Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 3rd day January 10, 2014

Is workload taking a toll on Ajmal?

Saeed Ajmal made a relatively late entry into international cricket but didn't play his first Test till he was almost 32. He is 36 now and is doing his best to make up for lost time having been a key player for Pakistan for many years
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Pity Saeed Ajmal. Since May 2011, he's bowled the most overs in international cricket (1914.1 overs, far ahead of Graeme Swann's 1619.3 and James Anderson's 1640.1 overs). And he's missed only six international matches out of the 122 Pakistan have played since becoming a permanent member of the team across all formats. A relatively late entrant to international cricket, at the age of 30, he played his first Test when almost 32; now 36, it seems he's doing his best to make up for lost time.

He's been a key player for Pakistan for all this time. And now the strain is showing.

The Abu Dhabi Test took its toll on Ajmal. He has never waited so long for a wicket in a Test innings: his previous longest wait was 41.1 overs, in the first innings against England at Lord's in 2010 and he ended with figures of 2 for 126 from 44 overs. He remained wicketless in the second innings of the first Test with 49 overs, conceding 115 runs, and had to wait another 28.2 overs in Dubai to take his first wicket, making the stretch 77.2 overs.

There was a debate of sorts in the dressing room of the Sheikh Zayed Stadium before the first Test over resting Ajmal but captain Misbah-ul-Haq voted out the other spinner Abdur Rehman and insisted on sticking with the veteran. By no means has Ajmal been the wrong pick but he didn't fire in time. Probably, he wasn't given much support from the other end, or as Ramiz Raja suggests, he was "neutralised" well by the Sri Lanka batsmen.

Ajmal doesn't want to rest, he has barely asked for it. He wants to play every match and Pakistan don't want to drop him because he has been doing well. He was supposed to be rested with his suspected hernia last year but doctors cleared him with a week's rest before the ODI series in Scotland in May.

Saqlain Mushtaq, on the other hand, made his Test debut at 19 and became the quickest to 100 one-day-international wickets. His career was damaged by knee injury and in nine years - in which he played 49 Tests and 169 ODIs - his career was over. He made a final unsuccessful attempt in 2004 to force his way back into the Test side, against India in Multan, only to concede 204 runs in 43 overs. Disappointed with Ajmal's workload, Saqlain advised him to take a break to avoid getting fatigued.

"He [Ajmal] is a quality spinner and has proven himself in every format but he looked tired against Sri Lanka and perhaps he needs to be given a break from the sport so that he can refresh himself and come back fresh," Saqlain said. "He can still play for some more years and is our match winner."

Ajmal is an automatic selection in every format for Pakistan and dropping him could be the hardest thing for the selectors who normally adopt a safety-first policy. Rotation doesn't work in Pakistan, players are insecure, selections are inconsistent and players have no guarantee if they will be recalled after been rested.

Cricket is money in Pakistan and for Ajmal it's no exception. He wants to earn as much as he can before he walks away. He has been one of the best spinners in the world in the last three years but he is missing out on the IPL money. After a late entry and with age not on his side, it's uncertain how long he will manage to play. He would want to play the 2015 World Cup but Pakistan would prefer an in-form and fit Ajmal who can contribute with his performances.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on January 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Playing this many matches continuosly is bound to take a toll. Perhaps a weeks rest would be just what he needs, being a spinner doesn't mean that he is free from injuries. Pakistan must learn to think in the long term and not think of going all out to win each and every single match they face. Abdur Rehman is by no means a weak replacement and can certainly make up. We don't want another Irfan on our hands.

  • wrenx on January 10, 2014, 17:36 GMT

    Ajmal could certainly be rested, seeing as we have such a fine second spinner in Abdur Rehman. But no need to read so much into this. Abu Dhabi test on a track that didn't assist, with a makeshift wicketkeeper, and Ajmal still bowl a fine economy and lots of maidens, he kept it tight.

  • on January 15, 2014, 10:21 GMT

    so the england team that we whitewashed was crap yea ajmal is a quality bowler and has proven it you can bowl and what is in front of you we are quick to point the finger but international cricket is not easy and no game is easy plus they should have rested him and given the youngsters a chance but he is a much better bowler than swann and he will come good

  • Stark62 on January 11, 2014, 12:45 GMT

    I've been saying that since last summer and I'm glad, both statistics and Saqlain are with reiterating my point, plus thanks to Umar for writing an article on his workload.

    Ideally, he should have been rested for the Zimb series and the ODI series against SL but it is going to get worse for Ajmal because he has to play for the Titans, play a Test series in the Windies (most likely will be scheduled this year) and then, will have to endure the grueling schedule of county cricket playing for Worcestershire.

  • SICHO on January 11, 2014, 10:34 GMT

    Nothing is taking its toll on Ajmal. He just ain't good enough against good players of spin and when batsmen aren't going after him. When it doesn't spin and he isn't quite effective anymore

  • Ali_Chaudhary on January 11, 2014, 10:12 GMT

    In 2013 he took 63 wickets. 41 of them were tail enders. Bowling to tail enders doesnt get u tired. Against gud batter he always struggle. Remember last time when SL toured UAE? Saga made 2 double? Ajmal couldnt even bowl him a dot bowl. BTW if you are tried only after plaing 2-3 years then you arent a gud bowler. simple.

  • khs_shk2000 on January 11, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    If somebody think pakistan has best bowling attack he is over estimating. Except Junaid & Ajmal nobody is international standard, every bowler wil get wickets when the pitch nd other conditions suit him. The good bowler is who takes the wicket in unfavourable conditions like Waqar, Waseem,Imran etc use to do in their haydays. Ask these veterans to trained the new crop bowler how to bowl on dead and dusty pitches.

  • Clyde on January 11, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    First of all you would need to explain the expression 'workload'. These are just people up for a game of cricket, not work. Even the writing about cricket seems to be suffering from the strain of something bizarre that is being missed in coverage. What is really going on? Why can't a player just not play if would prefer not to, which preference is implied here?

  • on January 11, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    tiger of pakistan

  • on January 11, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    Apologies for sounding rude but Ajmal has become too fat...i was shocked to see that he has a pot bellied paunch and it is visible on his face as well....unacceptable and the coaching staff as well as the player must be held accountable.I can accept that chubby guys have played in the past (Boon,Hughes,Kleinveldt,Philander) but Saeed was always a lean guy.It suggests that the team are not totally committed and/or the coaching staff as well..too pampered...why do these guys drop so many catches in the slips and elsewhere...concentration levels which are closely linked to fitness levels.

    For a bowler,it is vital to stay in shape and is the difference between Ajmal being a world class spinner and just another off spinner.Disappointing.

    Perhaps the Pakistan team are lulled into thinking they have "the best attack in the world"...They don't and neither is the attack particularly talented..they have to get fitter and work harder as a group.

  • on January 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Playing this many matches continuosly is bound to take a toll. Perhaps a weeks rest would be just what he needs, being a spinner doesn't mean that he is free from injuries. Pakistan must learn to think in the long term and not think of going all out to win each and every single match they face. Abdur Rehman is by no means a weak replacement and can certainly make up. We don't want another Irfan on our hands.

  • wrenx on January 10, 2014, 17:36 GMT

    Ajmal could certainly be rested, seeing as we have such a fine second spinner in Abdur Rehman. But no need to read so much into this. Abu Dhabi test on a track that didn't assist, with a makeshift wicketkeeper, and Ajmal still bowl a fine economy and lots of maidens, he kept it tight.

  • on January 15, 2014, 10:21 GMT

    so the england team that we whitewashed was crap yea ajmal is a quality bowler and has proven it you can bowl and what is in front of you we are quick to point the finger but international cricket is not easy and no game is easy plus they should have rested him and given the youngsters a chance but he is a much better bowler than swann and he will come good

  • Stark62 on January 11, 2014, 12:45 GMT

    I've been saying that since last summer and I'm glad, both statistics and Saqlain are with reiterating my point, plus thanks to Umar for writing an article on his workload.

    Ideally, he should have been rested for the Zimb series and the ODI series against SL but it is going to get worse for Ajmal because he has to play for the Titans, play a Test series in the Windies (most likely will be scheduled this year) and then, will have to endure the grueling schedule of county cricket playing for Worcestershire.

  • SICHO on January 11, 2014, 10:34 GMT

    Nothing is taking its toll on Ajmal. He just ain't good enough against good players of spin and when batsmen aren't going after him. When it doesn't spin and he isn't quite effective anymore

  • Ali_Chaudhary on January 11, 2014, 10:12 GMT

    In 2013 he took 63 wickets. 41 of them were tail enders. Bowling to tail enders doesnt get u tired. Against gud batter he always struggle. Remember last time when SL toured UAE? Saga made 2 double? Ajmal couldnt even bowl him a dot bowl. BTW if you are tried only after plaing 2-3 years then you arent a gud bowler. simple.

  • khs_shk2000 on January 11, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    If somebody think pakistan has best bowling attack he is over estimating. Except Junaid & Ajmal nobody is international standard, every bowler wil get wickets when the pitch nd other conditions suit him. The good bowler is who takes the wicket in unfavourable conditions like Waqar, Waseem,Imran etc use to do in their haydays. Ask these veterans to trained the new crop bowler how to bowl on dead and dusty pitches.

  • Clyde on January 11, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    First of all you would need to explain the expression 'workload'. These are just people up for a game of cricket, not work. Even the writing about cricket seems to be suffering from the strain of something bizarre that is being missed in coverage. What is really going on? Why can't a player just not play if would prefer not to, which preference is implied here?

  • on January 11, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    tiger of pakistan

  • on January 11, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    Apologies for sounding rude but Ajmal has become too fat...i was shocked to see that he has a pot bellied paunch and it is visible on his face as well....unacceptable and the coaching staff as well as the player must be held accountable.I can accept that chubby guys have played in the past (Boon,Hughes,Kleinveldt,Philander) but Saeed was always a lean guy.It suggests that the team are not totally committed and/or the coaching staff as well..too pampered...why do these guys drop so many catches in the slips and elsewhere...concentration levels which are closely linked to fitness levels.

    For a bowler,it is vital to stay in shape and is the difference between Ajmal being a world class spinner and just another off spinner.Disappointing.

    Perhaps the Pakistan team are lulled into thinking they have "the best attack in the world"...They don't and neither is the attack particularly talented..they have to get fitter and work harder as a group.

  • Desihungama on January 11, 2014, 5:17 GMT

    @ProdigyA- This is precisely the point that Pakistan Cricket is not charity! Performers should be retained with rotation policy put in place. Look what they did to Irfan? And lastly Mummad Hafeez needs to be slashed from Test.

  • on January 11, 2014, 4:56 GMT

    It is always anticipated that Asian teams play spinners well. Indians generally handled ajmal well and so was the case here with Lankans. They took full advantage of our other bowlers' lose bowling (Exception Junaid) and played Ajmal carefully. The pitch was not a spin paradise but was a flat track. The class of Ajmal is evident that he never let the batsmen scores freely even when he figured out that its not turning much

  • mensan on January 11, 2014, 3:03 GMT

    In tests, we need to play a 2nd spinner to reduce his workload.

  • siddhartha87 on January 11, 2014, 2:11 GMT

    Workload and mostly loose bowling from after end .Sri Lankan batsmen play Ajmal carefully and scored against loose bowling of Bhatti and Rahat.

  • on January 11, 2014, 0:59 GMT

    lankans are playing him very well its as simple as that, Pakistani batsmen are not as adept at spin as Lankans are however I expect Ajmal to bounce back in no time, he is still a match winner for Pakistan.

  • on January 11, 2014, 0:55 GMT

    First of all, the Seamers are getting the wickets in these tracks even though every one says the track is Spinner friendly. Therefore, based on one or two Tests, you can't come to the conclusion. Secondly, since Ajmal is bowling more than the normal quota of overs, the Opposition Players are getting used to his style, variations and tricks, therefore gradually his returns will be reduced which I feel is natural.

  • on January 11, 2014, 0:07 GMT

    could have dropped Rahat and went in with Abdur Rehman as a much supporting bowler who can chip away on his own as well. Much more attacking than a flat Rahat Ali..

  • IAS2009 on January 10, 2014, 23:39 GMT

    Pakistan should stop playing in UAE, or change the wickets preparation, only result is possible if one team is too good, it is hard to get result on this pitch with medium pacers or average spinners, even Ajmal has hard time getting wickets.

  • heathrf1974 on January 10, 2014, 23:25 GMT

    I wonder why Abdur Rehmann is not bowling with him on sub-continental pitches? Pakistan should only use their two best available quicks.

  • ProdigyA on January 10, 2014, 22:32 GMT

    Ajmal is aging and you wouldnt fault him for playing as much as possible and make enough money before he retires. He could be playing another 2 years max and without IPL contracts, he is making the right decision.

  • imranmujtaba on January 10, 2014, 22:15 GMT

    Ajmal seems to lost the control in last couple of series the ball, SA is poor against spinner but Ajmal was not very effective against them. He is balling to many short ball against. SL undoubtedly the best in the world against spinner - Ajmal poor control on the ball and SL Strenght against spinner is not helping Pak. Misbah poor captaincy make it even worse. Pak have good reserve players like Hassan Raza, Z, Baber and AR. Pak should develop new bowlers. Give Ajmal a break instead killing him with so much workload. Saqlain is right but Misbah mind and imagination does not work.

  • Gangnam_Gangsta on January 10, 2014, 22:06 GMT

    May be a Pakistan fan can explain, I still fail to understand, how talents like Ajmal and Misbah were ignored for so long and only made debut at such late stage of their career. Pakistan were actually pretty good at picking the raw talent like Mohd. Amir, Akram etc. or they only keep an eye out for the young pacers and do not have processes in place to spot batting and spinning talents who do not burn bright like the pacers. Food for thought.

  • Desihungama on January 10, 2014, 21:48 GMT

    Players have no guarantee if they will be recalled after been rested. There you go. You said it. This is the crux of issue costing Pakistan valuable talent in the cupboards. He is going through fatigue. This much International Cricket and it is rather getting boring for him and he doesn't know it doesn't want to be dropped for the fear of Zulfiqar Babar. You notice how Zulfiqar has been kept out?

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    Hafeez wasn't bowling bad. He was being tight. Considering that Rehman was not playing Misbah should have put Hafeez and Ajmal together.

  • hoodbu on January 10, 2014, 21:05 GMT

    I love the last 2 paragraphs - so blunt and true. It's true there is no rotation policy in Pakistan and players are very insecure (rightly so). Umar Gul is lucky that he was picked after a long layoff due to injury. Just look at the players who came in his absence.

    I'm not saying comebacks are impossible in Pakistan as they do happen. But they appear to be random

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:03 GMT

    its a mixture of many factors

    little bit out of form. not being able to turn much.

    support from other end. if you see the bowling figures, he got less wickets but was very economical and when pressure is on from both ends then it helps more in getting wickets.

    SL are good players of spin. and they played him well. giving full respect and not giving any advantage.

    wickets are also not supportive. if you are comapring rangana then you have to consider the technique and quality of batsmen from both sides. our youngsters are clearly way behind than SL youngsters. they showed lot of character and ability. while pakistan batsmen have always struggled vs left arm spin. cant compare totally different bowlers.

    and yes workload is also a factor. finger spinners do get bad patch as well. and he has played a lot of international games during this period.

    But before jumping to final conclusion, i would like to see him bowling on supportive wicket & then decide. he has good odi series vs SL

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:02 GMT

    for me and they are my personal views i dont rate ajmal infact i dont rate any spinner in the world all spinners that are playing cricket at the moment are average nathan maccullum of NZ ajmal of PAK aash of IND tahir of SA lyon of AUS sunil narine of WI they are no world beaters i consider Shane warne Murli and saqlain spinners big names big performers who could win matches on their own now days if a spinner takes 2 or 3 wickets he is considered to be a world class spinner none of them can turn the ball like shane or murli

  • ozone8237 on January 10, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    ITS SO TRUE!! Ajmal needed Rehman on the other end to support him and keep the pressure on the batsmen since whatever Pressure Ajmal created the batsmen were getting a relief in the very next over. Same Goes with the Pacers if you have a firing Pacer on one end and another pacer or equal quality on the other end the pressures stays and keeps building up until the batsman gets exhausted and makes a mistake and the bowler is rewarded. In Ajmal's case either he needs Rehman to back him up or Irfan included in the squad so Junaid could generate the Pace attack pressure. If Pakistan's open start giving a solid long partnerships stands that might solve the issue as well..

  • Zahidsaltin on January 10, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    No its not heavy workload! Simply the wickets offer a very little spin and that too very slow. If you see Herath taking more wickets then its due to the comparetively lower quality of our batsmen and their proved weaknesses against a lefthanded spinner.

  • sam00973 on January 10, 2014, 18:51 GMT

    yea workload is a problem ..i think we should have abdur rehman with him atleast in subcontinent pitches ..then he has better chance of getting wickets with rehman bowling from other end ...in next test pak must include rehman in place of rahat or bhatti..

  • roook on January 10, 2014, 18:49 GMT

    Srilankan are good players of spin and they came out with a plan against spin. Most of srilankan batsman attack pakistan pace bowlers. Resting Ajmal would not solve the problem. Cricket is not a one man game its a team game,overall pakistan bowling was weak as compared to that of srilankan.

  • TSJ07 on January 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Thats too much workload for him especially now that he has crossed 35. He can be rested in ODI and T20 against minor teams like BD,SL but definitely he should be playing against top batting sides.

  • LegSpinBowlr on January 10, 2014, 17:54 GMT

    Ajmal is a great spinner, If the intention of his is to make more money he could retire and play IPL, i dont think thats his motive. Hope they rest him and he comes back in good form, by resting him they can try another spinner who can replace him once he retires instead of waiting for him to retire before they start the search for another spinner

  • LegSpinBowlr on January 10, 2014, 17:54 GMT

    Ajmal is a great spinner, If the intention of his is to make more money he could retire and play IPL, i dont think thats his motive. Hope they rest him and he comes back in good form, by resting him they can try another spinner who can replace him once he retires instead of waiting for him to retire before they start the search for another spinner

  • TSJ07 on January 10, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    Thats too much workload for him especially now that he has crossed 35. He can be rested in ODI and T20 against minor teams like BD,SL but definitely he should be playing against top batting sides.

  • roook on January 10, 2014, 18:49 GMT

    Srilankan are good players of spin and they came out with a plan against spin. Most of srilankan batsman attack pakistan pace bowlers. Resting Ajmal would not solve the problem. Cricket is not a one man game its a team game,overall pakistan bowling was weak as compared to that of srilankan.

  • sam00973 on January 10, 2014, 18:51 GMT

    yea workload is a problem ..i think we should have abdur rehman with him atleast in subcontinent pitches ..then he has better chance of getting wickets with rehman bowling from other end ...in next test pak must include rehman in place of rahat or bhatti..

  • Zahidsaltin on January 10, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    No its not heavy workload! Simply the wickets offer a very little spin and that too very slow. If you see Herath taking more wickets then its due to the comparetively lower quality of our batsmen and their proved weaknesses against a lefthanded spinner.

  • ozone8237 on January 10, 2014, 19:30 GMT

    ITS SO TRUE!! Ajmal needed Rehman on the other end to support him and keep the pressure on the batsmen since whatever Pressure Ajmal created the batsmen were getting a relief in the very next over. Same Goes with the Pacers if you have a firing Pacer on one end and another pacer or equal quality on the other end the pressures stays and keeps building up until the batsman gets exhausted and makes a mistake and the bowler is rewarded. In Ajmal's case either he needs Rehman to back him up or Irfan included in the squad so Junaid could generate the Pace attack pressure. If Pakistan's open start giving a solid long partnerships stands that might solve the issue as well..

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:02 GMT

    for me and they are my personal views i dont rate ajmal infact i dont rate any spinner in the world all spinners that are playing cricket at the moment are average nathan maccullum of NZ ajmal of PAK aash of IND tahir of SA lyon of AUS sunil narine of WI they are no world beaters i consider Shane warne Murli and saqlain spinners big names big performers who could win matches on their own now days if a spinner takes 2 or 3 wickets he is considered to be a world class spinner none of them can turn the ball like shane or murli

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:03 GMT

    its a mixture of many factors

    little bit out of form. not being able to turn much.

    support from other end. if you see the bowling figures, he got less wickets but was very economical and when pressure is on from both ends then it helps more in getting wickets.

    SL are good players of spin. and they played him well. giving full respect and not giving any advantage.

    wickets are also not supportive. if you are comapring rangana then you have to consider the technique and quality of batsmen from both sides. our youngsters are clearly way behind than SL youngsters. they showed lot of character and ability. while pakistan batsmen have always struggled vs left arm spin. cant compare totally different bowlers.

    and yes workload is also a factor. finger spinners do get bad patch as well. and he has played a lot of international games during this period.

    But before jumping to final conclusion, i would like to see him bowling on supportive wicket & then decide. he has good odi series vs SL

  • hoodbu on January 10, 2014, 21:05 GMT

    I love the last 2 paragraphs - so blunt and true. It's true there is no rotation policy in Pakistan and players are very insecure (rightly so). Umar Gul is lucky that he was picked after a long layoff due to injury. Just look at the players who came in his absence.

    I'm not saying comebacks are impossible in Pakistan as they do happen. But they appear to be random

  • on January 10, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    Hafeez wasn't bowling bad. He was being tight. Considering that Rehman was not playing Misbah should have put Hafeez and Ajmal together.