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
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"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

  • givemefood 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.

  • rohitcbs 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.. !! :)

  • fastballer138 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

  • Amaan2004 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:)

  • Zahidsaltin 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

  • KAIRAVA 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".

  • KAIRAVA 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.

  • on August 8, 2010, 12:16 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • Passion_4_Cricket 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..

  • givemefood 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.

  • rohitcbs 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.. !! :)

  • fastballer138 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

  • Amaan2004 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:)

  • Zahidsaltin 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

  • KAIRAVA 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".

  • KAIRAVA 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.

  • on August 8, 2010, 12:16 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • Passion_4_Cricket 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..

  • Azes on August 8, 2010, 9:22 GMT

    @ dmqi 250 runs???? I'd be surprised if we end up scoring the remaining 160 runs....

  • on August 8, 2010, 9:19 GMT

    For all those critics of Harbhajan... take note that despite of being an rusty offie... he is one of those handy batsmen you need in your lower order hence he is in team Once PP Ojha or Amit Mishra learn how to bat, he will be dropped.

  • SamiSaayer on August 8, 2010, 8:46 GMT

    with gul injured, and the next test in oval, wont it be interesting to play 2 spinners? may be it can turn th table around for kaneria as well. englishmen, barring collingwood, are not that effective on spinners. they might be able to hunt in pair.

  • Apache_Indian on August 8, 2010, 8:13 GMT

    I'm an INDIAN and I like Saeed Ajmal, I knew he could create problems for English batsmen. He uses his DOOSRA superbly. Collingwood's dismissal was a treat to watch. What a delivery that was ! Lets see how Pak batsmen play today.

  • smalishah84 on August 8, 2010, 7:54 GMT

    @Javiq.............brother the if you are talking about i.e. Pakistan with a lead of 150.....is a big IF.........pretty much impossible the way the team has been playing so far..........the way they are playing it would seem like a miracle if they even avoid an innings defeat.

  • on August 8, 2010, 6:49 GMT

    Why are you people discussing Harbhajan And Kaneria here?? This article is about Ajmal.. Get a life people.. Atleast in yesterday's match there was something to cheer about.. He bowled beautifully.. I think he is really better than Kaneria because whenever he is attacked, he doesnot let the pressure get into his head.. Like he did. When Peitersen started attacking him, he went round the wicket and since then he was in problems.. he bowled really well.. It's great to see him bowling like that.. Though Pakistani attack has been superb in the whole tour... Well the fate of this match is already decided.. :) No need to argue about that :D

  • dmqi on August 8, 2010, 5:15 GMT

    @Javiq. You are little too optimistic about Pakistan taking a lead of 150 runs. That means they have to score 310 more runs in the 2nd innings. With the recent history of Pak side, I will be very surprised to see them scoring 250 plus in 2nd innings.

  • on August 8, 2010, 4:07 GMT

    4 catches were dropped of his own bowling...No Wonder Shoaib Akhtar aint playing coz he wud have left the field had even 3 catches been dropped of his own bowling :P

  • on August 8, 2010, 3:22 GMT

    Although I am a perennial fan of wrist spinners, it was pleasing to see the way he bowled. Particularly when you realise that Harbhajjan has won a lot of praise for his "great bowling" which comprises flat yorkers on the leg-stump from wide of the crease, something that has plagued many.

    I didn't expect Saeed Ajmal to succeed - he had employed too many variations in Australia as a 30-year old which was bad remembering that even an 18-year old Saqlain did slightly better in 1995. But this was good stuff - Variations of flight, pace, line, a faster ball, a doosra and a slightly unconventional off-spinner to conceal his other variations was impressive.

    That Pakistan got England out for 250 despite dropping half a dozen catches shows how good the bowlers were.

  • Nayeem_Kohir on August 8, 2010, 2:43 GMT

    Danish Kaneria has not been effective for Pakistan and so is Harbhajan for India. Pakistan did well to drop Kaneria eventually, but can the Indian selectors see the inevitable. Harbhajan Singh is no magical spinner. He gets those wickets when the opposition batsman are under pressure chasing a huge target that is often set by the Indian batsmen batting first on the subcontinent wickets, then the pressure is on the opposition batsmen, and the pitch is assisting, and that is when Harbhajan is succesful bowling in the fourth innings. Otherwise Harbhajan has struggled bowling in the first innings of a test match and all innings abroad, and more so in the past four years. Bedi was not too wrong when he said Sehwag is probably the best off spinner in the Indian team. Dhoni seems to favor a set of players in the Indian team, including Harbhajan Singh. India should drop Harbhajan and look ahead like Pakistan did by dropping Kaneria.

  • on August 8, 2010, 2:17 GMT

    he was faboulus but kaneria is great bowler. pakistan should to play both spinners.

  • Kaka4pope on August 8, 2010, 0:40 GMT

    Two things that ajmal will never do in a test match at the same time > be expensive while remaining wicketless. T20 shows that when batsmen eventually attack him, he can find gaps in their armour and barring Hussey's miracle over he is hardly ever smacked around. So, he will either be economical and block an end, be expensive but take scalps, or on a top day like today, do both...you cannot lose.

  • on August 7, 2010, 23:26 GMT

    Saeed Ajmal appears very crafty, confident, deceptive bowler. I hope does not disappear quickly and preserves the art of spin. Both he and Grame Swann are the flag bearer for spin bolwing for next decade. I like both because both have got clean action. Cheers!

  • SaeedKhanNiazi on August 7, 2010, 22:16 GMT

    Article's title speaks it all. He defintley is a lot more creative than the senior spinner Kaneria. The mix of different varations in his bowling is what danish kaneria failed at. He really works the batsmen until he finds that one moment when the batsman seems to lose focus for that second and bam get em. Nice work Saeed Ajmal. I wish him the best and hope he continues in this form, God willing.

  • on August 7, 2010, 22:15 GMT

    Kaneria and Harbhajan are same kind of bowlers..the large wicket count doesnot matter. I dont know what it will take to drop Harbhajan for India especially abroad

  • Javiq on August 7, 2010, 21:12 GMT

    Batsman need to show some respect to our hard working bowlers. had we held on to our catches, the story would have been different. if Pakistan manage to take a lead of 150, it will be an interesting chase as Ajmal will be even more threatning on 4th/5th day.

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  • Javiq on August 7, 2010, 21:12 GMT

    Batsman need to show some respect to our hard working bowlers. had we held on to our catches, the story would have been different. if Pakistan manage to take a lead of 150, it will be an interesting chase as Ajmal will be even more threatning on 4th/5th day.

  • on August 7, 2010, 22:15 GMT

    Kaneria and Harbhajan are same kind of bowlers..the large wicket count doesnot matter. I dont know what it will take to drop Harbhajan for India especially abroad

  • SaeedKhanNiazi on August 7, 2010, 22:16 GMT

    Article's title speaks it all. He defintley is a lot more creative than the senior spinner Kaneria. The mix of different varations in his bowling is what danish kaneria failed at. He really works the batsmen until he finds that one moment when the batsman seems to lose focus for that second and bam get em. Nice work Saeed Ajmal. I wish him the best and hope he continues in this form, God willing.

  • on August 7, 2010, 23:26 GMT

    Saeed Ajmal appears very crafty, confident, deceptive bowler. I hope does not disappear quickly and preserves the art of spin. Both he and Grame Swann are the flag bearer for spin bolwing for next decade. I like both because both have got clean action. Cheers!

  • Kaka4pope on August 8, 2010, 0:40 GMT

    Two things that ajmal will never do in a test match at the same time > be expensive while remaining wicketless. T20 shows that when batsmen eventually attack him, he can find gaps in their armour and barring Hussey's miracle over he is hardly ever smacked around. So, he will either be economical and block an end, be expensive but take scalps, or on a top day like today, do both...you cannot lose.

  • on August 8, 2010, 2:17 GMT

    he was faboulus but kaneria is great bowler. pakistan should to play both spinners.

  • Nayeem_Kohir on August 8, 2010, 2:43 GMT

    Danish Kaneria has not been effective for Pakistan and so is Harbhajan for India. Pakistan did well to drop Kaneria eventually, but can the Indian selectors see the inevitable. Harbhajan Singh is no magical spinner. He gets those wickets when the opposition batsman are under pressure chasing a huge target that is often set by the Indian batsmen batting first on the subcontinent wickets, then the pressure is on the opposition batsmen, and the pitch is assisting, and that is when Harbhajan is succesful bowling in the fourth innings. Otherwise Harbhajan has struggled bowling in the first innings of a test match and all innings abroad, and more so in the past four years. Bedi was not too wrong when he said Sehwag is probably the best off spinner in the Indian team. Dhoni seems to favor a set of players in the Indian team, including Harbhajan Singh. India should drop Harbhajan and look ahead like Pakistan did by dropping Kaneria.

  • on August 8, 2010, 3:22 GMT

    Although I am a perennial fan of wrist spinners, it was pleasing to see the way he bowled. Particularly when you realise that Harbhajjan has won a lot of praise for his "great bowling" which comprises flat yorkers on the leg-stump from wide of the crease, something that has plagued many.

    I didn't expect Saeed Ajmal to succeed - he had employed too many variations in Australia as a 30-year old which was bad remembering that even an 18-year old Saqlain did slightly better in 1995. But this was good stuff - Variations of flight, pace, line, a faster ball, a doosra and a slightly unconventional off-spinner to conceal his other variations was impressive.

    That Pakistan got England out for 250 despite dropping half a dozen catches shows how good the bowlers were.

  • on August 8, 2010, 4:07 GMT

    4 catches were dropped of his own bowling...No Wonder Shoaib Akhtar aint playing coz he wud have left the field had even 3 catches been dropped of his own bowling :P

  • dmqi on August 8, 2010, 5:15 GMT

    @Javiq. You are little too optimistic about Pakistan taking a lead of 150 runs. That means they have to score 310 more runs in the 2nd innings. With the recent history of Pak side, I will be very surprised to see them scoring 250 plus in 2nd innings.