Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner, has said Saeed Ajmal has a 'realistic possibility' of returning to international cricket. The PCB signed a one-month contract with Saqlain, ending on October 24, to work with Ajmal in an effort to correct his action, which was deemed illegal by the ICC. The one-month term, according to Saqlain, was 'ample enough' time to work on the technical aspects of Ajmal's action.
"There is a realistic chance Ajmal can return with a legitimate action and once I finish I am sure he will be in good shape," Saqlain told ESPNcricinfo. "He will be ready in the next two weeks to undergo an unofficial assessment in a biomechanical laboratory. I am hopeful and more importantly he [Ajmal] himself is very optimistic and has done everything that is required."
Over the last 22 days, Saqlain has been working on extensively to get Ajmal to reduce the straightening of his arm to within the 15-degree limit allowed by the ICC. The PCB intends to send Ajmal to England to undergo an unofficial independent assessment at its own expense before applying to the ICC for an official retesting.
Ajmal has a realistic chance of clearing the test, according to the Saqlain, and he said the ICC should also consider Ajmal's medical history while assessing his action. Ajmal has had chronic issues with his wrist, shoulder, hand and elbow following a road accident in 2004. He underwent a detailed medical assessment on Monday at the Shaukat Khanum hospital in Lahore and the MRI reports are awaited.
"If you look at Ajmal's history with injuries, he might have recovered but there are certain things he might not able to achieve," Saqlain said. "He is working so hard to get it fixed and bring it within the 15-degree limit. And I can see with my naked eye that he has done a lot work to reduce his flex so far and this is the important part.
"With fresh medial reports we can put our heads together to look at what we can do further. I think ICC should also consider his medical history since no one wants to break the law intentionally. Even Ajmal, when he saw his videos, admitted his action was not fair. So he understands exactly what he needs to do. He is a quick learner and a fighter and is working so hard to achieve his targets."
Saqlain said his work with Ajmal so far had mostly been confined to his offbreak, and that the next step would be to work on his doosra.
"We just want to ensure that everything should be perfect before we apply for an official assessment," he said. "We took a month to work on various elements. So I am satisfied with the improvement in the last two weeks. But undergoing an assessment through a proper biomechanics system can further iron out the kinks. In case there is some problem we can sort it out instantly and the idea is to go into the ICC testing without any flaw.
"We have done most of the work so far on conventional offspin, but we are now focusing on his strength as well. So we are working on the overall package, including his doosra."
Saqlain, 37, was perhaps the first offspinner to master the doosra, a delivery that spins away from the batsman even though it is delivered with a similar action to the offbreak. The variation spread around the world even after he retired from international cricket, and a few bowlers have mastered it in the last 15 years even though the delivery remains shrouded in controversy, with critics contending it cannot be bowled without straightening the elbow beyond 15 degrees.
"I have always believed you can definitely bowl it with a legitimate action, working on various aspects of your body," Saqlain said. "You can bowl the doosra with your fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder and you can even get it right with your foot positioning. Every individual has his own physique. If you don't have strong shoulders you can execute it through you wrist and fingers and use elbow to bowl a faster one. In either case you have to have strong control over your wrist and ensure it doesn't collapse. And without the kink you can safely bowl a doosra within the permitted flex."
Saqlain was asked whether it was possible for there to be another new variation or invention added to the art of off spin bowling and he offered a mystical reply, "Why not? A person is made of this earth, which has not been discovered completely yet. So when you start thinking and start experiencing deeply, then you start experimenting. And then what you produce, that is a real invention."