Munir Ansari had modelled his bowling action on Muttiah Muralitharan. The young spinner took 22 wickets in five Under-17 Asia Cup matches in 2002 and was set to feature in the next edition of the Under-19 World Cup before his action was called into question. Or intrigued into question, as he calls it.
Munir was one of 41 bowlers with suspect action called to the National Cricket Academy in Lahore soon after but only 15 reported. The rest gave up hope of playing the game seriously. Munir did play first-class cricket till 2015 but his dreams of donning the Pakistan cap never became a reality.
The cricket world was divided over Muralitharan and Shoaib Akhtar, both of whom played and picked up wickets with their wonky actions. Both had physical deformities, and that led to the International Cricket Council pulling them up, but a new process of dealing with bowlers with incorrect actions was introduced in 2008. No medical excuses would be allowed after that.
Once Muralitharan and Shoaib left the scene, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez, along with many others, came under scrutiny. In 2014, the ICC decided to launch a crackdown on ‘chuckers’ and it resulted in a one-year ban on Hafeez and Ajmal’s career slowly faded, his remodelled action leaving him ineffective.
The latest update – Hafeez suspended again after failing to clear a test – again highlighted the deep-rooted problem in Pakistan cricket, an issue that is not just sad, but cruelly neglected by the people in power.
Every year, actions of 30-40 bowlers are questioned. An astonishing 111 bowlers were reported for illegal actions at the district and junior levels in the 2016-17 season alone, and the number only seems to be increasing. A document accessed by Wisden Pakistan revealed that 46 bowlers in the senior inter-districts, 44 in the district Under-19 level, nine each in the inter-region and Under-16s, and two each in the Under-17 school event and in the girls’ championship had been found with illegal actions.
Of the bowlers reported, 56 were offspinners, a commodity now rare in Pakistan cricket.
It is a fact that a number of umpires had questioned the legality of Hafeez and Ajmal’s actions before they were reported, but no steps were taken to correct them. In fact, everything was swept under the carpet. Hafeez’s action was first reported in 2005 and Ajmal’s in 2009. Ajmal was a match-winner, so he continued to win matches with no work on his action, probably for fear of losing his effectiveness, which in the end came about as anticipated.
The Pakistan Cricket Board’s rule that a bowler can continue to bowl until he is reported twice is a flawed one. Umpires hesitate in calling the bowlers as they are scared of facing the wrath of the teams in question, worried that they won’t get appointed for matches.
An attempt to eradicate this problem was spurned in 2008. Nasim Ashraf, the then PCB chief, decided to set up a biomechanics lab to deal with the problem. The required equipment was procured for about Rs 44 million (US$ 460,000 approx) but when Ashraf was replaced by Ijaz Butt, the work stopped and the fund was allegedly embezzled, as proven by an audit. The rot went even deeper.
There have been enough warnings for the PCB to address the issue in the early stages, but nothing seems to happen, and Pakistan continues to have more Ansaris and Ajmals.