'Need time to regain my confidence' - Ajmal
Saeed Ajmal ran through four batsmen in one hour during a training session under the scorching heat at Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur. But he appeared to be bowling for the sake of it and helping the batsmen practice. Meanwhile, Pakistan's spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed was busy looking after Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar.
Ajmal has struggled on his return to international cricket with a remodelled action. He has played only two ODIs and a T20, produced only one wicket in 22.3 overs and conceded runs at 6.57 per over. He was dropped for the final ODI of the three-match series against Bangladesh, and subsequently sat out of the Khulna Test as well. Ajmal, however, said there was a plan in place and he needed time to regain his confidence as a bowler.
"For me it's been a tough last eight months and I knew it will be tough moving forward also," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I'd said prior to coming here that I need time and I am disappointed that I am not able to fulfil the expectations of the nation. But I spoke to the captain and the coach and they have a plan for me. I need time to regain my confidence. It doesn't come in overnight."
Ajmal has been an important wicket-taker in the past and Pakistan may have banked on that reputation while picking him on the tour. That he was then dropped indicates the management may have lost some faith in him and he is eager to set that right.
"I don't want to play cricket on the basis of reputation," he said. "I want to play with my head held high and with the same confidence level I had in the past. Things are not going well presently, but you will see in coming days that I have improved. If I am benched, that is the plan and the players playing in place of me are the best and performing well.
"It's true that you can go from bad to good and it's also true that you can go from good to bad," he added. "I don't think I have changed my action significantly, only minor tweaks. I know my doosra is not being effective which is reflecting in my performance. But I am doing my best to get myself back on track as soon as possible. I am bowling with different angles from top and from side and things are improving and I am optimistic that I will be same Ajmal as I was."
Ajmal has been a vital part of Pakistan's success. Since 2011, he has taken a third of the team's wickets - 145 off 570. In his absence, however, Zulfiqar and Yasir have picked up the slack. They had contributed 14 wickets apiece during the team's series win over Australia in the UAE and were again trusted to lead the slow-bowling threat in the drawn Khulna Test.
"I think it's their right to play ahead of me," Ajmal said. "They have done great without me and spare a thought about Khulna Test where pitch was slow enough to kill the spin, otherwise they are good and have proved their ability."
Yasir, though, said he could have used the kind of help Ajmal can offer. "Sometimes you miss having an experienced partner in the field with whom you discuss [tactics] and seek advice from," he said. "Like it was tough taking wickets on flat tracks in Khulna where the pitch was unresponsive and we all were struggling to take wickets. So having a player like Ajmal around gives you confidence."
Pakistan are yet to win a game against Bangladesh on this tour and were blindsided by Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes' world-record 312-run opening stand in the second innings in Khulna. But Ajmal conceded the hosts' form was so powerful that "any team would have struggled".
"They are at the top of their form," Ajmal said. "There is no weakness in their combination; their batting, bowling and fielding is clicking at the moment.
"They are a developing team and at the moment they can give any team a tough time. We underestimated them. We never thought they will play like that and that's the reason we are shocked. Yes, in Test cricket we could have done better but the pitch was the main difference. I hardly saw the ball spin on the track but Pakistan is a better side in Tests and we have a plan this time and I don't see any reason why we can't beat them."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson