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Pakistan left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman retires from international cricket

Abdur Rehman struck twice off consecutive balls AFP

Ninety-nine and gone. Pakistan left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, who in tandem with Saeed Ajmal, was such a key figure in the early years of the Misbah era, has bid farewell to international cricket.

International cricket can argue it had done likewise to Rehman, 38, over four years ago, when he played his last game, a Test against Sri Lanka in Colombo. He took three wickets in a defeat and what he would've given for just one more - that would've been a 100th Test wicket, making him only the second left-arm spinner from Pakistan to that landmark (Iqbal Qasim remains the only one).

"It's a very difficult decision to retire from international cricket and I take it with a heavy heart," Rehman said. He intends to keep playing domestic cricket as well as pursue opportunities on the T20 circuit.

Though he will be remembered for his contributions to the Misbah era, Rehman debuted under Inzamam-ul-Haq's captaincy, in an ODI series against West Indies in 2006-07. He even picked up eight wickets on his Test debut against South Africa in October 2007 before dropping out from contention in an attack that relied on Danish Kaneria as the main spin option.

But it was only when Misbah took over the captaincy and changed tack to spin in the UAE that Rehman came into his element. He quickly became the perfect foil for Ajmal, his quick, whirring left-arm spin haranguing a succession of overseas batsmen.

The peak came in the 2011-12 clean sweep of England where he picked up 19 wickets. Ajmal took the headlines but it was Rehman who secured the pivotal Abu Dhabi win, a career-best 6-25 skittling England out for 72, when the target was just 145.

That whole year was productive. In the first 13 Tests of Misbah's captaincy, he took 64 wickets, in places as unlikely as New Zealand.

"The partnership with Saeed was really great and I can't ever forget that England series when we clean swept them," he said. "I played in World Cups, in T20s so am very grateful I managed all that. I'm sad I couldn't get that 100th wicket, that would've really been something, but I'm still grateful for 99 wickets in 22 Tests. Very few left-arm spinners have that."

He never quite returned to those heights, though it has to be said he never stopped taking wickets. At the end of 2012 he was banned for 12 weeks for failing a dope test, but had he gotten a wicket more in his last Test, he would've been the third-fastest Pakistani to the landmark in terms of Tests played. His last Test, as it turned out, was also Ajmal's last Test. Soon after Pakistan introduced Yasir Shah and, in place of Rehman, Zulfiqar Babar, and that was that.

Not even the bizarre end to his ODI career, however, - when he was barred from bowling for delivering three successive illegal full tosses even before he had bowled a legal delivery (thus producing figures of 0-0-8-0) - will overshadow what was a short but fine career.