Pakistan v England 2011-12 January 24, 2012

Mastering Ajmal - a guide

Saeed Ajmal played for Worcestershire in the 2011 season and several players managed to score runs against him. ESPNcricinfo gets the thoughts of two of them of how to play the Pakistan spinner.

England may have been bamboozled by Saeed Ajmal in the first Test in Dubai but county cricket fans will know that scoring runs against him is not quite as difficult as England made it look.

Ajmal played three County Championship matches for Worcestershire last season, taking 17 wickets at 27.70. He took 6 for 124 to bowl his side to victory against Sussex at Horsham but was on the losing side against Yorkshire at Scarborough and against Somerset at New Road.

Nick Compton, the Somerset batsman, and Andrew Gale, of Yorkshire, were two players who made runs against Ajmal.

Somerset racked up 591 at New Road on their way to an innings victory. Compton scored 91. "I stood on off stump and looked to play very straight," Compton said. "Ajmal's not a big spinner of the ball and his main weapon is pace through the air, and I felt it was better to play him off the front foot. The fact that he can skid it on and it might not bounce as much or go the other way, if you sit back I think you're guessing and you haven't got as much time to react.

"If you get right out and play with the bat in front of the pad I think you're going a long way to having a good defence and when you have that against someone like Ajmal it's easier to pick a few areas to try to score."

Compton shared a partnership of 151 with Marcus Trescothick, who made 203. Compton limited his scoring options to the fine sweep or driving down the ground against Ajmal, who took 5 for 150. "Generally runs were coming from the other end so there was no need to take any risks against Ajmal," Compton said. "I don't see the reason why you'd need to try and dominate him. You have to identify matchwinners and try and take them out of the game. Spinners tend to like you attacking them.

"Going down the ground is not a good option at all. If you're not reading someone very well it's a dangerous prospect because he doesn't bowl slowly and you have the ball fizzing out of his wrist. To get down the wicket is very difficult and shows you're not trusting your defence."

By contrast, Andrew Gale decided it was important to try and be positive against Ajmal, who took four wickets in the match against Yorkshire. "I went over the top a couple of times and we looked to be aggressive against him," he said. "We talked about it and thought he was the man that was going to win the game for Worcestershire, and we felt if we could be aggressive and take him out of the equation they would have to go to someone else, even if we lost a few wickets doing it. If you just try to survive against someone like that, eventually he's going to get you."

Gale made 72 in Yorkshire's first innings on their way to a six-wicket win at Scarborough. "I was looking for any sort of width. I was batting on leg stump and trying to drive Ajmal through extra cover. Because of how fast he bowls and because it bounces a bit at Scarborough, my plan wasn't to get too far forward. I was more comfortable going back and using the pace of the ball."

Both players said it wasn't too hard to pick Ajmal's doosra and Compton felt by playing forward he took the mystery ball out of the equation. "I didn't feel it was something I needed to pick," Compton said. "If it was short you had time to react, if it was full I'd get nice and forward with my hands right out in front of me to play the ball nice and straight. The doosra's never going to turn yards, it's only subtle turn."

"I found him all right to pick," Gale said. "When you go in and you've never played against a mystery spinner before, you will always struggle to pick those sorts of guys. But with time at the crease you get used to it. "

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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