Comment: Ajmal Suspension Highlights Need For Change

Saeed Ajmal appeals
Saeed Ajmal now faces te difficulty of having to remodel his action if he is to return to international cricket
©REUTERS / Action Images
 

Jibran Khan Niazi once competed with Saeed Ajmal for the lone spinner's spot in his domestic side. Now he offers this reaction to his compatriot's suspension by the ICC.

Off-spinners were once considered crafty bowlers with varieties that used to annoy the batsmen in Test cricket but now, off-spinners are termed as lethal tools against hard-hitters in limited overs matches, relying on a combination of flight, bounce and swing.

Saqlain Mushtaq was perhaps the best, and it was he who discovered the 'doosra' - he was experimenting with new deliveries on his terrace with a table tennis ball which he found easier to grip.

This single delivery was to change off-spin bowling forever, but he bowled it slower than Ajmal does. Why? Saqlain used to bowl in accordance with prescribed rules and regulation and was no doubt a mystery bowler, with so many variations that batsmen found it hard to pick him - much like Sunil Narine.

Ajmal, meanwhile, bowls with what I will call 'jerk'.

Now he is under fire due to his illegal style and action. The ICC has tested Ajmal’s action and found that his elbow rotates 'sideways' exaggerating the appearance of this jerk.

Other off-spinners like Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan Singh whose actions have been queried, but they survived and managed to overcome objections. Did the presidents of their boards exert undue influence?

It is pertinent to mention here that Ajmal was allowed to play and explain his action due to an accident and he was able to be cleared by the ICC previously.

Ajmal's career and mine

Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi has played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.

I still remember when I made my Quaid-e-Azam Trophy debut, taking 10 wickets in the match. Ajmal made his debut in first-class cricket in the same year and unluckily for me, I ended up competing with him for one place when the Sargodha and Faisalabad regions were merged.

I had a more typical off-spin bowling action, with variety but having no quick doosra - the difference was the 'jerk'. This was why I was dropped yet Ajmal appreciated my style.

What is interesting is that our coaches, umpires and PCB officials continuously encouraged this illegal style of bowling and discouraged bowlers like me.

It is observed that he bowls with a bend of 35.5 degrees before releasing the ball and flexes into 15.5 degrees which means the actual 'jerk' is around the eight degrees mark - within limit of 15 degrees.

But my question is: Why was he allowed to bowl and only banned at such a crucial time, when the World Cup is approaching?

Now the PCB has decided to hire the services of Saqlain to help Ajmal but I am afraid he will struggle He may be able change his action but he will lose confidence.

So, why did the ICC allow Ajmal to continue bowling with this jerk? And why was he permitted to go beyond the prescribed 15 degrees? And why has ICC now imposed the ban on him?

Could Mohammad Hafeez be next? If he is banned it will be another huge blow for Pakistan.

It is pertinent to mention here that another upcoming off-spin bowler, Atif Maqbool, bowls with the same controversial action. If he and other off-spinners are to be banned, it will be due to the negligence of selectors, coaches and PCB officials.

Umpire Riazuddin has pointed out that Maqbool bowls his doosra well over the 15-degree limit.

Don't allow illegal actions

Rameez Raja, a legend of Pakistan cricket, has appealed to the ICC to permit the jerk in Ajmal's action but I don’t agree with his suggestion that such illegal actions must be allowed.

Such suggestions could further damage Pakistan cricket. I appreciate the stance of Imran Khan, who no doubt helped the talented players to grow as they proved their worth through on-field performances.

We should avoid cheating and go by the rules as great bowlers like Saqlain Mushtaq and Abdul Qadir, with their beautiful style did, and avoid promoting illegal actions.

Bowlers through the ages have demonstrated a dizzying array of ways to propel a leather sphere 22 yards: from the perfect action of Michael Holding, to the waist-high sling of Lasith Malinga, to the flailing arms and legs of Paul Adams, once memorably described as resembling 'frog in a blender'.

"In 2004, an ICC biomechanical research showed that according to the prevalent laws of cricket, almost every single bowler ever to have played the game was a chucker.

"Five degree bends for spinners, seven and a half for medium pacers and ten for fast bowlers was deemed as acceptable.

"Findings showed that bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, known for clean actions were bending their arm as much as twelve degrees.

"Thus, the bar was now set at fifteen degrees for all bowlers, a bend that could be visible to the naked eye."

ICC Report

But the one thing they are supposed to have in common is that they do not extend their arms as they deliver the ball.

As the quote goes, "Cricketers bowl; chucking is cheating."

I do recall the words of a famous senior coach who advised me to continue bowling with a traditional action instead of bowling illegally to achieve results like Ajmal.

My view is that the Pakistani coaches realised that Ajmal's action is illegal but were negligent in allowing him to continue to bowl.

I don’t think it is valid to allow 'chucking'. Consider also that the PCB have spent huge amounts of money on biomechanics machines to check the angle of bowling as per new the rules and despite lavish expenditure on such machines, they were not used, are now destroyed and not functional.

What a waste. But what now?

It is time to get help from qualified bowling coaches who must improve the up and coming off-spinners with the help of biomechanical tests.

Forget bias, forget the ICC, we must first get our own house in order.

© Cricket World 2014