Saeed Ajmal was banned by the ICC due to suspect action © Getty Images
Saeed Ajmal was banned by the ICC due to suspect action © Getty Images

Saeed Ajmal has been the backbone of Pakistan’s bowling attack for the last few years and his absence severely dented them in the One-Day International (ODI) series against Australia. However, Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah have shown that all hope is not yet lost in the spin department. Shiamak Unwalla looks at the performance by the two spinners in the ongoing Test against Australia.

For someone who made his debut well after the age of 30, Saeed Ajmal rose through the ranks admirably to become perhaps the leading off-spinner in world cricket. He rescued, set up, or won games for Pakistan on more than one occasion, against more than one opponent.
So when he was suspended from bowling following a suspect action, it was no surprise that his services were sorely missed by Pakistan. This was quite apparent in the ODI series against Australia, where Pakistan were decimated 3-0.

Australia were expected to dominate similarly in the Test series as well. To say that the way in which the first Test has progressed has been a surprise, would be understating just how much of a turnaround Pakistan have enjoyed. It started with Younis Khan and Sarfaraz Ahmed’s centuries in the first innings, and continued with Younis and Ahmed Shehzad’s tons in their second essay.

But it is on either side of Pakistan’s second innings that the tale of resurgence truly emerges. David Warner scored his customary ton — albeit after enjoying a reprieve when Younis failed to hold on to a chance off Zulfiqar — to get Australia off to a flying start, but once a couple of wickets fell, the Pakistani spin trio of Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir Shah, and Mohammad Hafeez came to the fore.

Zulfiqar started the rout dismissing Australia’s best batsman against spin — and best batsman, period — Michael Clarke in classical left-arm spinner fashion; he induced an inside edge onto the pad which was duly taken by the fielder at forward short leg. Then it was Yasir Shah’s turn to celebrate his maiden Test wicket when Steve Smith cut probably the worst ball of the match straight to Hafeez at point.

If that wicket was purely the result of Yasir’s good fortune, his next wicket was just the opposite; in the first over after Lunch, Yasir flighted one up that bounced, turned sharply, and took out Warner’s off stump. It needed a special delivery to get rid of a man who had scored 133 sublime runs, and Yasir’s ball was nothing if not that. Warner’s wicket opened the floodgates, and Australia added less than 100 runs after that.

Then came Australia’s second innings, where the two spinners showed just how dangerous they could be. Zulfiqar got Warner and Alex Doolan in the same over, and Yasir followed suit by getting rid of Clarke and night-watchman Nathan Lyon within three balls of each other.
Australia will need a special performance if they are to survive Pakistan’s spin test. If Yasir and Zulfiqar carry on in a similar vein, the match could well be over within a session. What will make Pakistan truly happy is that despite Ajmal’s absence, it has been the spinners who have done the job for Pakistan. In Zulfiqar and Yasir, Pakistan have two extremely different bowlers who can be equally lethal — a sign that there is life after Ajmal.

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic. You can follow him on Twitter @ShiamakUnwalla)