Wow. What a day we had yesterday. I’m bored of the whole Pietersen saga to be honest, but I have to say that yesterday was very, very interesting to say the least. I’m kind of glad I kept out of it!
Anyway, as you’ve probably read enough about Pietersen, Flower, Cook, Downton, Clarke etc I’d like to move discussion in another direction. The breaking news is that Pakistan and Worcestershire’s Saeed Ajmal has been banned from bowling in international cricket. What is my reaction to this? As a Worcs fan you might assume I’d be outraged. I’m not. I actually think it’s long overdue.
I’m no biomechanical expert, so I can only make judgements based on my own eyes and my gut feeling, but I’ve long suspected that Ajmal is breaking the rules. Some might argue this is a result of my alleged racism, Islamophobia, or bitterness about England’s 0-3 defeat in the UAE a couple of years back, but they’re wrong.
I thought Ajmal should be banned when England beat Pakistan in their infamous spot-fixing tour four years ago. What’s more, I thought he should be banned when watching him play for my beloved Worcestershire this summer.
For me it comes down to this simple observation: to my eyes, Ajmal is breaking the rules. And now it has been confirmed. The biomechanical experts believe that every single one of his variations exceeds the permitted 15 degrees of tolerance.
I can understand the argument that chucking (I’m using this word because it’s the vernacular not because its pejorative) makes the game more interesting, but I cannot accept it. The game would probably be more interesting, and possibly more of a spectacle, if batsmen were allowed wider bats. The bottom line is that laws are laws and they’re there for a reason: to protect the basic principles of the game.
The balance between bat and bowl is essential to the integrity of cricket. Some might argue that the batsmen have too much in their favour these days (especially in limited overs cricket) so allowing bowlers to chuck redresses the balance. To these people, I’d say that two wrongs do not make a right. I’d rather they moved the boundary ropes further out again, did away with power plays (for example), than allow bowlers to effectively become baseball pitchers.
I know talk of baseball is a little over the top, but isn’t the following logic undeniable: once young cricketers realise that chucking is more effective than orthodox spin bowling, they’ll all imitate Ajmal rather than Herath or Swann. Sooner or later, therefore, the vast majority of spinners will be chuckers. It won’t be an exciting novelty then; it will be the norm and cricket will be forever changed.
As a purist this is something I dread. I’m not going to apologise for this. I know people will disagree – and they’re entitled to do so – but I personally think that chucking blights the game. The ICC have let this go too far already. It’s brilliant they’re finally cracking down on the arm and law benders, but had they acted decisively sooner then the decision to ban Ajmal would not be so controversial.
Having said all that, it’s impossible not to feel sympathy of the likes of Ajmal and Senanayake on a personal and professional level. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the former can take over four hundred international wickets, and become a household name, before firm action is taken. Ajmal is bowling exactly the same way now as he was last year or four years ago, so why ban him now? He must be utterly confused. What’s more, to ban him on the eve of what would surely be his last world cup seems particularly cruel.
It’s important, however, not to let human sentiments cloud our judgement on this. The welfare of one player (or a handful of players) is not more important than the game itself.
This issue is bound to polarise fans across the world. Bullets will fly. Some will hit, whereas others – like accusations of racism or bias at the ICC – will miss spectacularly. Murali was allowed to bowl unimpeded throughout his career, while white bowlers like James Kirtley and Kane Williamson have received bans.
I know I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are plenty more points to be made. Should the fifteen degrees of tolerance be extended to twenty or twenty five degrees? Maybe all bowlers chuck to a certain extent, including seamers, so Ajmal has been treated unfairly?
I’ll let you guys chew the fat. All I’ll say is that I personally believe a line has to be drawn somewhere. But as a purist, I would say that wouldn’t I.