Ajmal out to put a spin on Australia
Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan offspinner, is eyeing the wicket of one of the world's best batsmen tomorrow as Pakistan get ready to take on Australia. Ajmal played against Australia earlier this year in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a five-match ODI series and had considerable success early in the contest; but Ricky Ponting was rested from that series and Ajmal is keen to match his wits against the Australian captain.
"Ricky Ponting," Ajmal shot back when asked whose wicket he would most cherish. "I haven't played against him and he is my absolute favourite player. I would really love it if I took his wicket."
Though Ajmal took only four wickets in the five-match series - which Pakistan lost 3-2 - he was difficult to get away on slow tracks, and in the first two games in particular, the Australian batsmen found his doosra difficult to pick up.
Barring his troubles against Harbhajan Singh, Ponting has a good record against other spinners but Ajmal was confident he could make an impression tomorrow. "Why not? The last series we played against them in Abu Dhabi I was successful. They sometimes struggle against spin so I want to exploit that."
Centurion has, through the tournament, been conducive to spin though not all spinners have had a good time at the ground - Ajmal was quick to point to the 300-plus scores made in this tournament at the ground. Muttiah Muralitharan and Harbhajan are two of the more established names to have floundered, but Ajmal and Shahid Afridi - who caused Australia more problems with 10 wickets in the same series including a career-best six-wicket haul in the first game - prospered against India earlier.
Intikhab Alam, the Pakistan coach, believes that the pair may make a difference tomorrow. "At Centurion, it helps spinners with bounce and turn," Intikhab said. "We have two world-class guys and they have done exceptionally well. We have an edge over them though I wouldn't say they are vulnerable to spin because they are a world-class side, they are very professional. But it will be a great challenge for them also to tackle Pakistan spinners."
If any side was capable of overcoming that challenge, it is likely Australia. In the washed-out game against India, they look relatively comfortable against Harbhajan and Amit Mishra and Ponting believes the experience will help them against Pakistan - even if they are without Michael Clarke, whom many consider to be the best player of spin in the side.
"Most definitely it is something we're working on," Ponting said. "I think you saw yesterday [Michael] Hussey and [Tim] Paine particularly played spinners really well. Ajmal and Afridi had a big impact at the start of the last series but as the series went on we played them a lot better. That was a really good result for us over there in conditions that suited Pakistanis."
Ajmal will continue, however, as he has done in his quietly impressive start to international cricket. He has become the specialist ODI spinner thus relieving Pakistan of the headache of making up overs from part-timers, he played a key role in Pakistan's World Twenty20 win earlier this year, and made his Test debut in Sri Lanka, where he took 14 wickets in his first three Tests. The doosra, he says, is coming out nicely.
"There is no pressure in these big matches," he said. "You cannot do that because in a way we are also a big team and world champions. I will keep doing what I have been doing. My first task is to stop the scoring, not wickets. That is my thinking, the batsman has his thinking and in that if I get a wicket then great."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo