Walking the Talk: When Silence is Golden

Originally for Dawn.com, this is the unedited version

Ajmals performance should have been enough to shut the English Media up (Image Getty)

As the Pakistanis are savoring their majestic all-round effort to send the English packing with in three days, the tourists especially the English media contingent are licking their wounds and thinking of novel ways to further malign Ajmal’s action while teeing of on the luxurious golf courses in Dubai.

Controversy has never been far from a Pakistan England encounter, but nobody expected it to begin in the record time it did this week in the UAE. Pakistan, through Ajmal’s artistry, had barely finished delivering the early one two-sucker punch on the morning of the first day that muted calls of foul play and doubtful actions had started ringing in from London. Surprisingly it wasn’t the usually below-par English print dailies doing the whining but the highly reputable Sky headquarters, chock-a-block with some distinguished past Cricketing luminaries in Willis and Gower that started the rot.

“The off-spinner has a conventional round arm, and that doesn’t seem to be a threat but the doosra is the delivery that the batsmen are all struggling with. The authorities are now allowing these mystery spinners, unorthodox off-spinners, to bend their elbow.” complained an irked Bob Willis in one of his lighter rants.

It got worse a couple of hours and wickets later during the tea break when Willis went on to accuse Ajmal of wearing a long sleeve shirt to conceal a kink, completely disregarding the fact that play was being held in the middle of winter, and that eight others were dressed similarly on the field. Matters weren’t helped either when Swann came on to ball later the same day in exactly the same attire.

All respect to the “critics” losing their heads over the still photographs off Ajmal circulating the web, but a little composure and perspective is in order. As already well known, Ajmal has been cleared by an independent ICC approved specialist. Dr. Bruce Elliot a Professor of Bio-Mechanics, Motor Learning and Development at the University of Western Australia cleared the smiling assassin back in 2009 when the Australians were having a hard time deconstructing Ajmal’s mystery. He revealed then that, “during a comprehensive analysis it was apparent that the amount of elbow extension in Saeed Ajmal’s bowling action for all deliveries was within the 15-degree level of tolerance permitted in the ICC regulations”.

If that’s not satisfactory enough for the likes of Bob Willis, maybe he should try this on for size. The ICC’s chief Biomechanics analyst and consultant, Dr Paul Hurrion recently went into some detail about how these tests were conducted so that to remove any lingering doubts on whether the “conniving” spinner had in fact sneaked his way through the trials. “We use synchronized footage of the player bowling in a match to check that they are not just going through the motions or altering their style. They have to replicate the speed of a delivery from a match, the deviation and the revolutions of the ball. When being tested, the bowler is topless and has reflective markers all over his bowling arm, so the 3D, high-speed cameras can film him from every angle” explained the expert.

Really all this would have been unnecessary though if spin and its nuances were given the proper study and credit deserving of the art. For those who have spent a bit of time delving into the deeply enriched nature of spin bowling will know how oversimplified it has been through the years. It is this generalization and viewing of the skill from a very convex lens that has lead to the tirade against innovation seen today.

Spinners for ages have been classified into two broad categories, wrist and finger, with the leggies in the former and the off-break slotting into the later. Nothing could be further from the truth, as many spinners seen on the international circuit today are highly varied and incomparable.

First thing first, the misconception of wrist and finger spin. There is no form of conventional spin that isn’t aided by the wrist; the reason why leg spin is wrist spin while conventional off-spin is not depends on the timing of the wrist action. In normal off-spin the wrist plays its part first only to hand the ball to the fingers, while the opposite applies to leg spin. The only true finger-spinner in the game is Mendis or Ashwin’s much hyped up Sudoku ball.

The only true “finger” spinners in International Cricket (Images:TenSports, Reuters)

Most conventional off-spinners, are forearm spinners. It is in the turning of their forearm in the delivery action, from the palm side facing downwards to it facing upwards (a position medically termed supination) that they derive most of their spin. Lyon, Swann, Huaritz, Ojha, Vettori are all examples of these conventional forearm spinners playing the international game.

Then there is Murali, the greatest conjurer of them all. To call him a finger spinner would be nothing short of travesty. His entire array of deliveries was dependent on an insane amount of work to be done by the shoulder joint, and was more a shoulder spinner than any thing else.

Murali –A Shoulder Spinner, Swann --A Forearm Spinner (Images: Reuters, AP)

The man in the limelight this past week however, Ajmal, is another anomaly. He is not a shoulder, finger, or forearm spinner, but instead has dug up the buried art of wrist-spin normally confined to just legspinners and given it a most exciting twist. Most of his spin is not dependent on the fingers, or shoulder but the wrist acting in the opposite manner to which it would for a conventional leggie.

So Ajmal instead of just using his wrist to pass on the ball to the fingers (as Swann, or any conventional offie would do), uses his wrist as the major body part imparting the spin. Getting the wrist in position for an off-break takes that extra fraction of a second, which in tum means he has the delayed, jerky action that is so hotly debated.

Ajmal Wrist Spinning action requires time for the wrist to get into position leading to the Jerkier Action (Image -AP)

This novel wrist spinning style is also the reason why Ajmal has been able to stock up his bowling arsenal with a skiddy straighter one, or what he likes to term the teesra. Nothing new, it has been part of a leg spinners bag of tricks for generations, Warne liked to call it the slider, but with the off-spinner’s action it will take time for the batsman to adjust to the newest variation. Really the English batsman should be focusing on picking the doosra, instead of getting ahead of them selves and getting tangled up in the teesra talk.

As Trott and Prior exhibited in their short stable innings, it was the patience and assured footwork, that the England batsmen were actually missing. Their failure to read Ajmal’s length more than any thing else is their biggest cause for concern. Of course it would serve the team better if the English media and T.V pundits were focused on offering some positive criticism on this front instead of resorting to their age old tactics of griping and digging up a scandal.

This is not the first time Ajmal is bowling to the English batsmen. He was there in the 2010 tour, and has bowled to them quite frequently in county Cricket as well. The only difference of course, this time the off-spinner is the major threat instead of a mere clean-up act behind Asif and Amir. Let’s hope that unlike the recent English tours he decides to take the lead from the Dark Art tour back in the summer of ‘92, when the two Ws vented out their entire anger and a barrage of banana reverse-swingers to go with it at the clueless English batsmen.

It was the Dark-Art in 1992, but reverse swing in 2005. Wonder how long it will take for the doosra and bowlers like Ajmal to get the credit they deserve? Surely not till an English off-spinner well practiced in the art comes along, but until then the Pakistanis have the virtuosity of their wonder off-spinner to relish in.


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