Ajmal banks on PSL to make international comeback
Saeed Ajmal, who has not played international cricket since April 2015, hopes that the second season of the Pakistan Super League will be a stepping stone towards a comeback. Ajmal, who injured himself during training last season and played only six matches in Islamabad United's run to the title, has been recruited as a full-time player by the same team this season. That Pakistan haven't found a quality offspinner in the last two years has motivated Ajmal to impress in the PSL and return to the international scene.
"It's unfortunate that we haven't had an offspinner since I was out, which is why I believe I still have a chance to make it," Ajmal told ESPNcricinfo in Dubai. "I am working hard to ensure this PSL is a turning point for me. T20 cricket is difficult with lots of ups and downs, but I am ready, and hopefully this event will be a step to the national team. Pakistan desperately need an offspinner and nobody seems to have appeared to fill my gap for years. I have not given up and all I can do is hard work."
Ajmal last played for Pakistan in Bangladesh in April 2015 after he remodelled his action, which was deemed illegal in September 2014. In December 2014, he pulled out of the 2015 World Cup, indicating that his remodelled action needed further work. His action was cleared by the ICC in February, and he was picked in all three formats for the Bangladesh tour in April. In his first match on a return to the side, Ajmal conceded 74 runs in 10 overs for no wickets, the most he has leaked in an ODI. Ajmal took 1 for 49 in the second ODI before missing the third match. He then went wicketless in the one-off T20, which Bangladesh won by seven wickets, before being overlooked for the two-Test series.
Following Ajmal's suspension, the PCB decided to crack down on suspect bowling actions in domestic cricket. They revived their biomechanics lab in Lahore and extensively tested the actions of offspinners in the country, and found that a number of them had suspect bowling actions. When asked about this, Ajmal said: "It's not because of me. I understand players have tricky actions but it's not my responsibility to get them right. The board has to take up this problem and get it resolved. They have the NCA [National Cricket Academy] and a lot of coaches there. This is the problem as after I was out no offspinner has played for Pakistan, which is a worry as the team needs variation in their combination."
Ajmal's new round-arm action lacked fizz, but he felt that the side did not give him a sizeable run to work his way back. "Actually I never really got a proper chance to develop my new action and that only comes by playing consistently," he said. "Apart from the two[three] Bangladesh matches I did not get a chance, and you can't judge a player by one or two matches."
Ajmal, 39, stressed that form, not age, should be the top priority for selection. "Age probably is a problem in Pakistan," he said. "What exactly you want from a player is performance and if a player is helping the team to win then who cares about the age... I want to perform regardless of the age; I don't really think about it. What I need to do is to stay fit and keep taking wickets."
Ajmal has T20 form on his side. He was the leading wicket-taker in the National T20 Cup held before the PSL, with 20 scalps in nine matches, including a four-wicket haul. Ajmal, however, has not played first-class cricket since his stint with Worcestershire in 2015.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent