Illegal? Really?

August 17, 2014

The timing of the call about Saeed Ajmal’s action is worth a second look. The next series is against Australia and the World Cup is a few months away. If Ajmal is not cleared then its curtains for him and for Pakistan in the short term

Illegal? Really?

It was back in 2009 that a ‘spin summit’ was convened in Australia which was attended by Shane Warne, Stuart McGill, Jim Higgs, Gavin Robertson, Terry Jenner, Peter Philpott and Ashley Mallett. All but Robertson and Mallet were leg spinners. Mallet was one of the greatest off spinners to play for Australia and retired in the mid seventies.

One of their conclusions was that the doosra (the off spinner’s googly) just could not be delivered legally due to the biomechanics of the elbow. They advocated that this particular delivery should not be taught to young spinners in Australia and sarcastically commented that it could be allowed only if ICC wanted to legalise throwing.

I wondered then why such an extreme statement had been given by them and why there had been no contemporary off spinner in the panel. Would they have advocated this radical step if Australia had an off spinner of the stature of Shane Warne? The ICC took no notice of that summit and its conclusion showed that it held little weight, given the 15 degree limit of bending the elbow the ICC was content with.

After all wasn’t it a crime for the ball to swing late when Wasim and Waqar demolished England on the 1992 tour? But once the English bowlers learned the science behind it, the ball was rechristened as reverse swing and the media celebrated the artisans who bowled it well, like James Anderson and Stuart Broad, to mention just the recent ones.

That Saeed Ajmal emerged in Test cricket in 2009 and was soon mesmerising the world with his doosra he adopted from the armory of its inventor Saqlain Mushtaq is ironic given the timing of the spin summit in Australia. He was reported the same year after he helped Pakistan win the 2009 World Twenty20. By then his doosra had not been unleashed. He was cleared to bowl and continued to deploy Saqlain’s brainchild once claiming that: "If I bowl with flight I cannot bowl well. If I bowl at a quicker speed I can then use variations in pace. If I take 70 percent of my wickets with the doosra why should I not bowl it? Whether you bowl it or even an off break, the ball should be bowled on the right line and one should take a wicket with it."

Look it’s already been turned into a batsman’s game. If the ICC continue to haunt the top bowlers very soon every youngster will be becoming a bowler at the last minute if he can’t get into a batting line up. The doosra was troubling the batsmen considerably, and run making was curtailed even in the slog overs in limited-overs games when Ajmal was toying with the ball.

Kevin Pietersen once admitted that: "With HawkEye coming in… off spinners get a lot of lbws from round the wicket, so you have to work really hard, and [against] a bloke who’s got a doosra you have to work extra special hard."

The photograph in ‘The News’ last Tuesday of the new bat that has been introduced by Indian technologists and which has been approved by MCC further proves that the ICC is moving towards two extremes: limiting the firepower of the bowlers and expanding the armory of the batsmen. This new bat is claimed to be lighter, faster through the air and gives a downward force to the ball when the edge is hit. Imagine the candidness with which this last aspect has been highlighted! This bat will be coming into commercial use later this year.

Already the bowlers are suffering with limit of the short ball per over, leg side wides even by a whisker, lesser fielders outside the circle, limited-overs in ODI and T20s while there is no limit on number of deliveries a batsman can face and ever shorter boundaries.

The timing of the call about Ajmal’s action is worth a second look. The next series is against Australia and the World Cup is a few months away. If Ajmal is this time not cleared then its curtains for him and for Pakistan in the short term. The ICC has already questioned the monopoly of the lab in Perth and feels it is soft, though in my view the entire testing system is ridiculous. As I wrote in one of my previous columns: ". . . the hawks among the former cricketers [feel] that rules are being bent (no pun intended) and that the very concept of allowing for even 15 degrees is on thin ice.

"….It has been suggested that ICC reconsider its existing procedure for banning bowlers for suspect actions. There is the feeling that the ICC needs to step out of the science lab and monitor what it clears on the cricket field as well."

Ajmal of course never helped his case when he gave an interview a couple of years back that ICC had allowed him to carry on and mentioned erroneously that he was allowed to bend the elbow more than 15 degrees; it was of course lost in translation and he didn’t mean what appeared to come out for lack of control of the English language, but he had always been on the radar since then, especially by former English players. They just haven’t digested the ‘Whitewash’ by Pakistan in the Test series a couple of years ago. The main architect of their demise was Ajmal of course and hence he had to pay the price, made easier by his own discretion.

The ICC is this time not going to let up. They have sanctioned more labs and especially the one in Wales has dished out tougher diagnoses. It is likely that Ajmal will end up there this time and everything will start afresh. But the fact remains how you monitor what happens on the field if Ajmal demonstrates in the lab that he is within 15 degrees? Are we in for subjective policing by the umpires like the times when bowlers were called by the field umpires and theirs was the final word?

Illegal? Really?