During the Pakistan Super League, I got the opportunity to face an over of Saeed Ajmal in the ICC's Global Academy nets in Dubai. Ajmal may not be the same bowler since he changed his action, but I've never been much of a batsman. The aim? Prevent him from taking a double hat-trick. Here is ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary of how the over played out.
0.1 Ajmal to Samiuddin, lbw appeal, turned down - by me at least. I am not a batsman. In my youth, I could call myself a fast(ish)-bowling allrounder and get away with it. I have one fifty that I can remember in hard-ball cricket, for my school side. I made an unbeaten 49 once for WG Gracefully, a warm and welcoming old-time club I played for in Sussex. But I should have walked when I gloved the ball behind on five and was given not out. In tape-ball cricket, I am known as "Younis", fairly restrained ribbing for my inability to do anything other than nudge singles.
This first ball, of flattish trajectory, slips off the surface like it's marble. In club cricket, this pace makes him a medium-pacer. It homes in on me and I can hear it. I can hear the revs. This is it - the famous sound batsmen spoke of when they faced big turners like Muttiah Muralitharan or Shane Warne. Is it a whir or a flutter? The only sound I can equate it to is a really fast spinning of the wheel on the "Game of Life" board game.
Before bowling it, Ajmal says it will be a doosra. It is not. It could be that he's playing with me, or it could be that it just didn't come out right.
It lands on a length I can't get forward to. In batting, my feet are purely for standing upon. Forget dancing down the pitch, even a simple forward press is too much coordination. I move back and away as it lands and, on hitting a dry patch, breaks in. It isn't big turn, just enough turn. Like in a classic No. 11 leg-before dismissal, I am beaten so comprehensively, I can only jerk back and offer a pointless prod.
I can't be out, though, because I haven't really bothered taking guard and am actually standing outside leg stump. This would have gone down leg. Ajmal appeals. My head is not falling over, at least, I note, but the only other thing that has gone right is that it is a massive no-ball.
0.2 Ajmal to Samiuddin, 1 run (maybe), the one shot I do play a lot is a late dab. It is a shot to compensate for a crippling lack of strength, which essentially translates into an inability to hit straight or, in fact, anywhere in front of square. The dab requires only the ability to turn the wrists and deflect balls. My school fifty was built entirely on this shot.
Before bowling it, Ajmal says it will be a doosra. It is not. It could be that he's playing with me, or it could be that it just didn't come out right. Or it could just be that, over a week later, I still haven't read it. Batsmen are trained to pick bowlers from the hand, to note the subtlest changes in grip, to spot which way the seam is angled, to recognise which side the shine is on, to see which way the ball is rotating. At this moment, I'd like to call hogwash on that. It must be a total lie, a false construct behind which cricketers pretend they are superhuman. Maybe it's the deteriorating light but it seems more important to work out where the ball might land, and then to prepare for what it might do, than trying to pick it from his hand. Doing that is just wasting time that could be better spent getting ready to react (and batting is becoming, of course, increasingly proactive). In fact, I barely notice his action throughout.
The ball, I'm sure, actually spins into me a little. There's more bounce, so maybe it was something different. Until I saw myself playing it, I used to think I played this shot with a more horizontal bat. I don't. It's more an indeterminate little dink that, at best, can aspire to the status of the pressure-reliever shot for one run that so many batsmen use. To them it's a compromise, when none of the other vast selection of shots they possess can be used. To me, it's a lifeline. Ajmal says he has two slips, short leg and short cover. I'd like to think, given a lifetime of playing this, that I would have found a gap.
"Well played, well played," Ajmal says. He's taking the piss.
0.3 Ajmal to Samiuddin, 1 run (in hope), another dab, though this time it is to the offbreak. I've played it better, a little more delicately and with the bat more horizontal. But I'm getting restless because I'm letting him dominate.
04 Ajmal to Samiuddin, FOUR (or out), and the frustrations of the first three balls mean I have to chance it. No more dinks, or dabs. Generally speaking, once I'm more settled - or the field has been plugged to stop the late dab - I go leg side.
Ajmal pitches outside off and I move my left foot towards it. My misjudgement of the length is comically huge. I'm at least six to seven feet short of where the ball has pitched
I once hit ten runs off the last over to win a game for WG. Off the first ball, I walked down the pitch - in my mind, it was a bit of Javed Miandad improv - and hoisted a full delivery on my shins high over the boundary between long-on and midwicket. It is, for context, my finest bit of batting. Two years ago, in a game against a team of journalists from India, I pulled a boundary over midwicket at the Sharjah stadium - the opposite end from the Miandad six - which, given the sluggish pitch and heavy outfield, was probably my second greatest shot ever.
Here, I decide I'll sweep. It is risky, given I'm not wearing protection other than gloves and pads. I haven't often played the sweep, but instinctively it feels the right way to go. Younis Khan, the greatest player of the sweep in the modern game, says he rarely practises it in the nets. He just goes out and plays it, and in that spirit I go.
Ajmal pitches outside off and I move my left foot towards it. My misjudgement of the length is comically huge. I'm at least six to seven feet short of where the ball has pitched, so I have to play a sweep on the up. Neither am I stretching as far or kneeling as low as I should be - lunges are not my thing, at least not with jeans on.
Still, I make contact and it has got to be said, it doesn't look a bad shot. It's not a conventional sweep but one you might recognise from the 1950s, when we were in the earliest stages in the evolution of this shot. No Brylcreem to help me either.
Ajmal is surprised, as it zips off my bat over fine leg (or maybe into that fielder's hands): "Good shot!" he says in disbelief. Four, I signal; maybe one, he replies. Wristy for sure, given that I picked it from outside off. I don't tell him that as I rolled my wrists over it, the elevation only came because I got a top edge.
0.5 Ajmal to Samiuddin, 1 run (definitely). There are maybe two good off-side shots, in front of square, I can remember having played in my life. One was a vicious square cut - marginally in front of square - with a connection so sweet I have never since replicated it. The ball deserved it, short, outside off, and low. A no-nonsense, chunky South African allrounder who played a few games for us that season later said he was happy somebody had really belted a square cut and not just dabbed one. It may have been a dig at me.
The other was a punch through extra cover, my only boundary in that area. It was a full toss outside off, and I remember not moving my feet at all but instead lunging top-half-first towards it. I played it before Virender Sehwag made his Test debut.
I add a little flourish - Caribbean? - at the end, for the cameras. It goes square, not behind, or in front, but dead square. No run says Ajmal. He's probably right
Perhaps not amused by the sweep, Ajmal bowls quicker and flatter, just outside off. It is fullish by professional cricket standards. To me, it's enough to not move and try a cut, which, on viewing, is a variation of the late dab, just with marginally more intent. I go at the ball rather than deflect it. I add a little flourish - Caribbean? - at the end, for the cameras. It goes square, not behind, or in front, but dead square. No run says Ajmal. He's probably right.
0.6 Ajmal to Samiuddin, FOUR, for sure. Ajmal has given up, most likely because of the lack of a challenge. I'm emboldened and decide early to finish with a lap-scoop, or the Misbah. I've never entertained the thought of playing one, let alone attempted to.
Before Ajmal gets to his release point, I have hopped across outside off. The ball is wide, almost as wide as Joginder Sharma's. By the time the ball is in its slow, loopy flight, I'm standing off the pitch. I have time enough to think of a dozen shots but have the actual ability to play, maybe, one.
It's so slow that I can wait for it to get almost behind me before I scoop it round the corner, bottom-handed. Sreesanth is not waiting there.