Uganda's hopes of a top-two finish at WCL Division Three in Oman were thrown into chaos during their loss to USA, when allrounder Irfan Afridi - the leading wicket-taker at WCL Division Four in May - was allegedly told by an umpire that he would be no-balled for a suspect action if he bowled a second over.
"The umpire called me and told me after the first over he [Afridi] bowled," Uganda captain Roger Mukasa told ESPNcricinfo. "They told me he was chucking. He's suspect of chucking, he chucks the ball. Then they told me he's not allowed to bowl the next over. If he bowls the next over, it will be called a no-ball."
The incident happened at the end of the fifth over in the first innings, after Uganda had sent USA in to bat. Afridi had been brought on first-change after four overs, conceding a lone boundary in his opening over. Mukasa told ESPNcricinfo afterwards that the umpires - UAE's Akbar Ali and Sri Lanka's Lyndon Hannibal - informed him they believed Afridi was throwing the ball, allegedly with the legspinner's variation of offspin or carrom-ball.
"They're saying he's bowling offspin and Lala [Afridi] doesn't bowl offspin," Mukasa said. "He's bowling legspin. So I don't know what they're talking about. It disorganised us from that time and I had to come and bowl some overs. I think it disturbed our momentum. I have no words to say."
The ICC's tournament playing condition 21.2 for 'Fair delivery - the arm' states, "Should either umpire or the ICC Match Referee suspect that a bowler has used an Illegal Bowling Action, they shall complete the ICC Bowling Action Report Form at the conclusion of the match, as set out in the Illegal Bowling Regulations." It does not say anything about the umpires having the authority to call a no-ball on the field of play for an illegal action.
According to a Uganda team official, Afridi's bowling action became an issue on match day after a complaint was allegedly made by the USA head coach Pubudu Dassanayake to the umpires during Saturday's match. A USA team official confirmed they did make a complaint to the umpires about Afridi's action, also claiming that "they were already aware (and watching) given a complaint from the first game [between Uganda and Denmark]."
However, Denmark coach Jeremy Bray told ESPNcricinfo that his team had zero issues with Afridi's action, both in Malaysia at Division Four and during their opening encounter in Oman, and any claim that Denmark made a complaint to the umpires about Afridi's action was "a complete fabrication" and "1000% false".
An ICC spokesperson has told ESPNcricinfo that Afridi was reported by the on-field umpires during Uganda's opening match against Denmark and have stated that a copy of the report was handed to the Uganda team manager the same evening. The ICC spokesperson also stated that the umpires had no obligation to warn that Afridi would be no-balled if he began a second over, but that doing so was "excellent match management" and that the umpires were within their rights to no-ball Afridi if he continued bowling during the match.
"4.8 of the ICC Regulations for the Review of Bowlers Reported with Suspected Illegal Bowling Actions reads as: 'Subject to the provisions of Article 4.4, throughout the period up to the date of receipt of the Expert Panel Report, the Player shall be permitted to continue bowling in International Cricket. At any time throughout this period the Player is subject to being called on the field by the Umpire(s) in accordance with Law 24.2 (which has become 21.2 following the October update),'" said the ICC spokesperson. "The Expert Panel process is already underway, with the results to be shared with the player and/or his board at its conclusion as soon as practically possible."
Mukasa also said no concerns were raised by on-field umpires Rahul Asher of Oman and Buddhi Pradhan of Nepal 24 hours earlier during the Denmark match. "They didn't say he was chucking [against Denmark] because yesterday he bowled ten overs," Mukasa said. "I'm so worried about what happened today. I think those nine overs have cost us a lot because he's a main bowler, he's a main spinner. So we don't know what to do. We're going to wait for the ICC. The manager is talking to the match referee about him. It's a big issue so we don't know what's going to happen."
Afridi was not just the leading wicket-taker in Malaysia but also at the ICC World T20 Africa B Region Qualifier this summer in Rwanda. On both occasions, Afridi passed all video analysis tests, according to Mukasa, which made Uganda's captain all the more upset with the actions allegedly taken by the on-field umpires on Saturday. There were also no issues raised during USA's match against Uganda in Kampala during WCL Division Three in May 2017, when Afridi bowled his full quota of ten overs.
"I think it's not fair," Mukasa said. "We did a video in Rwanda and in Malaysia and they said it's fine. So I don't know why they are still suspecting him of chucking."
Uganda have two off days before their next match of the tournament, against Kenya on November 13. If Afridi's bowling action remains under a cloud, it could force a reshuffle with veteran spinner Frank Nsubuga a possible replacement in the starting lineup for Uganda. A top-two finish is needed in the six-team event in order to progress to WCL Division Two next year in Namibia, where the top four finishers will secure ODI status through 2021 as part of Cricket World Cup League Two.