In the latter half of the 21st century, off-spin was a dying art that was not taken very seriously. Then a revolutionary change taking place when young Saqlain Mushtaq discovered the “Doosra” (which in Urdu means the “Other One”). This single delivery was to change off-spin bowling forever.
Muttiah Muralitharan self-admittedly picked this delivery by watching Saqlain bowl and became its finest exponent, ending up with a record 800 Test wickets. In 1995, Murali was no-balled for the first time by umpire Darrell Hair. This started a series of debates, controversies, biomechanic tests and bans.
In 2004, an ICC biomechanic research showed that almost every single bowler ever to have played the game was a chucker. Five degree bends for spinners, seven and a half for medium pacers and ten for fast bowlers was deemed as acceptable. Findings showed that bowlers like Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock, known for clean actions were bending their arm as much as twelve degrees. Thus, the bar was now set at fifteen degrees for all bowlers, a bend that could be visible to the naked eye. Tests in 2009 showed Ajmal’s action was well within the limit the ICC had set in 2004
The law was put in place but the matter was far from over. Murali was diagnosed with a born abnormality in his arm and he could not straighten it, no matter how hard he tried. Shoaib Akhtar was another case; his hyperextension gave an illusion of a bend. Both these cases were cleared after hours of lab testing.
There were other bowlers who were reported with a suspect action, but it was the ones who had followed Saqlain’s path that were curtailed most. Ten out of the fourteen bowlers called for chucking from 1995 to date have been off-spinners.
While bowlers like Shoaib Malik and Johan Botha were banned from bowling the Doosra, Harbhajan Singh and Saeed Ajmal were given clearance to carry on.
In tests conducted on Ajmal in 2009, results showed that his arm was bent at 24 degrees when he brought it around his shoulder, but most importantly, he only straightened it by eight degrees before delivering the ball. Recent reports say it was Ajmal’s off break that raised a few eyebrows.
Previously, bowlers like Saqlain, Murali and Harbajhan had reinvented off spin bowling, and now bowlers like Narine and Ajmal have further enhanced the art and skill that enriches the sport.
“Make no mistake that bowling a Doosra and reverse swing are brilliant skills.. Do we want the Doosra banned?” Jones said in reaction to Ajmal’s latest ban.
Former English allrounder Adam Hollioake perhaps described the latest development aptly: “Ajmal been banned for throwing? I don’t get it. Just let them play. All the best bowlers chuck anyway!”
Ajmal now has the option of appealing through the PCB but that too is wrought in technicalities. For cricket, it is a very sad day.
Will this be the end of Ajmal, or the doosra?