KARACHI: Banned Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal was reported for a suspect action in a domestic match in 2006 but the cricket authorities turned a blind eye until, eight years later and after six years of international cricket, he was suspended from the game.

Ajmal, 36, now faces an uphill battle to revive his Pakistan career after the International Cricket Council (ICC) banned him from bowling following a failed biomechanics test in Brisbane.

“I had reported his [Ajmal’s] action after a first-class match between KRL and Habib Bank because there were problems with some of his deliveries,” Test umpire Riazuddin said while talking to a private TV channel.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened about the report but no action was taken and he continued to play in domestic cricket.” Ajmal’s case is not unique on Pakistan domestic circuit, where bowlers with suspect actions have been allowed to carry on playing despite reservations from match officials.

“No one in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has ever taken this problem seriously,” former Pakistan captain and wicket-keeper Rashid Latif said.

“There are cases of bowlers, who clearly straighten their arm more than the permitted 15 degrees angle, being allowed to carry on playing.

“But now with the new protocol put in place by the ICC for (testing) bowlers with suspect actions, the PCB realises it has to be proactive and not reactive. That is why they have set up the committee on illegal bowling action.”

Rashid reckoned that those changes stemmed from the introduction of high-profile cricketers to the ICC.

“From what I know, [former Indian spinner] Anil Kumble as the head of the cricket committee pushed for the protocol changes.”

Pakistan’s passive attitude towards suspect actions is perhaps the reason why plans for setting up a biomechanics lab at the national Cricket Academy (NCA) in Lahore have been on ice since 2009.

The PCB had bought equipment for the lab worth around $450,000 in 2009, yet it remains unused.

Former Test captain Aamir Sohail, who headed the NCA, said he had pushed for establishing the biomechanics lab in order to work with bowlers at the domestic level, who had problems with their actions.

“For one reason or the other it didn’t happen. Now we are facing the consequences,” Aamir said. The PCB now realises it has a major problem on its hands.

Since the suspension of Ajmal — Pakistan’s top spinner over the last three years — questions have been asked about the bowling actions of his possible replacements.

Off-spinners Atif Maqbool and Misbah Khan from Karachi are among the top wicket-takers in the domestic game, but are not being considered to replace Ajmal for the coming series against Australia and New Zealand because of their actions.

Misbah was reported last year for a suspect action in domestic cricket.

“It is a problem in Pakistan cricket and the committee on illegal bowling action has pointed out around 25 bowlers whose actions need to be worked on,” PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan said recently.

Pakistan have turned to leg-spinner Yasir Shah as a possible replacement for Ajmal, even though the 28-year-old has been sidelined by selectors since playing two T20 matches and an ODI against Zimbabwe in 2011.

“We have to find a replacement. We can’t wait because we have an important series [against Australia] ahead of us and also the World Cup,” Shaharyar said.

The PCB has hired Pakistan’s former off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq to work with Ajmal on remodeling his action.

The 37-year-old Saqlain, who is considered a pioneer of the ‘doosra’ delivery, was never called or reported for a suspect action during his international career, which ended in 2004 due to a knee injury after he took 208 Test and 288 ODI wickets.

“Saqlain used to put his weight on his knees in his delivery stride which is why he had a clean action,” Rashid underlined. “Nowadays off-spinners are not doing this and I suspect we will see many more bowlers being reported in the near future.”

Pakistan has already had its fair share of problems with bowling actions.

Shabbir Ahmed, Shoaib Akhtar, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Riaz Afridi, Shahid Afridi have all been either reported or called at international level since 1999.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2014

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