Saeed Ajmal should be lauded for his recent performances rather than having doubt cast over his action, says All Out Cricket’s Pakistan correspondent Hassan Cheema.
A winter which had promised so much was delivering so little. Cricket fans the world over had looked forward to the series between India and Australia, and to a lesser extent South Africa versus Sri Lanka, hoping for a decent contest, rather than one-sided bludgeonings that finished before the final day.
Unlike Sri Lanka and India, Pakistan did rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, England failed to emulate them as they were skittled out for less than 200 twice on a pitch which was as dead as the parrot once held by John Cleese. Thus Pakistan completed their greatest Test victory since beating India in Karachi in 2006, and their most unexpected since defeating the same opponents a year earlier in Bangalore.
For Pakistan there were many positives to take out from the game: eight of the playing 11 had played a major role in the victory; it re-affirmed that the approach of the new Pakistan was the correct one and proved that they were more than capable of beating major sides. As for England, there is much to be done if they are to live up to the billing their media has given them.
One would have thought a match high on both quality and effort would have sated the appetites of cricket followers, but this was an England-Pakistan match and, as such, it was expected to be about more than cricket. And predictably, Bob Willis obliged. “The problem I have is with the doosra,” said the former England captain after Saeed Ajmal tore through England on day one. “Why do all these bowlers bowl with their sleeves buttoned around their wrists? Why aren’t they wearing short-sleeved shirts? The answer is clear. They are bending their elbows. The authorities are now allowing these mystery spinners, unorthodox offspinners, to bend their elbows to a degree.”
The debate since that first evening has been revealing. From a Pakistani perspective there are several cases for the defence. Firstly, the idea that the ICC “relaxed” the ruling – and did it solely for Muttiah Muralitharan – is ill-informed at best. The rejection of science, and preference of the ‘naked eye’ would be laughed at in every discipline bar sports. The assertion is reminiscent of the way the “modern offside law” is discussed in punditry: pundits are highly-paid for their opinions and yet refuse to do research before speaking on the matter, believing that past experiences somehow make up for a lack of professionalism.
Quite predictably, the Pakistani fans have been irked by claims that Saeed Ajmal, in simple words, cheats. Even more predictably, there are parts of the British press who are falling over themselves to ‘prove’ that the Pakistanis cheated. The English press has a history of this; it’s just short of 20 years since two of the greatest talents in the world were demonised for their talents and called cheats, in so many words. Thirteen years later, when England regained the Ashes, those same arts had the prefix ‘dark’ removed. Wasim Akram at the time called for an apology from Fleet Street; none has yet been forthcoming.
Ajmal’s critics should also note that there is a difference between the oft-maligned ICC and their panel of human movement specialists; a panel that has banned the doosras of Johan Botha and Shoaib Malik, amongst others. It’s also worth pointing out that if Ajmal’s doosra is blatant in its delivery to the naked eye, then shouldn’t it be easier for the batsmen to pick up, thus negating its effect? And there is also a point to be made about Ajmal – like Waqar and Wasim – being adjuged guilty until proven innocent. But all this shouldn’t matter to the Pakistani fans. They are, quite rightly, celebrating a famous victory against the world’s best side.
What it does do though, is deny Ajmal the credit he so richly deserves. Here is a man at the fag end of his career who wasn’t even considered Pakistan’s premier Test spinner 12 months ago. He is now the man Pakistan have built their bowling around and, through hard work, has become arguably the best spinner in the world. His success in the first Test was testament to his greatest asset: his intelligence. He had gotten into the minds of the English even before the start of play with the talk of his teesra, and his implementation of change in length and flight throughout the match was as glorious as Shane Warne in his prime.
Whilst continuing to change the means, he never compromised on the ends; his focus, continuously, was on attacking the stumps. The fact that eight of his 10 victims (seven lbws, one bowled) came as a consequence of this strategy is a testament to both the simplicity and the effectiveness of his plan. Much like Wasim and Waqar before him, he removed the fielders from the equation and made the contest an old-fashioned duel. And much like Wasim and Waqar before him, it was a duel he won over and over again. For that, he should be celebrated for his craft, rather than having his integrity questioned because of it.