Saeed Ajmal felt as if “the ground had been pulled from under” his feet when he was informed that his action had been reported by authorities earlier this year. Ajmal’s interview features in the cover story of the December issue of the Cricket Monthly, which examines the issues arising out of the ICC’s recent toughening of stance against illegal bowling actions.
The offspinner, the leader of Pakistan’s attack for the last three years and one of the world’s leading spinners, was subsequently banned from bowling after tests found his action to be well beyond the required 15 degrees tolerance level. He is currently in the process of correcting his action, having undergone extensive rehabilitation with former Pakistan offspinner Saqlain Mushtaq.
Ajmal was called by the umpiring team of Ian Gould, Bruce Oxenford, Richard Illingworth and match referee Andy Pycroft during Pakistan’s first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle in August. They reported 30-35 deliveries of his as being, potentially, suspect.
It was the second time in his international career that Ajmal had been called; in 2009, after being reported in an ODI in the UAE, Ajmal’s action was found to be legal upon testing. “I had been playing for so long and had been cleared [in 2009] and then they did it again,” he told the Cricket Monthly.
Ajmal is now on the verge of a potential return and more upbeat about his prospects than he was when he spoke to TCM; then he was more unsure about whether he would return at all. He underwent unofficial testing at a newly accredited ICC lab in Loughborough where reports suggest that, with a new action, only his doosra is now over 15 degrees (when he was suspended every single one of his deliveries was found to be illegal).
Although he has since questioned the ICC’s new testing procedures, when he spoke to TCM (in mid-October) he was categorical in insisting he had no problems with the testing, which was carried out in Brisbane’s National Cricket Centre.
In fact, he admitted that on inspection, his action seemed to have changed from before. “I took out some old videos and compared it to the Sri Lanka series and it seemed to me like some problem had come in the action. I don’t know whether it was because I put more into the ball because I wasn’t getting wickets. I wasn’t getting them out, so maybe I put some more into it and that caused it. But I don’t know.”
Ajmal is the highest-profile bowler to be suspended in the new ICC crackdown on illegal actions. This renewed cull itself is the result of various factors, not least the ICC’s long-standing desire to take greater ownership of the testing procedure and again empower their umpires to start reporting bowlers.
Till now, the biomechanics lab at the University of Western Australia in Perth was the sole tester of illegal bowling actions. But a growing rift in recent years has led to the termination of their arrangement and accelerated the ICC’s own moves: new labs in Cardiff, Chennai, Brisbane and Loughborough have been accredited by the ICC for testing purposes. Side by side, and to greater controversy, the ICC has been developing – and now using – their own testing protocols, which differ slightly but significantly from those used and developed by the UWA lab.
This new cull, however, is happening as cricket stands on the verge of more scientific discovery on illegal actions. The TCM story relies on a raft of research underway in Australia, which could add more grey to the question of what is, and is not, an illegal bowl.
At the same time the ICC is heading towards a potential game-changer in its pursuit of wearable sensors, which will allow bowling actions to be tested in real-time, during competitive play – the Holy Grail for both biomechanists and cricket administrators.