Pakistan v England 2011-12 February 7, 2012

Ajmal comment sparks action confusion

Saeed Ajmal, Man of the Series as Pakistan whitewashed England 3-0 in the UAE, sparked confusion over his bowling action by giving an interview in which he appeared to claim that he has special dispensation to exceed the limit currently permitted by the ICC. However, it later emerged that Ajmal has an abnormally natural bent arm similar to Muttiah Muralitharan although the exact degrees involved remained unclear.

In the interview with the BBC, Ajmal volunteered the belief that the ICC had allowed him 23.5 degrees to compensate for an accident in which he injured his arm. The ICC, however, were quick to reject the suggestion.

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."

An ICC spokeman denied that was the case. "There is no dispensation for anyone," he said. "It is worth remembering that his first language is not English and this may have been a slip of the tongue."

Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, confirmed that Ajmal's arm is not naturally straight and that Ajmal's action does not fall outside the 15-degree tolerance limit.

"There is a big difference between the 'elbow carry angle' (elbow abduction) and the degree of elbow extension," he said. "There is nothing preventing a bowler bowling with a bent arm, provided he does not straighten it beyond the permitted degrees of tolerance."

In an interview on the ICC website, Richardson added: "In Saeed Ajmal's case he has a 15-degree angle of elbow abduction."

The PCB 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.

"The ICC's level of tolerance of 15 degrees relates to the degree of elbow extension that is permitted in the bowling action, ie. the amount by which the arm is straightening," Pakistan team manager Naveed Akram Cheema said. "Previous tests conducted on the action of Saeed Ajmal show that the degree of elbow extension is well within ICC's tolerance levels."

"Saeed Ajmal was referring to the angle of elbow abduction, ie. the angle of the upper arm to the forearm and not the degree of elbow extension. This angle is approximately 23 degrees in Saeed's case.

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.

While Bob Willis, the former England captain turned pundit, had raised concerns about Ajmal's action at the start of the series, the England team have been reluctant to be dragged into any controversy. Consequently, they have stuck to the line that it is job of the umpires and the ICC to scrutinise bowlers' actions.

However, Andy Flower, the England coach, expressed his surprise after being told of Ajmal's remarks. "If that's the degree, then there's a problem," Flower said. "That's ridiculous.

"That is an ICC issue, though. They are there to police the game, and make sure that it is played within the rules, so they've got to scrutinise his action. We've all got our own views, but our job is to combat whoever is put against us, and part of it is also to play the game in the right spirit."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo