9, 2012, 15:16 GMT

    @reality_check.... Thank you.. you've written exactly what I would have replied to FF768. The simple fact is that there are many bowlers whose actions contravene the Law as it is currently written. If the ICC considers them to be legal, then they should be asking the MCC to change the Law to reflect this. What we now have is the Law saying one thing and the ICC saying something else.

  • Rauf on February 9, 2012, 14:50 GMT

    @FF786 regarding @bobmartin: I don't think bobmartin is questioning Ajmal's action as far as I can read his comment. He is merely pointing out facts from MCC rule book which in this case slightly differs from ICC and he simply wants MCC to include the ICC extended rule in this regards. I agree that both MCC and ICC should be on the same page to avoid any future confusions.

  • Dummy4 on February 9, 2012, 14:50 GMT

    Why Why Why.. when ever a sub-continent bowler takes too many wickets, the Englishmen, Australians and the like.. they start making loud noises.. how unsporting! shame.

  • Farhan on February 9, 2012, 12:45 GMT

    @ bobMartin so do you think Ajaml is a relative of Haroon Lorgart or David Richardson, or do you have more knowledge than Cheif Executive & General Manager of ICC. ICC is flexible but not flexible enough to allow a bowler to bowl a single illegal delivery. Saeed Ajmal played the ODI world cup as well as couple of T20 world cups, and u noticed his action at this time during PAK-England Series. So i can say that u must have some tolerance and your team is not good enough, there are so many deficiencies in your England Team.

  • Mark on February 9, 2012, 12:33 GMT

    This is typical behaviour from the mentality of players, media and fans of England and Australia. Their arrogant superior mentality towards Subontinental teams like Sri Lanka or Pakistan never ceases to amaze. Ajmal is fine. Personally this will motivate Ajmal to be the greatest since Murali. Questioning Murali action made Murali even a better bowler.

  • Satish on February 9, 2012, 12:29 GMT

    @Nutcutlet : It happens.. As u said, Mr.Geoff Griffin is unlucky to be born on that age.. Any sport evolves with age.. Cricket had moved on to OD and now T20.. There were many rules flexed like bouncers, number of overs, over rate, replays, third umpire, DRS and everything.. It just happens.. Rule cant stay rule as it will pass the sell date.. Very tough to maintain same rule for ages..

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