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Any logic behind Ajmal's exclusion?

September 01, 2012

One of the better-known and confounding facts about the esteemed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, commonly known as the Oscars, is that Alfred Hitchcock, the most influential filmmaker of the last century was never bestowed with its honour. The exclusion of Saeed Ajmal from the 2012 ICC Player of the Year awards list, while no where near in terms of horror to the Hitchcock tragedy, certainly leaves most cricket followers similarly baffled. Or at least it should.

There is a growing sense amongst Pakistan fans worldwide that their team is not given the importance or consideration it deserves on the global level. The scandals are lapped up with great vigour while the achievements often go unnoticed and are mostly seen through the lens of suspicion. The stability and calm restored in the last two years merits some admiration, they argue.

While some of this sentiment may be exaggerated, especially as most of Pakistan’s wounds are self inflicted, decisions such as Ajmal’s exclusion from the Player of the Year short-list just adds fuel to that fire.

Perhaps the facts will help in judging whether the fans’ ire holds any merit.

Ajmal is the highest wicket taker in Test matches during the time frame (August 5, 2011 to August 4, 2012) which the ICC considered while making its picks. And by some distance, which should alone be enough to warrant him a slot in the Test Player’s short-list, as is the case is with his counterpart, Lasith Malinga, in One Day Internationals (ODIs). The Sri Lankan pacer finds himself in the ODI list just because of the number of wickets he has taken (read matches taken part in) in the format. His average of 28, and an economy of 5.4 is nothing astounding, and dwarfs in comparison to Ajmal’s (third on the list) average of 22, and economy of 4.1.

Why is it that Malinga’s performance was deemed worthy by the selectors in ODIs, but when it came to Tests, Vernon Philander was given the nod on the basis of average?

Undoubtedly, Philander has had a dream start to his Test career, but does he deserve the nomination over Ajmal? Out of the nine Tests that he has played in the allotted time, five have come against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. The former was easily the poorest Test side last year, and the latter had not won a Test series in over two years at the time of the encounter. His performances against Australia, the one full series against a note-worthy opposition, were no doubt outstanding, but either came on possibly the most helpful seaming track in recent memory, or in a losing cause. The fact is no one nominated (bar Hashim Amla) in the Test and Player of the year categories gave their respective noteworthy performances against the best-ranked side at the time (Philander’s only noteworthy performance against England falls outside the cut off date).

Ajmal took down the behemoth that was England almost single-handedly. Not only did the magician completely bamboozle their star batting line-up with his wizardry, but also mentally disintegrated the Andy Flower-Andrew Strauss think-tank, which had been ruling the roost for the past two years. He had the world number ones on their knees for the entire series, picked up a second consecutive man-of-the-series award, and most importantly silenced the English media’s cribbing with a smile, and a subtle flick of the finger, his “teesras”. England may have handed down their number one ranking to South Africa at Lord’s a few days ago, but it was in the desert winter that they lost it to Ajmal.

Let’s pretend that due to some convoluted logic he doesn’t deserve to be in the rankings for Tests or ODIs alone, but what the case is against his nomination for the Sir Garfield Trophy is beyond comprehension. Surely the Player of the Year award takes into account noteworthy performance in all formats. Granted there must be a weightage factor (Test, ODIs, T20s in decreasing order), but a person that has stood out across all three formats should justifiably be the leading contender for the honour. So how could Saeed Ajmal, who has shone like a beacon in all three versions of the game, lags behind a bowler who hasn’t done any thing of note in ODIs (Philander), and two batsmen that aren’t even in the top-ten run getters list in the shorter formats (Clarke and Amla).

One of the major reason for the founding of the ICC awards was to shift towards a system that rated players according to merit without national bias or prejudice. The Wisden awards, although much older and one of the more respected honors in the game, had always been biased towards their country of origin, England. It was always felt that a more comprehensive and encompassing system was needed.

Unfortunately, the ICC has been found wanting in the regard as well. Pakistan has been notably under-represented in the player awards lists since their inception. The lone category where they have had a consistent run is the umpiring award, which coincidentally is based on a set mathematical formulation, and does not depend upon the whims of an “expert” panel.

It was understandable up until 2010, for Pakistan performances did it no favours, but since the Lord’s debacle the exclusions have crossed the line from mysterious, to ignorance and now to downright inequitable. It is no wonder the supporters of the team feel wronged. It is high time the ICC panel of adjudicators started paying equal attention to performers from the entire set of cricket playing nations, instead of focusing on just the so called elite four. For that purpose is already being well served by the People’s choice award.

 


Shoaib Naveed
A cricket nut since Aqib Javed’s bucket hair style and Wasim bhai’s poetic action took his fancy, the writer, fit only for a slogger is pretending to be a top order bat Down Under and blogs here.

 

 


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