Pakistan’s chances of success in Sri Lanka will very much depend on Saeed Ajmal’s (left) form © Getty Images
Both Rangana Herath and Saeed Ajmal are amongst the most dangerous spinners in the world. When Sri Lanka and Pakistan clash in the upcoming Test series, they face batsmen who handle the tweakers well. Records suggest that though they have picked against each other’s sides, they haven’t bamboozled them completely. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes that the Herath-Ajmal tussle may be the decisive factor in the Test series.
When two sub-continental giants clash in a Test series, spin invariably plays an important role. And, when Sri Lanka and Pakistan lock horns, the tweakers come into focus considering their game-changing value. There was a time when Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq led the attacks for their respective side with the aim to destroy the opponents. Over the years, the baton may have changed over to a few hands, but it now safely lies with Rangana Herath and Saeed Ajmal.
Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajmal and Herath are easily the most dangerous spinners in the sub-continent. On surfaces that aid their kind, they can wreak serious havoc in the opposition ranks. Ashwin is yet to face Sri Lanka or Pakistan, teams who play spin well, but has dazzled the others at home. Both Herath and Ajmal have done well against each other’s nations. Herath doesn’t have a very good record against India; Ajmal is yet to play the arch-rivals in the white flannels.
There is that continuing mystery about Ajmal. Though he has been around for six years, batsmen haven’t yet been able to pick him well. They wait for that lethal one that turns away, without any perceptible change in the action. Then, there is a faster one which just comes through with the arm. To the left-handers, he foxes them with a slingly delivery that just drifts into them. With all these deliveries in his armoury, Ajmal poses a serious threat to the Sri Lankans.
As both Sri Lanka and Pakistan have played a lot of Test cricket against each other since 2009, Ajmal is now amongst the most successful spinners against the Lankans. Only Anil Kumble and Shane Warne have taken more wickets against Sri Lanka. Ajmal is only three wickets away from overhauling Warne’s mark. Ajmal has managed 57 wickets in 12 Tests with only two five wicket hauls but has been able to deliver crucial wickets. It is a reflection of the fact that the Sri Lankans play spin well and he continues to ask them question. Thus, it unfolds into an interesting tussle when quality batsmen take on his craft.
Living under the shadow of Muralitharan during the first decade of his international career, Herath found his first big break against Pakistan in 2009, when he bowled some crucial spells at home. It was during that series that Herath made a huge impact in international cricket and hasn’t looked back since. Unlike Ajmal, Herath doesn’t have all those mysterious variations. But, that does not mean he doesn’t baffle batsmen. With his remarkable persistence and the ability to hit the right areas consistently, Herath keeps them on a leash.
For Sri Lanka, Herath is the second-most successful spinner against Pakistan. Muralitharan had taken 80 wickets in 16 matches and Herath is on 65 from 15. Herath averages in the 30s against Pakistan and has three five wicket hauls against them, two of which came in that breakthrough series in 2009. Again, this reflects the battle with the batsmen. Pakistan batsman can play spin well and they have been able to tackle Herath. Yet, the Sri Lankan left-arm spinner also manages to land his own punches.
The great thing about the upcoming contest is that both have found able partners. Ajmal had Abdur Rehman, who also bowls with character and is persistent. Herath has found Dilruwan Perera, who is riding high on his recent five-wicket haul against South Africa. Both sides know the value of their spinners and the strengths of the opposition. It would be no surprise if the spinner who performs better in this series, would end up on the winning side.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)