Saeed Ajmal will go down as one of Pakistan cricket's most intriguing characters. A beguiling offspinner who seemed to be at or near the top of the rankings for much of the relatively short time he played international cricket, his variations flummoxed batsmen of all calibres across the cricketing landscape. In love with a sport that always seemed to keep him at arm's length, Ajmal's abiding memory will be the countless variations he seemed to have up his sleeve. His stock delivery wasn't half bad, but it was the doosra that opened him up to attention as well as cynicism. There was indeed even a delivery he named the teesra (the third one), though whether even he knew what that one did is open for debate. ESPNcricinfo looks at six of his most brilliant dismissals - whether they came via the doosra, teesra, or the arm ball.
If Ajmal could have one particular doosra framed that would take pride of place on his mantelpiece, this is the specimen he would choose. Chanderpaul was one of the world's most in-form batsman at that time, and in an inexperienced West Indian side, their most important player. West Indies were 162 for 6, with Chanderpaul, as he so often was, the last recognised batsman standing. At his home ground, no less. But Ajmal went around the wicket and pitched the ball outside off, tempting the batsman into a drive. Chanderpaul obliged, but found himself completely deceived by what was a doosra. The ball spun like a legbreak, ripping through the gate and hitting the middle stump.
This match would have been a comfortable Pakistan victory even without Ajmal's contribution, win it as they did by 10 wickets and nearly 30 overs to spare. But that didn't stop him from sprinkling his magic on the occasion, and it came at the hapless Darren Sammy's expense. With West Indies already six down for 71, Ajmal bowled a doosra that pitched around off stump. It straightened sharply, instead of carrying on with the angle, hitting Sammy around middle stump. Most memorable about this dismissal, though, were the batsman's movements leading up to it. Sammy had moved to his right initially, looking to flick it on the legside, before appearing to panic as he realised it wasn't a stock offbreak. At one point, he just seemed to stop and give up the ghost on it, a passive viewer as it crashed into his front pad just below the knee roll.
This was a remarkable delivery in its own right, but the context makes his performance even more heroic. This was Pakistan's first T20 since the 2010 World T20 semis, where Michael Hussey had smashed Ajmal for 22 off the game's last four balls to wrench victory from Pakistan. It was Ajmal's chance to put the demons from that day to bed. Chasing 168, Australia were on course, thanks to David Warner, who was on 41 off 30 balls. Ajmal went around the wicket, and just as he entered his delivery stride, Warner backed away, looking to hit him over cover. Ajmal seemed to make a last-minute adjustment, pulling his length back. Warner, nowhere near the pitch of the ball, tried to go through with the shot anyway. But as the ball landed, it skidded on, crashing into middle stump well before Warner was through with his shot. The danger man gone, Australia crumbled, and Pakistan went on to win by 23 runs.
This is the wicket Ajmal is perhaps proudest of. In what turned out to be the last ODI of Tendulkar's career, he found himself undone by a gem from the offspinner. India were chasing a mammoth 330, and had lost Gautam Gambhir in the first over. But Tendulkar and Virat Kohli had put on a superb partnership, adding 133 at a run rate of nearly seven, and taking control of the chase.
Ajmal would still have his say, though. Coming around the wicket to bowl the last ball Tendulkar would face in his ODI career, he pitched a length ball on middle stump. Tendulkar pressed forward, closed the face of the bat, and looked to play with the spin on the leg side. However, he had not accounted for the possibility it was a doosra, which proved to be his undoing. The ball grazed the outside edge and carried to Younis Khan at first slip. Ajmal later boasted, tongue firmly in cheek, that it was that particular delivery which forced Tendulkar into retirement.
That Pietersen struggled against left-arm spinners was well known, but he was never really comfortable against Ajmal either. The offspinner dismissed him 10 times in his career, and five of those were either bowled, lbw or caught behind the wicket. While most of them were world-class deliveries, the penultimate one in Dubai arguably topped the lot.
England needed 324 for a consolation win, and at 116 for 2, with Pietersen and Alastair Cook in the middle, the match was in the balance. Ajmal came around the wicket, as he so often did against Pietersen. The ball pitched outside the off stump, and the batsman leant forward, presenting a dead bat. The only problem was he had left the smallest of gaps between bat and pad, and the ball, a conventional offbreak, turned back in, sneaking through the tiny gate and into the stumps. With the dangerman gone, Pakistan took wickets at regular intervals, securing the whitewash with a comfortable 71-run win.
Pakistan's tours to South Africa have never been happy occasions, so winning mini battles have given the side comfort. On such a tour in 2013, on the third day in Cape Town, Ajmal was in sublime form and went onto pick up a six-wicket haul. Here, in his own words, is how he laid a trap for Hashim Amla.
"I was bowling to Amla and he kept getting runs off the back foot to leg. Misbah asked me what I was doing, and I told him to take the slip to square leg so I can stop his single. Misbah asked 'then what' and I said, I'll tempt him outside off stump and if he misses, he'll be lbw. I gave him an off-stump line for one over, and he kept going back to square leg and hitting it to the fielder. I went through another over, and then when I faced him I bowled it faster, above 90kph, and pinned him on the back foot. It wasn't given, but I was convinced and took the review. It was plumb."