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Ajmal move reveals ICC's firm hand

The scrutiny over Saeed Ajmal is one of the signs that the ICC is taking greater control in the process of identifying suspect bowling actions by backing match officials and bringing uniformity in testing

Osman Samiuddin

August 12, 2014

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Saeed Ajmal claimed match figures of 13 for 94, Worcestershire v Essex, County Championship, Division Two, 3rd day, May 20, 2014
"The impact on Saeed Ajmal will be difficult to gauge. He likes to play the free, easy and unconcerned simpleton but he is infinitely more complex" © Getty Images
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If there was any doubt about the seriousness of the ICC's renewed vigour in pursuing bowlers with illegal actions, it should have dissipated by now. For umpires to call Shane Shillingford, Kane Williamson and Sachithra Senanayake, as they have done in recent months, is one thing.

Saeed Ajmal? That shows a different degree of vigour altogether. Ajmal is, alongside Rangana Herath, the world's best spinner. He is among the best bowlers in the world, the one man because of whom Pakistan remain a threat. Nobody has taken more international wickets since the start of 2011; nobody is really even close to his 323-wicket haul.

He is the biggest fish. It is something the ICC has been working towards. In June this year, at an ICC meeting, the cricket committee expressed concerns about the identifying, reporting and testing of suspect actions.

Primarily, the ICC is unhappy with the biomechanics lab at the University of Western Australia in Perth, where bowlers with suspect actions have usually been sent for testing and correction. The ICC is not convinced that the lab's testing procedures are rigorous enough, at least to the standards they want. They are unhappy that not enough of the bowlers reported and then tested in recent years have been found to possess suspect actions.

So now they are taking greater control over the process, accrediting a number of other labs around the world where they can implement uniformity to the testing, to the standards they want. Not least of the issues to keep an eye on with this case will be where Ajmal goes for testing.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the actions of Williamson and Senanayake were tested and confirmed to be illegal at a newly accredited facility, at the Cardiff Metropolitan University's School of Sport in Wales (Shillingford, and teammate Marlon Samuels, it is only fair to point out, were banned from bowling after tests in Perth).

But somebody has to report them first and had umpires not been emboldened to do so, none of this would be happening. At that ICC meeting, the committee recommended changes to specifically "encourage umpires and referees" to identify suspect actions.

That was followed by the words of the ICC's general manager, cricket, Geoff Allardice at the annual general meeting at the end of June. "There's enough bowlers with suspect actions that should be being scrutinized, that probably haven't been."

The message is clear. So is the bigger picture in which Ajmal finds himself. It is the details, however, that are not so straightforward. Ajmal was reported in 2009 as well, and was cleared to bowl again soon after. The ICC loves to insist no bowler is ever permanently cleared, but to many constituencies, Ajmal's action has never been quite right.

The accompanying conjecture is not as bad as the hounding of Muttiah Muralitharan, but it has been snide. Michael Vaughan's recent tweeting of a grainy photograph of Ajmal in delivery is a classic example of the kind of mischief some have sought.

Ajmal has not helped, as when, back in 2012, he seemed to suggest the ICC had granted his action a special allowance. They had done no such thing. Ajmal was simply unable to articulate clearly in English vital technical information.

That little episode did shed a light, however, on how little people understand of suspect actions. A bent elbow during delivery is not the vital measure, for example: it is to the degree that the elbow straightens when the ball is released that is. That should not exceed 15 degrees and in the 2009 tests that Ajmal spoke of, he did not.

To the naked eye his action over the last five years has not looked particularly changed. Was it different in Galle? Did his action become more ragged because of how much he bowled? He always bears a heavy burden though (he has bowled more international overs than anyone since 2011). It could just be that the environment is changing around him.

Unusually, and ominously for him, it may not be just Ajmal's doosra that is under scrutiny. The ICC has said only that a "number of deliveries" raised concerns. Ajmal is unique in one respect: the 2009 tests found that his elbow straightened fractionally more (but within legal limits) for his off-break and quicker ball than for the doosra.

The impact on Ajmal will be difficult to gauge. He likes to play the free, easy and unconcerned simpleton but he is infinitely more complex. He might take heart from having been cleared once before. He might let it weigh him down. Either would be a pretty normal reaction to a difficult situation.

Pakistan will not even want to imagine a world without Ajmal. Over the last 15 years they have seen the careers of so many of their leading bowlers curtailed that if Ajmal does not clear those tests, they might be compelled to acknowledge that the posting itself is cursed.

This article was first published in The National.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National. @sprtnationaluae

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 21:30 GMT)

Fair enough. Rules are Rules and Ajmal needs to prove he is not chucking. If he is, Pakistan should be able to replace him in ODIs and T20s. However, Pakistan would have to rely on fast bowling in tests again.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 13:39 GMT)

@Khurram S Chaudhry on (August 13, 2014, 6:28 GMT);

Your idea of superimposing the actual picture, with a template from the earlier testing, will be of some use if BEND was the issue; not for FLEX, which is the concern here. When the issue cropped up years ago, it was triggered by the BEND! How the issue got shifted to flex itself is a fascinating story, for another day.

Even if you compare the 'MOVING video' of he actual , with the template video from the testing, you can still get only a 2D view, unlike a 3D view, which the testing lab has while testing. The recordings are only supplementary documents, and not the major tool for judgement. Any 2D view also get heavily affected by the angle of the shot. In testing lab, they shoot from a multitude of angles, before they arrive at the judgement. I think, with the limited time and equipment at the disposal of the umpires when a game is on, we may not have a better option than the current processes being followed by ICC.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 13:07 GMT)

@landl47 on (August 13, 2014, 11:47 GMT)

Yes, I picked up the idea from the American baseball, which I played a bit during my student days there in the fifties. I agree, that I was trying to tilt the balance a bit more in favor of the bowlers. I also agree that the game will finish a bit faster than the meandering 5 days.

BUT, it is not as bad (or as short) as baseball, for many reasons. One: The ball has to pitch the ground before it reaches the batsmen; unlike in baseball. The pace of the ball reduces after pitching and the batsmen will have more time to gauge the ball's movement & speed. Two: The cricket bat's shape (as opposed to the baseball bat) gives the batsman, better chance to connect, and can play ALL the cricketing shots, he had been playing for years.

Almost all the other unique features of cricket will remain intact... such as the cat & mouse games good cricket captains play with field placements, building partnerships, et al.

Anyway,it was just an idea :-)

Posted by TheBigBoodha on (August 13, 2014, 12:18 GMT)

Don't throw! Simple. All this hullabaloo about fair/not fair! This is cricket, not baseball. Innovation has to be within the rules of the game. If you want to throw it, take up boomerang throwing. It isn't innovation to bowl half way down the pitch, and it isn't innovation to throw the ball at the batsman. Work within the rules. That's what true intonation and creativity requires. All games, and all creative endeavours have boundaries. cricket is no different.

Posted by landl47 on (August 13, 2014, 11:47 GMT)

@Jose Puliampatta: I live in the USA. If the rule change you suggested was put in place, what would happen is that bowlers would stand at the crease, wind up and throw the ball, just as baseball pitchers do. The run-up would no longer be necessary. Baseball pitchers are way more accurate than bowlers in cricket and throw the ball, on average, about 10mph faster- it's a poor pitcher these days who can't throw over 90mph and most are closer to the mid-90s. They swing the ball both ways and make it dip quickly and late.

In a baseball game of about 250 pitches (125 per side), an average score would be something like 8 runs between the two sides, as compared to maybe 320 runs in a 240-ball T20 game. Baseball is very pitcher-dominated. Even with the bigger bat, my guess would be that runs would shrink to about 10% of what they are now.

Is that really what you want to see in cricket? It's not what I want.

Posted by KolonnaweKing on (August 13, 2014, 10:05 GMT)

Isn't there any ICC authorised executive power to relax rules and free the game?

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 9:23 GMT)

Just a thought. Why not we completely abolish the chucking rule. As long the bowlers don't overstep, and as long as the ball reaches the batsman, one bounce -- including allowing yorkers--, it should be alright. Just keep the rules for no-balls, wides, and beamers. that's enough.The game had heavily been tilted in the batsmen's favour; this will bring some semblance of balance between bat & ball.

@Cricket_theBestGame on (August 13, 2014, 2:20 GMT): Yes, I share your view on the 180 degree. But, am willing to go beyond your suggestion.

Posted by Smithie on (August 13, 2014, 9:12 GMT)

@jmcilhinney - sleeveless pullovers, rashies and factor 50 should be adequate solutions to the limited instances you raise. It's the potential of umpires sanction which may discourage the " slipping in " of a couple when things get tight. This variation at will is a key component of what is objectionable.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 7:36 GMT)

Once again more freedom to the batsmen and less freedom for the bolwers. Cricket has lately become the game for the batsmen let it be IPL, CPL, CL. Bowlers cant step over the crease, bowlers cant bowl wide in order to get the batsmen out and then the bowlers cant bend their arms beyond the desired level. This is truly unfair fow the bowlers.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2014, 7:18 GMT)

Ajmal at the age of 37, a maximum of one season to go. Why would anyone want him out at this stage?

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Osman SamiuddinClose
Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.
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