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