England v Pakistan, 2nd npower Test, Edgbaston, 2nd day August 7, 2010

Ajmal proves his Test credentials

Saeed Ajmal showed great control and guile to pick up his first five-wicket haul in just his sixth Test

"Jaane do, jaane do (let it go, let it go)," Saeed Ajmal shouted to the fielder at short gully as Paul Collingwood confidently pushed one to the off side. Ajmal knew Collingwood was a good reader of spin bowling having stood strong against the might of Muralitharan in the past. But it was part of Ajmal's plan.

He wanted to bowl at the fresh-to-the-crease Matt Prior and was confident of working out the England wicket-keeper. Bowling from round the stumps Ajmal made use of a touch of extra bounce, varying the pace of his deliveries cleverly and mixing things up with liberal use of his doosra to keep Prior on his toes.

With the wicketkeeper batsman rooted to the crease as a matter of precaution, but taking his chances against flighted deliveries every so often, Ajmal sensed the chance for a wicket. When Prior swept at the final delivery - an offbreak - of Ajmal's 22nd over he read the flight correctly but was beaten by the slow pace and adjudged plumb by the on-field umpire, a decision vindicated by the UDRS. Like an excited pony Ajmal went hopping across the turf celebrating his spoils. Immediately into the final session Ajmal then overwhelmed a charging Kevin Pietersen with his doosra.

More joy was on the way. Across his next eight balls he would go on to pick up three wickets, and could have had more were it not for two dropped catches. One of the prized scalps was Collingwood, who was also defeated by Ajmal's stock weapon - the doosra. Ajmal's first ball as soon as Collingwood had walked in earlier in the afternoon was the other 'un. England's most dependable batsman survived that, playing off the pitch. But the Pakistani did not waste the delivery. He used it sparingly and retained the mystery. In doing that he gained the upper hand against the batsman.

Coming into this match the pressure was on Ajmal to prove his worth. The task wasn't easy as he had seen Danish Kaneria being dropped and asked to regain his confidence on the county circuit after his below-par performances in the Australia series last month and then at Trent Bridge last week. Ajmal had also suffered heavily on seaming tracks in Australia and the cold conditions in New Zealand in his last two Tests.

Though people like Imran Khan preferred him over Kaneria because they felt he could work out the left-handers better, the team think-tank persisted with the legspinner until they ran out of patience in Notttingham, where Kaneria failed to make even a tiny impression and struggled like a rookie.

But today Ajmal brought to the field what was expected of his senior partner. Luckily providence smiled on him as the sun shone brightly immediately after tea. In the first half of the day he had asked some questions of Pietersen and Jonathan Trott but the drizzle that interrupted play for most of the first two sessions did not allow him to grip the ball properly. In brighter and drier conditions Ajmal came into his element. He operated with a slip and a short leg throughout his unbroken spell (19.1-5-50-5) from the City End, bowling almost entirely from around the stumps.

"With HawkEye coming in, left-arm spinners slide the ball on for lbws. Offspinners get a lot of lbws from round the wicket, so you [batsman] have to work really hard, and a bloke who's got a doosra you have to work extra special hard. He bowled nicely," Pietersen said in praise of Ajmal.

It was not just the angle. On a dry surface, which also had good bounce, Ajmal calibrated his pace constantly. With control, the most vital factor on a two-paced Edgbaston pitch, he became even more dangerous.

Interestingly Ajmal is a constant fixture in Pakistan's Twenty20 squad and was instrumental in the team winning the World Cup in that format in England last year where he was the tournament's second-highest wicket taker. Inadvertently spinners like Harbhajan Singh have taken that defensive mindset into the longer format, flighting and spinning the ball less. But Ajmal has gone the other way. He flighted the ball without fear, daring the batsmen to take him on. But they were never comfortable because of the fear that Ajmal might snake in the doosra or the faster delivery and surprise them.

"It was a good wicket for him to bowl on and he bowled at a good pace. I just tried to knock that down to mid-on for one run but obviously it spun the other way," Pietersen modestly confessed about his inability to read Ajmal's hand.

For Salman Butt, who was out for a duck late in the afternoon with his team on the verge of a defeat, the next few days loomed dark and ominous. So he was happy that Ajmal lightened his stress. "He has always been impressive whenever he has played for Pakistan. He showed it today that he can also do well in Test cricket. Even with the two set batsmen he kept constantly troubling them. They way he bowled and took wickets was very inspiring for the whole team," Butt said.

What has helped Ajmal maintain an equanimity despite the dropped catches - Pietersen was missed in his first over by Umar Gul at mid-on and two chances went begging on Saturday - is that he takes his game seriously but is a light-hearted man. In the dressing room he is a jovial character and not the 30-year-old boring adult. After spending the day twirling the ball mesmerizingly on the field, he could be seen strolling around the ground with his wife and child after stumps. With his mind settled off the field, he is able to focus on it without distraction.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ramesh on August 10, 2010, 16:50 GMT

    India needs spinners like Ajmal (and ofcourse pacers like Aamer and Asif). We have tried repeatedly with Bhajji who has arrogance and words but hardly any skills.

    I wish Ajmal all the luck he deserves because he is one fine bowler.

  • Rohit on August 10, 2010, 4:15 GMT

    Guys... Harbhajan has been just too good fr anyone to have doubts on his ability. After the retirement of Murali.. he is certainly the best off spinner in world cricket today. What strategy he employs at diff times during his career is entirely a matter of his call and the needs of the team. Ajmal is too new to Int'l cricket to have deserved a comparison with Bhajji. Think of bhajji like a Sehwag.. Either he doesnt blast or when he does, he wins the game fr you.

    Everyone goes through a bad patch.. unles you're Sachin of course.. !! :)

  • Moazan on August 8, 2010, 23:01 GMT

    @ dmqi

    Just in case you haven't seen pakistan has scored more than 250 already in the second innings. Inshallah pakistan will win this match and pakistan will go on to win this series and the odi's and t20's. i hope that danish kaneria doesnt come back into the side because he is bowling like an amatuer bowler but ajmal is bowling like an absolute professional offspinner. i hope a miracle occurs tomorrow morning like asif and gul scoring twin centuries and pakistans lead going to 300. or maybe pakistan can bowl out england if they score at least 150 to 200 like what the aussies did to us in january

  • Abbas on August 8, 2010, 23:01 GMT

    @dmqi- I guess Javiq's optimistic came through with pakistan having a lead of 112 runs.......Pakistan will probably lose but got to have faith:)

  • shahid on August 8, 2010, 21:34 GMT

    Pakistani top order can't score, can't field and hold their catches. Its all about pakistan lower order vs England

  • Kairavan on August 8, 2010, 13:20 GMT

    Second Part (cont'd): The reasons that the cash rich Indian Cricket board often cites for not using Kookaburra or Duke balls in India is the associated high costs of these balls and unsuitable conditions of using these balls in India. Why then a relatively lesser rich cricket boards of Bangladesh & Sri Lanka which also have similar playing conditions to India's employ Kookaburra balls at their domestic league and also plays its home matches with it. Indian spinners have been bought up playing with SG balls but the moment they are given a Duke/Kookaburra ball to bowl, they start to leak more runs and their wickets gets dried up. It has also become a sort of a mental blockade for the Indian spinners when they play with these "alien balls" in "alien conditions".

  • Kairavan on August 8, 2010, 13:20 GMT

    First part: One reason that can be attributed to Harbhajan success at home and failure in away conditions is the make and quality of the cricket ball. India plays with the SG ball in domestic circuit as well as at test matches at home and is probably the only test nation playing with that ball. All the other big 5 test nations employ different balls at their home test matches. Australia,South Africa and Sri Lanka play with Kookaburra while England and Pakistan play with Duke balls at the domestic and home tests matches. Duke balls swings (and reverse swings) more and suits the swing bowlers and meduim pace seamers more. SG ball has a very prominent and upright seam because of which the balls the ball tends to grip the pitch and assist in spin and lateral movement. But it tends to lose its shine from the 30th over onwards and hence suits the spinners more. Kookaburras on the other hand has lesser seam but retains the shine till about 80 overs which holds the fast bowlers in good stead.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2010, 12:16 GMT

    This is the weakest Pakistan Team, I have ever seen in last 20 years.

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2010, 11:09 GMT

    A good show of sping bowling by Ajmal! His real strength is his mind, keep thinking all the times, and trap batsman, like Asif does. Kaneria was lacking this skill recently, he was just throwing the bowl and was expecting batsman to throw their wicket.

  • Sabbir on August 8, 2010, 9:51 GMT

    @ Javiq.. Bro.. I also hope Pak get a leadof over 150.. But if can get there, then who will catch for us? And in 4th 5th day, Ajmal will not be that affective as the forecast suggestion 4th and 5th day will be cloudy and chance of heavy shower. so, Its again for faster bowlers to do the damage.. Hope Pak will bounce back today..

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