Saeed Ajmal (above) has had a comparatively drier series than his Sri Lankan counterpart, Rangana Herath © AFP
The off-spinner has had a dry spell recently, but his struggle is not quite what selectors would be fretting over. Abhijit Banare elaborates why it makes sense for Saeed Ajmal to take it easy and focus on one game at a time.
In his short Test career of 32 matches, Saeed Ajmal has picked over five wickets on an average in a match (with 164 scalps overall). This number is much ahead than the two spin legends of the modern era: Muttiah Muralitharan who had 132 wickets and Shane Warne with 155. Except for age, Ajmal is on a higher pedestal than the spin legends. Yet during the Test series against Sri Lanka, Ajmal has allowed a bubble to build around himself that he is struggling for wickets and in turn forcing himself out of it with determined statements. The statistic of Ajmal getting a wicket after 77.2 overs is just another number which will hardly be remembered as he progresses and gets back in to his rhythm.
Though the wickets haven’t been turners to assist Ajmal, a bulk of his pressure is also added by the fact that his counterpart Rangana Herath has done well on the same wickets. Instead of feeling pressurised, the offie has a lesson or two to pick from Herath. Both running in the latter half of 30s don’t seem to have a long career ahead of them. But Herath has honed his skills on bowling in such conditions. As Ajmal said on the eve of the second Test, “I am doing the hard work and will bounce back. The ball isn’t spinning and they are playing cautiously, if I had got some spin the result would have been different. I have been playing in Dubai for the last six years, but haven’t seen such a bad response as here.”
The flip side of setting the bar high early on only gets on to you when there is a perceived slump some time later in the career. That’s what we often heard about Sachin Tendulkar. It’s just a matter of time when champions fight back.
Probably Ajmal is going through the same state as someone like Ravichandran Ashwin was faced with in pitches where there was nothing on offer for him (in Australia and South Africa). But the Pakistan off-spinner is a far better bowler to worry about a poor series or two to drag him down. If that happens, Ajmal will have only himself to blame because it’s all in the mind.
By being ahead in numbers in comparison to some of the greats, it is all about expectations. In his Test career so far, Ajmal has gone wicketless only once which was in South Africa this year. By being a wicket-taker, the captain always tosses up the ball to him with an assurance that he will get the breakthrough. At the same time, credit to the Sri Lankan batsmen for not conceding their wickets easily and playing the waiting game.
At the end of the day, Ajmal would think that his fellow countryman, Saqlain Mushtaq had the best solution to offer. “He 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. He can still play for some more years and is our match winner,” Mushtaq said.
And if a better example is required, then Ajmal should look up to Dale Steyn. The pacer was under scrutiny for not tormenting the batsmen. Just when the voices were clamouring, he fought back with a six-for against India in a brilliant display of his skills, outsmarting the Indians. As mentioned earlier, the flip side of setting the bar high early on only gets on to you when there is a perceived slump some time later in the career. That’s what we often heard about Sachin Tendulkar. It’s just a matter of time when champions fight back.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)