Saeed Ajmal chucking ban only highlights a growing problem
It is no secret that Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal bends his arm, and with it the rules on illegal bowling that are deemed too liberal. The bowler is an integral part of the Pakistan team, much like Muttiah Muralithan was for Sri Lanka, but like the Sri Lankan star, his action has come under as much scrutiny as his wickets.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) banned the 36-year-old on Tuesday from bowling in international cricket after bio-mechanic analysis showed all his deliveries exceed the 15 degrees of elbow flex allowed. Ajmal, who was reported after the first Test in Sri Lanka last month and underwent tests, can apply to the ICC for a re-assessment after he modifies his bowling action.
For Pakistan, this is a huge jolt in the near and long term. They face Australia in a Test and limited-overs series in the United Arab Emirates and Ajmal will be crucial to their hopes at next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
But the ban of the most high-profile current spinner in the world also points to a malaise that has spread roots in the game. While there is much noise over corruption, chucking is no longer seen as something that needs to be rooted out with equal aggression.
There are several aspects to the problem. It has a regional bias, youngsters taking up spin bowling see the likes of Muralitharan and Ajmal, and before him Saqlain Mushtaq, as role models. Young boys give up the classical bowling action, and try to imitate the jerky approach. This gets them into trouble once they develop, when it becomes too late to change things.
Some blame should be laid on junior coaches while the pressure to succeed across formats, and hence the need to bowl quick through the air as well as a variety of deliveries, adds to the problem.
Former India spinner Maninder Singh, lays the blame on the way cricket administrators handled the case of Muralitharan. He was cleared with his action blamed on hyperextension of his elbow. Muralitharan being called for chucking in Australia in the 1995 led to a major stand-off between Sri Lanka and Australia. However, world cricket eventually accepted his success as the ICC settled on its controversial 15 degree rule.
Maninder says, "The problem started with Muralitharan. The menace should have been stopped then. If that had happened, all boards would have taken steps to prevent this," he told HT. "Now it (chucking) has become a norm, it is like 'if he (Murali) can do it, anyone can'."
Many bowlers in the sub-continent grow up with jerky actions that are not corrected early. And few agree the doosra delivery, leaving the right-hander, can be bowled without chucking.Off-spinners wearing longer sleeves have only added to the suspicion.
In India, too, Harbhajan Singh and Rajesh Chauhan were reported for chucking and had to undergo remedial action. But letting Muralitharan off the hook had a fallout in India in the form of Gujarat off-spinner Mohnish Parmar.
Parmar modelled his action on Muralitharan and even played for India under-19. He was called for chucking and cleared by a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) panel in 2009. But it again banned him from bowling in 2010, and Parmar returned in 2012 after working for a year to change his action.
Picking the wrong bowlers as role models has only worsened the problem, feels Maninder. "This has ruined careers. Whether you call it 12 or 15 degrees, it is to be blamed."
Why is this problem not acute in England or Australia? "People there are basically honest, and they will own up. We don't, and in fact start backing them."
Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar too was called for chucking, but allowed to bowl again after it was deemed because of a hyperextended elbow.
Experts insist the doosra cannot be bowled without bending the elbow. "Even in my academy, so many boys bend their elbows. They see lot of cricket on TV and try to imitate them. It gets difficult to correct them once they are set in their ways," said former India all-rounder Madan Lal.
Lal, also a former India coach, is surprised the ICC waited until this long. "Ajmal has almost taken 200 wickets (178 wickets, 35 Tests) and the ICC has suddenly woken up." Ajmal's was reported in 2009, but subsequently cleared.
Not many are convinced that administrators are going all out to tackle the problem. In fact, some believe they are trying to persuade TV commentators, mostly former players, from saying what they see. They toe the line for fear of losing their jobs.
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