Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal has been banned from bowling with immediate effect by the International Cricket Council after all his deliveries were found to be illegal, all but ruling him out for Australia's tour of the UAE next month.
The 36-year-old was scrutinised by ICC officials at Cricket Australia's hi-tech National Cricket Centre in Brisbane a fortnight ago after he was reported during Pakistan's Test series against Sri Lanka last month.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the ICC said the testing determined Ajmal's action was illegal.
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"The International Cricket Council today confirmed that an independent analysis has found the bowling action of Pakistan’s off-spinner Saeed Ajmal to be illegal and, as such, the player has been suspended from bowling in international cricket with immediate effect.
"The analysis revealed that all his deliveries exceeded the 15 degrees level of tolerance permitted under the regulations.
"Saeed, who was reported after the first Test match against Sri Lanka in Galle last month, can apply a re-assessment after he has modified his bowling action in accordance with clause 2.4 of the Regulations for the Review of Bowlers Reported with Suspected Illegal Bowling Actions.
"The analysis was performed on 25 August by the ICC’s accredited team of Human Movement Specialists using the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane."
The ban means Ajmal has been all but ruled out of the upcoming matches against Australia in the United Arab Emirates.
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The Pakistan Cricket Board have indicated they will appeal the decision but if that fails, Ajmal will be required to undergo remedial work on his action and pass the ICC's testing if he is to be cleared to return to action.
Ajmal, currently ranked the No.1 bowler in the world for ODIs, and fourth in T20s, has taken 178 wickets in 35 Tests, 183 wickets in 111 ODIs and 85 wickets in 63 T20 internationals. He is currently rated ninth by the ICC in the Test bowler rankings.
Ajmal is the third off-spinner since July to be banned for an illegal action after Sri Lanka's Sachithra Senanayake and New Zealand's Kane Williamson were also suspended after undergoing official testing.
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Zimbabwe allrounder Prosper Utseya and Bangladesh off-spinner Sohag Gazi are required to undergo testing soon after both were reported for a suspected illegal action last month.
Ajmal was previously reported for a suspected illegal bowling action in 2009, but was later cleared after tests determined that his doosra – a ball which turns the other way to a normal off-spinner – was bowled with an arm bent within the legal limit.
But the umpires who reported Ajmal's action against Sri Lanka raised concerns over several of his variations, including some bowled from over the wicket.
Senanayake underwent remedial work last month at the University of Western Australia – which is no longer an ICC accredited lab – but awaits a report to get clearance.
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Ajmal's suspension is a massive blow for Pakistan ahead of series against Australia and New Zealand in the UAE this year and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.
The Australians have long been wary of Ajmal, with Shane Watson telling cricket.com.au ahead of the World T20 earlier this year that Ajmal was "certainly the best spinner in the world by quite a way at the moment and has been for the past couple of years".
"He's very hard to pick and read now. He's certainly able to disguise his doosra very well, better than anyone in the world."
When Ajmal was first reported for a suspect action in 2009, he accused Watson of prompting the report.
"They told me in the first game some of my doosras had a little elbow bend," Ajmal said after being reported following two ODIs against Australia in Dubai.
"I was very surprised. My first-class debut was in 1996 and this has not happened before. I think Watson was talking with the umpires about this. He was speaking with them and when the match finished the umpires said there is a problem."
He was caught in a throwing controversy in May when the Pakistan Cricket Board demanded an apology from England pace bowler Stuart Broad after he questioned the legality of Ajmal's action on Twitter.
Ajmal had been bowling for English county Worcestershire when he took 13 wickets in a victory against Essex, including a career-best 7-19 in the second innings.
This prompted former England captain Michael Vaughan to ignite the row by posting on Twitter a still photograph of Ajmal bowling during the match. He added the caption: "You are allowed 15 degrees of flex in your delivery swing.... #justsaying."
Broad replied by commenting: "This has to be a fake photo?!". He then commented: "Bowlers can bowl very differently in a lab while being tested compared to needing wickets in the middle."
Ajmal played a starring role at the Lord's bicentenary match, taking four wickets for five runs in a devastating 15-ball spell, which prompted captain Sachin Tendulkar to remove him from the attack in order to prolong the exhibition match.
The crackdown comes just months after the ICC's Cricket Committee recommended an increased focus on bowlers with questionable actions.
"There’s enough bowlers with suspect actions that should be scrutinised that probably haven’t been," ICC’s general manager of cricket Geoff Allardice said after the committee's most recent meeting in Melbourne in June.
"The cricket committee was of the view that there are some bowlers operating with suspect actions that should be scrutinised a bit more closely."
The ICC's Cricket Committee is a 17-person panel chaired by former India spinner Anil Kumble.
The committee, which meets to discuss and formulate recommendations on cricket-playing matters, also includes Australia coach Darren Lehmann, Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkarra and former Test captains Mark Taylor and Andrew Strauss.
Suspect actions in the news since June
3 June: Sri Lanka off-spinner Sachithra Senanayake is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.
22 June: New Zealand off-spinner Kane Williamson is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.
28 June: The ICC Cricket Committee meets in Melbourne and recommends an increased focus on bowlers with questionable actions.
12 July: Senanayake is banned from bowling by the ICC after undergoing official testing in Cardiff.
23 July: Williamson is banned from bowling by the ICC after undergoing official testing in Cardiff.
11 August: Pakistan off-spinner Saeed Ajmal is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.
15 August: The ICC confirms three newly accredited testing centres will be unveiled in the coming months.
22 August: Zimbabwe off-spinner Prosper Utseya is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.
25 August: Bangladesh off-spinner Sohag Gazi is reported for a suspected illegal bowling action and ordered to undergo testing within 21 days.
25 August: Ajmal begins official testing at Cricket Australia's National Cricket Centre in Brisbane.
9 September: Ajmal banned with immediate effect by ICC. Pakistan Cricket Board say they will weigh up their options, while Ajmal says a medical condition is to blame and he remains confident of playing in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.