Saeed Ajmal's hopes of returning to Test cricket has taken a hit © Getty Images
Saeed Ajmal’s hopes of returning to Test cricket has taken a hit © Getty Images

The omission of Saeed Ajmal from Pakistan’s squad for the three- Tests against Sri Lanka was noteworthy. It signals the likely end of his era. Abhishek Mukherjee analyses his value for his team at his peak.

When Pakistan’s team management were left in a state of bother due to Saeed Ajmal’s ban, ahead of Australia’s visit to the UAE late last year, their two unheralded spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah fulfilled their roles with wonder to spin Australia to big defeats in the two Tests. So when Ajmal, despite being available to play, has not been picked for the tour of Sri Lanka, there is an understanding that other spinners will show their craft to achieve their team’s goals. READ: Saeed Ajmal will never be same again, opines Bazid Khan

But Ajmal, at least in his older avatar, will be missed. He has taken almost a third of Pakistan’s wickets in the 35 Tests he has played, and between 2011 and 2014 he was the second most prolific spinner in the world, having taken 145 wickets at 25.46, behind Rangana Herath, who played nine more matches and averaged more. He was Pakistan’s main bowling threat, anywhere.

In the UAE, he has taken 67 wickets at 26.46 and his part in his side’s victories shows in his 43 wickets at 17.95 in Pakistan’s six wins there. He partnered with Abdur Rehman to work England’s batting out to craft a 3-0 whitewash in 2012 — the duo took 43 wickets, with Ajmal leading the wickets tally at 24. READ: Saeed Ajmal’s new bowling action: More round-arm, with a much straighter elbow

Pakistan’s dependence on him is demonstrated by his contribution in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town early 2013. In a lopsided contest, and against a team that was at their peak, he bridged the gap between the two teams in their depth by taking ten wickets to keep Pakistan in the hunt, and mitigated the margin of loss to four wickets. In the other two Tests, in which he failed to make much impact, Pakistan lost by 211 runs and an innings and 14 runs.

But the increasing burden on him appeared to take its toll. It was observed by analysts that because of such expectations, and the workload, the bend in his action increased. Despite having a successful 2012, in which year he took the most number of Test wickets in the world — 39 at 20.56 —  he was ignored in the ICC Test cricketer of the year award list, sparking speculations of unfairness due to hidden doubts over his bowling action. READ: Pakistan axe Saeed Ajmal for Test series in Sri Lanka

It is to his credit that he has slogged to rework his action, to be able to bowl at the international level. He was not able to show his effectiveness in the two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and a Twenty20 he played in Bangladesh in April, but such is the expectation from him that was required to display all his quality immediately upon his arrival from the period of bowling rehab. His Sri Lankan spinning counterpart, Herath, who is also 37, and who has also been his country’s spin leader in the last few years, has been unsurprisingly selected in the squad for the upcoming series.

Ajmal hasn’t. With his improving quality in the reworked action on show in ongoing NatWest T20 Blast — in his last game he took 3 for 16 to help Worcestershire to a three-run win over Durham — who is to say he would have been returned barren in the Tests against Sri Lanka if he had been selected?

But Pakistan’s selectors have clearly indicated their inclination to provide all spinning responsibilities to Babar and Yasir, and believe the best is behind Ajmal. If it is a long-term decision — which it seems to be, considering his age — then Ajmal’s era is over, but if the judgment is based on the handful of limited-overs matches in Bangladesh, it smells fickle and unfair, regardless of whether others in his role perform their duties to satisfaction. READ: Sri Lanka vs Pakistan,1st Test at Galle: Preview

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)