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George Dobell in Dubai
January 17, 2012
It was as inevitable as it was regrettable that another absorbing day's cricket between Pakistan and England should be tarnished by more controversy.
At a time when Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal should have been talking about the career-best bowling spell that had earned his side the initiative in the first Test, he was instead forced to defend the legality of his bowling action in the post-play media conference. It appears that games between these sides will always be plagued by one issue or another.
Ajmal, utilising all his skill and variation, claimed 7 for 55 as England were dismissed for just 192. Though Ajmal gained little turn from a sluggish surface, there was just enough movement in each direction to send confusion through the English ranks. It was a masterful performance from a fine cricketer.
There were no complaints from the England dressing-room. Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, could not have made it clearer. "It's not something we're concerned about," he replied when asked what the England team thought of Ajmal's action. "It's not something we talk about. It's nothing to do with us."
But there were murmurs from former players and members of the media that suggested the issue could well dominate the headlines in the coming days. A waft of sour grapes, perhaps?
The debate was sparked by the former England captain turned pundit, Bob Willis. Willis made the point, a quite legitimate point in context, that England are putting themselves at a disadvantage by not encouraging their young cricketers to bowl the doosra, a delivery that is harder to bowl while maintaining the legal margin of 15 degrees of arm straightening.
There's some truth in Willis' complaint. Very few English coaches encourage the doosra and one of the very few county players who could bowl it with any degree of control and bite, Maurice Holmes, was recently suspended from bowling and released by his county after doubts about his action were raised.
"The delivery that I have a problem with is the doosra," Willis said. "The ICC have accommodated this delivery; they changed the rules to allow these bowlers to bend their elbow 15 degrees, which is what makes it so difficult for the batsmen.
"The authorities are now allowing these mystery spinners, unorthodox offspinners to bend their elbow to a degree. If they are going to be allowed to do that then England have to address this and decide whether we should be teaching our young spinners to bowl like that as well."
Prior, whose performance stood head and shoulders above his team-mates, refused to encourage talk about Ajmal's action. Instead he thought his side had to take responsibility for a poor display with the bat, while acknowledging that any bowler with the ability to turn the ball both ways always presented extra difficulties. Neither did he think that Ajmal's talk of a mystery new delivery - the teesra - had proved to be a successful mind game.
"We have to hold our hands up," Prior said. "We had a bad day at the office. It was a pretty good batting surface and the ball wasn't really turning. We just played a few cross-batted shots when we should have played straight.
"I don't think Saaed got in our heads at all. Any spin bowler who spins it both ways is tricky. His wrist is pretty quick when he delivers the ball so it's pretty difficult to pick him at times and that obviously plays on a batsman's minds, but we have to deal with him a lot better than we did today.
Ajmal also chose to rise above questions on the issue. "I'm just going to concentrate on my bowling," he said. "Umpires and referees are responsible for judging my action. Such questions were raised with Saqlain Mushtaq [the former Pakistan offspinner], too, but we both played county cricket and there were no problems. It's no problem for me that someone in England has questioned my action.
"This was the best performance of my life. I just bowled wicket to wicket and, while I had a good day, England had a bad one. They are all good players and it would be wrong to say that England doesn't play spin well. Andrew Strauss should have played off the front foot rather than the back, but I've worked hard on my bowling against left-handers and I'm very happy to have dismissed four left-handers today."
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