(COLOMBO, LANKAPUVATH) –For the third time in three years, Mohammad Hafeez finds his bowling action under scrutiny by the ICC. Soon after the third ODI against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, Hafeez’s action was reported to be suspect by match officials. He now has 14 days to have his action tested though until the results of that test are known, he can continue bowling. But it leaves Pakistan to once again ponder the prospect of doing without a man who is, in some situations, central to the balance of their ODI bowling attack.
Hafeez only returned to bowling duties for Pakistan at the start of this year, in the ODI series against Australia. That marked the end of troublesome two-year period in which he was reported twice and suspended from bowling twice. The first time he was reported was in November 2014, during a Test series against New Zealand in the UAE. Upon an independent assessment which confirmed his action was illegal in December, he was suspended from bowling.
ICC procedures allows a bowler reported for the first time to return at any point after the suspension as long as his action has been rectified and passed another independent assessment. Hafeez did so and returned to bowling in April 2015. But he was reported again soon after, during a Test in Galle in June 2015. Once assessments confirmed his action was illegal again, it resulted in an automatic suspension from bowling for 12 months – that is the penalty according to ICC rules if a bowler is suspended twice within a period of 24 months.
But, if his action is now found to be illegal again after testing, it will be treated as a first report. That means he can rectify it and apply for it to be reassessed and if it passes that test, he can return to bowling.
Pakistan will dearly hope that his action is either found to be legal, or, if he is suspended, he can return swiftly. It is no coincidence that his return this year to bowling duties has brought a remarkable upturn in Pakistan’s ODI fortunes. Though they were comprehensively beaten in the series in Australia in which he returned, his own bowling held firm throughout. Since then, and in tandem and with the emergence of Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees, Hafeez has helped Pakistan win series in the Caribbean, the Champions Trophy and, on Wednesday night, the series against Sri Lanka.
Though he’s picked up just seven wickets in 16 ODIs since his return, he has been bowling over seven overs a game on average and conceding just 4.37 runs per over. It is those numbers that have changed the nature of an attack that was looking distinctly ordinary since the 2015 World Cup. Pakistan have won 10 of those 16 games, including nine of their last 10.
Hafeez’s action has long been an issue. It was first reported in international cricket way back in January 2005, after an ODI against the West Indies in Brisbane. Regulations concerning illegal actions were different back then, however, and Hafeez continued to bowl. And a few months before he was reported in the Test against New Zealand in 2014, his action was reported while playing for Lahore Lions in the Champions League T20 in Bangalore.