Opinion: Ajmal damned if he does, damned if he doesn't

Blog Opinion

Barend Prins reckons Saeed Ajmal will lose the race against time, in a fruitless bid to remodel a bowling action destined for consistent question.

Last week it was revealed that when tested under laboratory conditions, Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal – the world's top-ranked ODI bowler – exceeded the allowed amount of extension of his elbow by a considerable amount.

What is remarkable about Ajmal's test results is that each of his deliveries – regular off-spinners, doosras, quicker ones, bowled from wide of the crease and so on – each showed an amount of flex more than double the allowed 15 degrees.

It has been suggested that the "deterioration" of Ajmal's bowling action is a result of over-bowling – in the last six years he has bowled more deliveries in international cricket than anyone outside of James Anderson. But is that really possible for a bowler to "lose" his action to such an extent that he is blatantly bowling illegal deliveries with every stride to the wicket?

Or was that the case throughout his career and the legality of his bowling has only come under question now?

Whichever way you look at it, surely Ajmal must have had suspicions that there were problems with his action at some point during that time. The fact that he bowls exclusively with a long sleeve shirt raises further suspicion.

The question then is: Does the bowler have an obligation to put up his hand and admit that he might be breaking laws of the game each time he throws the ball? Or it is the responsibility of the officials to make that decision?

In most sports, participants are taught from a young age to play until the whistle is blown, or in the case of cricket, the umpire makes his call.

Batsmen stand their ground and wait for the umpire to lift his finger even if they clearly got an edge, and send even the plumbest of plumb lbw shouts up to the third umpire for review. Until recently, bowlers regularly got away with taking wickets when overstepping and untoward methods of getting the ball to swing have been around since time immemorial.

The difference between getting called for chucking and waiting for an umpire to give you out caught behind lies in the stigma that comes with being labelled a 'chucker' and a 'cheat'. For example, the careers of Ian Meckiff and Geoff Griffin came to an abrupt end the moment they were no-balled for throwing.

As far as Ajmal goes, it seems incredibly unlikely that a bowler who turns 37 next month will be able to remodel his action to such an extent that he is no longer in contravention of the laws of the game.

And if he is unable to do that, retirement with an enormous cloud of doubt over the legitimacy of his bowling record as a whole beckons.

<B>Barend Prins</B>