Cricket: Ajmal banned … but will it stick?

Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan’s spin wizard and the taker of over 400 combined international wickets since 2008, was banned from bowling in all forms of the game having been found to have an illegal bowling action.

For those who missed it the ICC has been quoted thusly:

“An independent analysis has found the bowling action of Pakistan’s offspinner Saeed Ajmal to be illegal and, as such, the player has been suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect,” the ICC said. “The analysis revealed that all his deliveries exceeded the 15 degrees level of tolerance permitted under the regulations.”

The testing was undertaken at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane by an ICC accredited panel of bio-mechanical experts.

Whilst there are conspiracy theories already abounding on social media about Ajmal’s tests and banning and there have just as many advocates for simply allowing Ajmal to keep bowling because he, and his ilk, are “good for the game” it is important to note that, as the laws of the game presently stand this is the only decision available to the ICC given the view that the bio-mechanical experts have taken.

The conspiracy theorists and Ajmal advocates clearly do not understand the law or the process.  That being the case it is worth setting same out as follows.

The Law

Law 24, Clause 3 of the Laws of Cricket defines a fair delivery with respect to the arm:

A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.

Since 2003 this law has been interpreted as having a level of tolerance when it comes to straightening the elbow joint by no more than 15 degrees.  Put differently: a bowling action will be illegal if, in delivery, the elbow joint is straightened by more than 15 degrees.

The process from here

Effectively, Ajmal is now banned from bowling in all forms of cricket until he can prove that his bowling action, for all deliveries, is legal. Because this is Ajmal’s first suspension he can apply for reinstatement at any point in time.

Of course, there is an appeal process which can be summarised as follows:

  • The player can seek a hearing appealing the decision of the bio-mechanical experts.
  • The appeal is held in front of bowling review group selected by the ICC.
  • This group will review evidence and decide, by a simple majority vote, on the legality of the player’s action.
  • If the player is cleared the suspension will be lifted immediately.  If not the player can still apply for reinstatement assuming he can prove that he has corrected his action.

Will the ban stick?

It will be very interested to see if Ajmal’s ban is upheld when the inevitable appeal is made.  Ajmal has been quoted in the press as follows:

“My elbow is not usual so that’s why it seems that I bend it more than the normal 15 degrees allowed.”

This is an argument that has been in defence of other bowlers with questionable actions who have been allowed to continue to play the game and, indeed, set bowling records.

Ajmal is a one of the best bowlers in the game.  He is presently the number 1 bowler in the ICC ODI rankings.  His banning is massive news in the game.  That said: if his action is in breach of Law 24, Clause 3 then he, just like any other player must go through the process.

I, for one, hope the ICC resists the temptation to subvert their own process and, absent compelling evidence on appeal, set aside Ajmal’s ban on the grounds of his stature in the game.  I also hope that Ajmal takes remedial action and returns as bowler with a legal action because his bowling a delight to watch when he is in form.

This is certainly not the last we have heard of this story by a long chalk and the next machinations will fascinate.