THE looks were priceless. Tailenders Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark looked like they’d been asked to fill in a job application in Urdu as cricket’s newest doosra bowler, Saeed Ajmal, played with their minds in Dubai in the first one-dayer against Pakistan.
They weren’t alone in having problems, as Ajmal completely unsettled the Australians. Leg-spinner Shahid Afridi claimed the wickets (6-38) but it was Ajmal (2-19) who started the mental disintegration. Captain Michael Clarke followed a doosra – the off-spinner’s googly, which turns away from the right-hander – from Ajmal right across the crease and edged it into the gloves of keeper Kamran Akmal. Nathan Hauritz shouldered arms to the one that broke back and broke his stumps.
Immediately, the Australians hit the video, to study this latest challenging off-spinner, treading the same path as South Africa’s Johan Botha, who caused plenty of headaches in the recent South African tour.
The main problem, coach Tim Nielsen said, was their batsmen were trying to learn the right techniques to counter it at the international level. Why can’t white men do the doosra – a fact which remains largely true with Botha having been reported for a suspect action when he bowls the delivery named from the Urdu and Hindi word for "the other one".
Flexibility was the key, said Hauritz, who has spent two years on an-as-yet unsuccessful search for the delivery. "A lot of the Asians are a lot more flexible than we are and I think they’re taught to bowl it a lot earlier," he said. "I think it takes a lot of time, a lot of practice and it’s a matter of trying to get all the body parts right."
Bowlers need flexibility all the way down their bowling side, in the wrist, arm and shoulder. Although Pakistani great Saqlain Mushtaq is credited with cricket’s version of patent rights for the doosra, Australian players first saw "the other one" on a tour of India in the late 1970s, although the as-yet-unnamed delivery didn’t make it to the Test arena at that time.
The other problem is bowlers need to be front-on at the point of delivery, which is difficult for Australian spinners, who are taught to bowl side-on. If you want to bowl the doosra, you have no choice: changing your approach for the other one would telegraph your intentions.
"I’ve been doing it now for about two years: trying to," Hauritz said. "It goes straight, it looks like a normal off-spinner, it just doesn’t spin. It takes a lot of time."
Time is the key to batting against it as well, with the Australians more settled on Friday night when Andrew Symonds, who top-scored with 58, and Clarke, who made 39 not out, beginning to read Ajmal out of the hand.
Doosra bowlers have long had trouble before cricket’s twin courts – both the ICC review process, after being referred by umpires, and the court of public opinion. Sri Lankan record-breaker Muttiah Muralitharan, who picked up the delivery after it was popularised by Saqlain, was banned from bowling it in 2004. After an investigation revealed many other bowlers were straightening their arm by more than the permitted five degrees, the limit was increased to 15 per cent, and the doosra show was back on, with Murali, India’s Harbhajan Singh and Pakistan’s Shoaib Malik employing it to great effect. Earlier, Saqlain had been so worried about being called by umpires he spent the entire 1999 World Cup wearing long sleeves.
Hauritz, who took 3-41 in the second match, reckons he’ll nail the doosra eventually, however retirement might beat him to the punch. "It would be good to have it. I try and practise it about two or three times a week, for probably 10 balls but it gets very painful because my body is not used to it.
"[Queenslander] Chris Simpson was probably the closest to it some years ago. [South Australian] Dan Cullen said he had it but I never saw it. I definitely don’t have it, and I haven’t seen anyone in Australia bowl it."
Australia play Pakistan tonight in Abu Dhabi, with the best of five-match series tied at 1-1.