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

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

  • Dummy4 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

  • Stark 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.

  • Sello 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 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 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.

  • James 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?

  • Android on January 11, 2014, 6:14 GMT

    tiger of pakistan

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Jawwad 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.

  • Android 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