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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rahul on January 25, 2012, 9:22 GMT

    Ajmal is a class act. He troubled Indians who are among the best when it comes to playing spin in there own backyard in world cup semifinals. As he is not a big turner of the ball and bowls with much flatter trajectory he does not depend so much on the pitch as some other spinners do. He is very clever with his pace, angels and use and rotations on the ball along with use of the bowling creez. No doubt world class batsmen will get used to him ones they play him more in the match scenario but there is no doubting his talent. Credit must be given where it is due.

  • rahul on January 25, 2012, 7:53 GMT


  • Sikandar on January 25, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    Ajmal - much ado about nothing! in few years he will be like any other spinner! he only played few tests versus so many other spinners so obviously he is not yet analyzed fully by many opponents! if he is that good, then how come he was NOT drafted by Pakis long time back!! after few years he will be a pedestrian... until then, he is going to create a havoc, Mark my words!! all asian teams have this habit of making big every other cricketer - look at India, Pakistan, bangla and Sri Lanka! Swann is another overrated guy!!!

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    @the_blue_android.. what world do you live in?? Murali played a total of 25 matches against zim and bangladesh taking a total of 177 wkts amounting to just over 7 wkts per match against both teams... against eng he has 16 matches and 112 wkts amounting to exactly 7 wkts a match... so its pretty obvious that england are one of the weakest at playing spin. So if your saying that Ajmal is as good as Murali based on 1 match against England your way out of line. Am not taking anything away from Ajmal just setting the_blue_android straight.

    Ajmal is a brilliant bowler and troubled even the best batsmen against spin. But, I wouldn't compare him to Murali just yet.

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    @spence1324: His name suggests he's an Indian not a Pakistani.

  • Sadekur on January 25, 2012, 6:14 GMT

    It is typical English mentality, no matter how miserable they are.....if someone do well against them then they'll start treating him like he is the best, in order to dignify themselves

  • VaRUN on January 25, 2012, 5:34 GMT

    @Johnathanjosephs, quality wise, Ajmal is a much better bowler than Mendis and even Murali. Ajmal would have taken 800 test wickets too if he played 150 test matches and 60 of them against ZIM and BANGLA..

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 5:31 GMT

    @glance_to_leg I am in total agreement with your comments. In fact its good to see some competition in world cricket. I am a Pakistan fan and would love to see Pakistan prosper but would also like to see competition for No.1 race. But every team should be given its due respect.

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 5:23 GMT

    England are giving Ajmal too much attention. As a result, Abdul Rehman is going to disturb them more than Ajmal in this match.

  • Johnathon on January 25, 2012, 5:04 GMT

    Whoaaa... The English are making Ajmal to look like Ajantha Mendis or even Murali. Just beware of the doosra like they have been aware of from Harbhajan in England last year and realize that there will be only a touch more spin. Ajmal is a good spinner, but he's no Murali and the English are overhyping this only to hurt themselves more

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