Ajmal tipped to replace Kaneria
With Pakistan desperate to level the series against Australia they are toying with the idea of recalling offspinner Saeed Ajmal in place of Danish Kaneria for the second Test at Headingley. Though the news has not been confirmed sources have indicated that Ajmal's doosra could swing selection in his favour in order to target Australia's left-handers.
"There has been some talk about playing Ajmal," a team official indicated to Cricinfo. If the think-tank does favour Ajmal it would be a rude jolt for Kaneria who managed to impress everyone, including Shane Warne, with his control and accuracy at Lord's, particularly in the first innings, and he finished with match figures of 4 for 123 in conditions that favoured the pace bowlers.
But the presence of five left-handers in the Australia line-up could be the clinching factor when Salman Butt, Pakistan's new captain, sits down with his coaches to decide the final eleven on Tuesday. Ajmal has better figures against left-handers in comparison to Kaneria. His average against them is 36.00 compared to Kaneria's 49.27, although against the right-handers both are fairly close with Kaneria (28.56) slightly behind Ajmal (24.07).
Impressive as those figures are, Ajmal is inexperienced and has only played five Tests while Kaneria has a wealth of experience with 59 matches under his belt. Also, Ajmal's last Test was against an almost identical Australia batting line-up at the MCG and he had match figures of 2 for 223 as Micheal Clarke dominated him with ease. Meanwhile, Kaneria has collected 33 wickets in his last six Tests at under 30 and this year he is the joint-highest wicket-taker for Pakistan along with Mohammad Asif.
Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner and pioneer of the doosra, feels the Pakistan team management are in a difficult position when it comes to deciding which spinner should get the nod. However, he is inclined to rank experience higher than the perceived effectiveness of Ajmal's doosra.
"I don't mind to pick either of the two," Saqlain told Cricinfo. "Danish is a world-class bowler, and can damage the Aussies as well. He has got experience. But Saeed Ajmal is good, too. So both are capable of giving trouble to Australia."
Saqlain, who spent time with the Pakistan squad during their two-day warm-up match against Leicestershire and shared valuable tips with Ajmal, felt Kaneria did nothing wrong in the first Test to deserve demotion.
"Danish has been in a good form and he has been bowling very well. He did well in the first Test too," Saqlain said. "Our problems are more in the batting department where sometimes our top order fails and at times the middle order. If we can put runs on the board Danish can more much better and put more pressure."
Saqlain was not shy of comparing Pakistan's situation to that of Australia in the years when Stuart MacGill was competing for a place in the team against Shane Warne. "Look at the Aussies," he said. "They always went for Shane Warne because of his experience, skills and character.
"Danish has a lot of experience and has been playing county cricket for a couple of years. Ajmal is promising too. I am not saying he can't do the job. But then there are so many factors that determine who could be the best man."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo