Saeed Ajmal is undoubtedly one of the best off-spinners to ever play the game of cricket. The modern Pakistani great bewildered the batsmen with his variations and on more than one occasion demolished the opposition’s batting line up to help the weak Pakistan batting defend or chase small totals. At a time when batsmen dominated feeble bowling attacks, Saeed Ajmal single-handedly ruled the game of cricket until he was asked to remodel his action in 2014. The off-spinner could never quite maintain his supremacy over batsmen with a new bowling action. Eventually, Saeed Ajmal failed to retain his place in the side due to the emergence of new stars and selector’s persistence to induct young talent in the team. Earlier this month, the ace Pakistani spinner announced his retirement to shift his focus on coaching. Since we will never see Ajmal bowl again; here is a look back at some of the best performances of Ajmal’s career where he made some of the biggest batsmen in world cricket look mediocre.
1. 7 for 55 vs. England
Throughout England’s tour to UAE in 2012, the English batsmen were unable to tackle the Pakistani spinners. Part of the reason, why Pakistani spinners managed to dominate the English lions was because of how badly Saeed Ajmal dented the confidence of the batting line up during the first innings of the very first test match. The ace Pakistani off-spinner spun a web around his victims to claim 7 wickets for just 55 runs. It all started with the dismissal of the England captain Andrew Strauss. The team went from bad to worse losing 3 wickets in quick succession as Saeed Ajmal dismissed Ian Bell and Kevin Peterson in the same over. Despite Matt Prior’s best efforts, England could only manage a modest first innings total of 192. Owing to a strong bowling performance in the first innings, Pakistan won the match by 10 wickets. Unsurprisingly, Saeed Ajmal claimed the player of the match award with a ten-wicket haul.
2. 4 for 19 vs. Ireland
An element that made Saeed Ajmal great was the fact that the off-spinner was equally effective across all formats of the game. Ajmal has always had the tendency to trouble the batsmen irrespective of whether he was bowling in a test match or a T20 game. This was clearly evident during the 2009 T20 world cup where Saeed Ajmal was the second highest wicket-taker of the tournament. His best performance undoubtedly came during the crucial match against Ireland where he picked up 4 wickets giving away just 19 runs. Ajmal’s outstanding spell was critical in helping Pakistan to qualify for the semi-final. The team eventually went on to win the tournament defeating Sri Lanka in the final.
3. 5 for 68 vs. Sri Lanka
The 2011 series against Sri Lanka was the first time Pakistan won a series in the UAE. During the second test match of the series, the men in green produced a brilliant performance to take a first-innings lead of 164. Despite the fact that the Lankan Lions managed to secure a draw from a similar situation during the first match, Saeed Ajmal’s spell in the second innings proved to be the difference in the two games. Ajmal grabbed a five-wicket haul to restrict Sri Lanka to a second innings lead of just 93. As expected, the score was easily chased down and Pakistan won the game by 9 wickets. Ajmal received the player of the match award for his 8 wickets in the game.
4. 5 for 24 vs. India
After claiming the series 2-0, the Pakistani bowlers yet again managed to restrict the Indian batting line-up to just 167 runs during the first innings of the final ODI. At the forefront of this decimation of Indian batting line-up was Saeed Ajmal’s second five-wicket haul in ODI cricket. The off-spinner picked up important wickets during the middle phase of the game to build upon the start provided by the fast bowlers. During his spell, Ajmal managed to claim the important wickets of Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, and Ashwin. Despite Ajmal’s efforts though, the Pakistani batting collapsed because of which the team was unable to claim the victory.
5. 7 for 95 vs. Zimbabwe
Pakistan was heavily depending on its bowling after posting a poor first innings total of 249 during the first test match against Zimbabwe. In reply, Zimbabwe was in a strong position at 195 for 4. In order to save the test match, the men in green needed quick wickets and that is when Saeed Ajmal answered the call of his captain. Ajmal proceeded to run through the Zimbabwean batting line up. He picked up 7 wickets to restrain Zimbabwe’s first innings lead to 78. Ajmal’s spell gave Pakistani batsmen a perfect platform to reclaim the test match. A double hundred from Younis Khan in the third innings sealed the match in Pakistan’s favor. The team went on to win the game by 221 runs and Ajmal picked up 4 more wickets in the second innings.
Throughout his career, Saeed Ajmal made invaluable contributions for Pakistan cricket. It is unfortunate how a legend of his stature was relegated to lesser importance after he had to remodel his action. Despite all the bumps on the road though, Saeed Ajmal will forever be remembered as a spinner who ruled the game of cricket with his talents.