Saeed Ajmal © AFP
Saeed Ajmal is likely to take official test at the ICC’s center in Chennai © AFP

By Saj Sadiq

As the currently suspended Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal prepares to take a career defining test on his bowling action in Chennai on 24th January, PakPassion.net spoke with Ajmal’s manager Moghees Sheikh who has been assisting Ajmal with his plans to return to international cricket.

In an exclusive interview, Moghees describes the steps undertaken by Ajmal, under the tutelage of renowned bio-mechanical expert Dr. Paul Hurrion, to develop a new bowling style through which he has passed an unofficial test conducted in Edgbaston and explains the reasons behind Ajmal’s optimism as he prepares for an official test at the ICC’s center in Chennai.

PakPassion.net (PP): Please tell us about the preparations before the ‘unofficial’ tests that Saeed Ajmal recently took in Birmingham?

Moghees Sheikh (MS): The tests Saeed took part in was the final stage of his preparation before we go for the official test in Chennai on 24th January. To give you some background here, let me tell you that Dr. Paul Hurrion was being consulted by Saeed to improve his posture and the way he bowls, and to work on the strength that comes through his body when he delivers the ball. In the past, Saeed used to bowl through the force of his elbow and his middle-arm. When we met Dr. Hurrion, he looked at Saeed’s posture, videos of him bowling and the condition of his muscles. Based on this, Saeed was prescribed exercises to build the strength in his shoulder muscles, in much the same way as would be needed for a javelin thrower where the athlete expands his shoulders and then launches the javelin in a strong fashion. As a result of this consultation, Saeed’s action has been modified so that all the strength now comes from the upper shoulders. The action is now changed so it has no real dependency on the elbow.

PP: With all the changes that you have spoken about, will Saeed be as effective as he was before the current situation and is he satisfied with his own progress?

MS: The way Dr. Hurrion worked with Saeed is that after every ball that he bowled, he would ask Saeed to close his eyes and think carefully about the ball that he bowled. Did it pitch or go where Saeed intended it? Did it turn the way he wanted it? The result of this was that when this test was undertaken with a batsman at the wicket, Saeed was able to pitch the ball wherever he intended it to go and he took seven wickets which he termed as ‘match’ wickets. This is important as even if this is a test, you do want it to feel like a match. Saeed was so happy during this test that after every ball he would record his notes about his bowling which would also help the bio-mechanist in his analysis.

Even though he knew that he could pass the test, Saeed would take copious notes after every delivery to record whether he was satisfied with the strength behind a particular ball, or the revolutions on the ball or the speed of the ball or where it pitched; he was happy with all of these aspects of his bowling. So to answer your question, Saeed is as satisfied with his bowling as he ever was before this time.

PP: Why was Dr. Hurrion chosen to help Saeed and what are your impressions of his help so far?

MS: Dr. Paul Hurrion was contacted by me via the International Cricketer’s Association (ICA). The idea was to assist a Pakistani cricketer find the best resources to help in this particular situation and Dr.Hurrion, who had also helped famous golfer Rory McIlroy in the past, was chosen for this task. Saeed Ajmal visited him a few times and was given expert advice over the phone and also in person. I must say that Dr. Hurrion has been very helpful and cooperative in terms of advice on Saeed’s bowling action. He has been honest and transparent in his dealings with Saeed.

May I also add a bit about Dr. Paul Hurrion’s background here and let you know that he pioneered the concept of the 15 degree limit on bowling actions and also designed the first software to analyse the bowlers. Dr. Paul Hurrion specialises in biomechanical and sporting analysis using high speed cameras, force platforms and computers with 2D and 3D analytical software. He is a leading international biomechanist who has been contracted to organisations such as UK Athletics, ICC and ECB where he has done extensive work on level 4 coaching as well. Moreover, the methods perfected by him including illustrations of the 15 degree horizontal/vertical arm positions as taken by him (under his copyright), are still used by the ICC to this date. The Quintic software developed by him is still used by the counties to test performance of their players and is also used by other well-known players as well as Rory McIlroy, David Howell, Oliver Wilson, Paul McGinley, Robert-Jan Derksen, Oliver Fisher and Lee Westwood.

PP: Edgbaston isn’t an ICC accredited centre, so why do the unofficial test there?

MS: The tests took place in the indoor nets at Edgbaston. This is the same location where the Warwickshire players have their performance tested. There were six high-speed cameras used and the method of testing adopted was exactly the same as that used by the ICC in their testing. To be doubly sure, we asked Dr. Hurrion to make himself familiar with the testing protocols of the ICC and he made sure that he was fully aware of the ICC’s current rules and regulations in this regard. Finally, I would say that it’s not just Saeed Ajmal who is ready with the action after these tests, even the consultant is happy to say that Saeed is ready to go for the actual ICC test in Chennai.

 

PP: As we know, some of Saeed’s deliveries had been over the 15 degree limit based upon the results of the last test. How much improvement can we expect when he appears for his official test soon?

MS: I will say that all his deliveries barring the doosra are between the 7-9 degree mark, whereas the doosra is now within the 9-13 degree range.

PP: To be clear, during his test, did he bowl all of the varieties including bowling round and over the wicket?

MS: He bowled about five varieties which included a normal off-spinner and many varieties of the doosra and improvised doosras – some of which we are still looking to find a suitable name for.

 

PP: How confident is Saeed about being ready for the official test in Chennai?

MS: In his mind and he did say that after this test, he is 110% ready for the official test. There is no doubt in his mind at all. He has never said that before, I can assure you of that. Before, he wanted to go for the unofficial test on the 8th of January but he himself stopped it by saying that he wasn’t fully ready as he had to do some extra mileage on his doosra delivery which, unlike his other deliveries, was very close to 15 degrees at that point in time.

Now that he has done some work on this preparation and he says that he is 110% ready and his confidence sky high and he feels that he will pass the test in Chennai. Let me add that the only reason it took him so long to make a comeback was that three months was not enough time to work on a new action and bowling style to the kind of perfection he is used to, but he is now ready and full of confidence.

PP: Any message from Saeed and yourself for the Pakistan Cricket Board and the those who have supported you through this tough time?

MS: I would like to offer our sincerest thanks to the PCB for their support. We must also thank Saqlain Mushtaq and all the other current and former players who have advised us throughout this difficult period and helped us reach this stage where we are ready for the final test in Chennai. We also have a special vote of thanks for the International Cricketer’s Association for their guidance and extraordinary assistance in this matter.

We must also offer our heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Paul Hurrion for his support and for making himself available to allow this Pakistani star to make a comeback. We would, of course, also like to thank many experienced fellow cricketers who have seen Saeed bowl in the nets now and found his revised action to be normal and perfect.

Finally, I would like to say that we at International Cricketer’s Association are happy to help along with Dr. Hurrion and his Quintic software, any domestic players in Pakistan or any international players to modify their action and see if they can work on the same sort of strength and power behind the balls that Saeed developed, such that he is now bowling from the strength of his hips and shoulders instead of his elbows. Our help is available for all those who need assistance in this matter.

(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)