PAKISTAN cricket is again in shock, following the ban on Saeed Ajmal over his objectionable bowling action. The development seems to have badly affected the country’s plans for next year’s World Cup and has generated the all too familiar nationalist calls that project Pakistan as a victim of some international conspiracy.

It is the same spirit that had found Pakistanis crying out loud against the global conspirators who had in the past hideously raised questions about Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar to name but a few on the long list. Then there was national outrage when the young Mohammad Amir was barred from playing.

There is another, more rational, approach to the problem, the one which is being followed by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Saqlain Mushtaq, the long-sidelined inventor of the lethal off-spinner’s weapon famous by the name of doosra, has entered the frame.

Made to quit his duties rather abruptly and without explanation or ceremony some years ago, Saqlain is to now work on improving Saeed’s action. In other words, Saqlain’s job will be to ensure that, during the delivery, Saeed’s arm doesn’t bend to a degree where it becomes illegal. If in the process the veteran manages to pass a few other secrets to his successor it would be a bonus.

Fans here like to be surprised and relish the stories of the sudden rise of national heroes from nowhere.
Meanwhile, an urgent search appears to be on in the country. A good enough replacement has to be found in case, God forbid, the magic Saqlain-Saeed duo fails to fix the puncture, only one in this case, that threatens to take the wind out of the challenge Pakistan hopes to mount at the World Cup next year.

Some of the names that have been thrown up as possible replacements for Saeed would sound unfamiliar to a lot of cricket fans here. Their records in domestic cricket which show they have been around for many years are a revelation since, apparently, not too many too keenly follow the progress of players at the domestic level these days. The fans here like to be surprised and relish the stories of the sudden rise of national heroes from nowhere. The myths and legends sustain them. Fed on these legends for so long, they are not necessarily looking to the system to solve this latest problem.

Saeed Ajmal has himself been a bit of a freak in the manner of the long Pakistani tradition. Even if some of the sport journalists could predict — or could later claim to have predicted — his rise to centre stage, not too many among the general enthusiasts were aware of his skills until he was handpicked — by Misbahul Haq it is said — to represent the country.

The entry was a triumph for hidden talent, latest in a series of mystery packages that had provided the national side with some of its exceptional talent. There are so many stories of players having been plucked out of thin air. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Tauseef Ahmed … in recent memory. According to one account, Mohammad Yusuf was set on course to mature as one of the finest batsmen of his time after ‘someone’ convinced the great Zaheer Abbas to have a look at him.

Inzamamul Haq, people in Multan will tell you, was an unrecognised talent, to many a quiet, low-trajectory left-arm spinner with a suspect action, until he was ‘by chance’ spotted by ‘someone’. The system, as we know, was not as well equipped as it should have been to help him correct his bowling arm, nor, unlike Ajmal and others who bowl unnoticed at the domestic circuit, was such a correction needed in his case.

He got his opportunity and soon, he was to be hailed as the epitome of lazy Multan elegance at the batting crease.

These are stories that dreams are made of, which create hope among the fans of another freak entry coming to their rescue. The system, with all this talk about getting it right over all these years, fails to inspire. It is no surprise then that some of us are waiting for a Saeed-Saqlain lookalike, a teesra or a third one in the series, to emerge out of nowhere and do the business for us.

Among these fantasy stories there is one about Mushtaq, a teenager who was asked to disembark from a train and walk onto the national platform as the then youngest Test player in the history of international cricket. He went on to become one of Pakistan’s most successful captains. It was he who first used a young all-rounder by the name of Imran Khan who had yet to prove his batting abilities in a late-evening batting ambush against India during a Test match in 1977-78.

Sent in by disregarding the established (batting) order, Imran not only did the job for his skipper then, he seemed to have learnt an important lesson. He was to frequently use the element of surprise to trouble his opponents in the cricket field during his own tenure as captain over the following years. Not quite having a Qadri on his side yet, he would be bold enough to propel a Qadir up the order to enact a batting cameo for him. Next the kaptaan would find someone else to play the hand for him.

That — the promotion of the unusual which could upstage the fine experiments collected in the gentleman’s coaching manual — was Imran Khan’s hallmark. Perhaps this long romance with the freak can also help illustrate the substance in Imran’s ambush in Islamabad right now. He has never been one for using conventional means of combat in his battles — a tendency that emboldens his opponents to raise these claims that his action is suspect. This is what has brought him his victories. That’s the only way for him.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.