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Pakistan resurgence

I felt like breaking silence any number of times during England's calamitous short Test Series against Pakistan. And yet the daily dramas were so compelling that there was little time for reflection – and the odds were against providing a balanced view when there were so many issues unfolding.
That there was some sloppy batting by England is undeniable. That the Pakistan spinners were exemplary in their accuracy is a fact. The Decision Review System was used and abused to an extent that nobody who designed and introduced it could possibly have imagined. And then there was the underlying doubt about the “legality” of the bowling actions of the Pakistan slow bowlers – or “not so slow” bowlers as our batsmen found out to their cost.
Before delving deeper in each of these areas, there has been some comment comparing the sudden demise of this England team, having reached the Number 1 position in the World Rankings, and the equally sudden collapse of the Ashes winning team in 2005. This is hard to justify when the circumstances are so different.
The 2005 team was decimated not by swollen heads or excessive celebrations but by severe and virtually terminal injuries to over half the team. Vaughan, Trescothick, Jones, Harmison, Flintoff and Giles were all victims and I rather doubt that they ever again managed to get on the field together. It would be interesting to know how many first class matches they even played after that Series. Precious few would be my guess.
Under the heading “sloppy batting” I think of Cook and Trott caught behind “wafting” the bat wide of their bodies. I think of Pietersen hooking airily to long leg. I think of Bell's uncoordinated poke to cover in his most recent innings. Then there was the Strauss rush down the pitch with a leg-side swipe at thin air. This was the only fully self inflicted dismissal against the hard to “read” spinners.
Accurate spin, constant querying of umpiring decisions and jerky actions have to be considered as a whole because there is a cause and effect. Accuracy and the extra variety which a degree of elbow flex provides means that scoring rates are low and the number of possible l.b.w. dismissals is high. Hence the constant appealing and reviewing. Strauss, Trott, Cook and Prior were able to handle the situation for some periods at a time without ever looking entirely at home. Pietersen, Bell and Morgan were completely out of their depth.
Now for the crux, which is the “degree” or “degrees” of elbow flex which were not the subject of any comment or reporting by the umpires. Gone are the days at International level when an umpire can take exception to a single ball and suspend the bowler on the field. though it is still an available option in “amateur” cricket.
In fact, if, for instance Swann had decided that enough was enough and won a match for England bending his arm double – that result would stand, for all that he risked an umpires report and later suspension.
In the case of Ajmal, he was suspended earlier in his career and sent for investigation, remedial training etc. Under the new licence arrangement which allows 15 degrees of elbow flex he was subsequently given the green light to return to the fray. I read a part of the report where some professorial physics ”expert” declared him capable of bowling within the fifteen degree limit. Indeed he does every time he turns his arm over as he warms up but when he bowls in earnest there is that tell-tale delay before the release which defeats the naked eye – and certainly confuses the batsman. It is a case of now you see it, now you don’t.
Television coverage, both visual and vocal avoided the issue entirely. The England camp made a few noises during the first Test and then fell silent, realising that Ajmal was there for the Series whether they liked it or not.
Who is to say that the umpires are incorrect? The answer lies in numerous still camera shots which show the Ajmal elbow flexing through – wait for it – FOUR times the permitted angle i.e. 60 degrees and more. The other tell tale signs are the left shoulder spinning to the left, the total lack of follow through, the pointing of the elbow towards the batsman long before the release and the point of release being well forward ot the perpendicular.
Then there is the phenomenon involving a split second when the ball in hand actually moves backwards in space after the delivery swing has progressed above shoulder height ( accounting for that “delay” I mentioned earlier). Rigorous monitoring of this element is the wish and brainchild of a former orthodox spinner who takes particular exception to the “new” style spinners who seem to operate outside the norm with such impunity.
What would I do as an umpire? Probably the same as umpires Taufle and Davies – keep my head below the parapet rather than cause a storm involving the people who appoint and pay them. They can quote the fact that a higher body has given this kind of bowling the all clear and Ajmal's action in particular.
Frankly I see no way out. Coaches are almost certainly already coaching in the new art which allows the ball to be spun one way or the other at will. What is for certain is that batsmen will have to adapt quickly and even if they devise a survival strategy, they will always suffer a restriction in their stroke-making so long as they are unsure which way the ball is spinning.
Once the slow bowler/pitchers have been “approved”, how long before the next generation of fast chuckers comes along. Maybe the time is coming when the description of a “fair” delivery is simply removed altogether from Law 42 Fair and Unfair Play. Now when the moderns tell me that the “game has changed”, I will give them more credence than I have up to now.