Pakistan will once again have to do without the bowling services of Mohammad Hafeez, after he was suspended from bowling in international cricket by the ICC. An independent assessment at Loughborough University found Hafeez's action to be illegal - the third time in recent years that has been the case.
Hafeez, currently the world's top-ranked ODI allrounder, was reported for a suspect action after the third ODI against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi last month and underwent his assessment in Loughborough two weeks ago.
The assessment, according to an ICC release, revealed that a majority of Hafeez's deliveries exceeded the 15 degrees level of tolerance permitted under the ICC's regulations. Data on Hafeez's action was captured for four overs' worth of deliveries - the data that is recorded is only for those deliveries where testers are satisfied that the match action has been replicated in the lab. It is believed that less than half a dozen deliveries were within the 15-degree limit, but that margins he was over by were not as big as, for example, Saeed Ajmal's when he was suspended a few years ago.
That will be of little consolation to Pakistan, for whom the availability of Hafeez's bowling this year has been a major factor in their resurgence in white-ball cricket. They have risen to the top of the T20 rankings and won the Champions Trophy in June in some part because Hafeez was back bowling - his availability offered Pakistan not only control at one end, but the flexibility to choose a number of attack-minded, wicket-taking options.
It leaves Hafeez to ponder over the future of his bowling once again. Under ICC rules, though this is the third time he has been suspended from bowling in three years, he will be able to return to bowling as soon as he has rectified his action and passed another assessment. There is a suggestion, however, that he will give himself as much time as he needs to resolve issues in his action before he applies for a re-assessment. He tweeted after the news of his suspension came out that he will work twice as hard to rectify his action this time.
Saddened to know the result of my bowling action from ICC , it would never pull me down , wil never give up , worked so hard to remodelled it & wil work again twice harder to get better to serve my beloved country Pakistan & Achieve MORE #NO1allrounder— Mohammad Hafeez (@MHafeez22) November 16, 2017
Hafeez's action was first reported in November 2014, during a Test series against New Zealand and suspended from bowling in December. By April 2015, he had remodelled his action enough to satisfy another test and he was cleared to bowl again. Just a couple of months later, however, he was reported again during the Galle Test against Sri Lanka. Tests confirmed again that his action was illegal, and because his action had been found illegal twice within a period of 24 months, he was automatically suspended from bowling for 12 months.
Though it hasn't happened before, if a bowler returns and is found to have an illegal action once again after this - as has now happened with Hafeez - he goes back to square one; that is, there is no bar on how soon he can return to bowling provided he has corrected his action and cleared an assessment. In a different time, Hafeez's action was called in Australia as well - back in 2005 - while just before he was reported in November 2014, he was also reported in a Champions League T20 game in India.
One thing in Pakistan's and Hafeez's favour is a relatively light international schedule. It will be difficult for Hafeez to start bowling again in time for Pakistan's next assignment, a limited-overs series in New Zealand in January. There is the possibility of a T20 series against West Indies in Pakistan in March, but otherwise they are not scheduled to play any international cricket until the tour to England in May.
In the interim will be the PSL where, according to ICC regulations, he can bowl should the PCB choose to allow it. In the first PSL in 2016, however, when Hafeez was serving a 12-month suspension, the league chose to not allow him to bowl. Hafeez was also expected to fly out to the Bangladesh Premier League on Friday, to play for Comilla Victorians, but is now expected to skip the tournament and instead concentrate on working on his action.