Consider the circumstances: Shoaib Akhtar was in his decline, Asif and Amir had been banned.
The lone spinner, Danish Kaneria had his fair share of controversies.
2 premier batsmen, Younis and Yousuf had been banned due to differences with the board.
Zulqarnain Haider, the wicketkeeper had scampered off mid-tour.
Shahid Afridi, the captain had cowardly retired in the middle of a tour. His replacement, Salman Butt had been banned for fixing too.
To top it all, no cricket was being played back home, courtesy the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team.
What did common sense suggest? By no means of imagination could a sane man expect Pakistan to rise back. But then, common sense and Pakistan cricket are as distant to each other as Liverpool and a Premier League trophy. Pakistan had always defied expectations, stunned observers, stupefied oppositions and this time was going to be nothing less.
At that time, the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan was Misbah’s appointment. The second best thing was, finding a match-winning bowler, and in Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan found solace.
Had it not been for Waseem Haider, the then Faisalabad coach, Saeed might have never played for Pakistan. He was reportedly (literally) kicked out of the dressing room by the previous coach but Waseem, a member of the 1992 World Cup winning squad decided to give him another chance when he took over as coach. That paid dividends as Saeed not only won matches for Faisalabad but he was fast-tracked into the national team.
Though Ajmal’s international career began in 2006, it wasn’t until 2010 that he cemented his place permanently. Pakistan played 10 test matches in 2011, and Ajmal, now a vital cog in the team played all of them. He finished the year with 50 wickets, the most by any bowler throughout the year. In addition to this, he ended the year as the number 1 ranked bowler in the ICC ODI rankings.
2012 began with Saeed Ajmal’s and probably Pakistan’s greatest series of the past decade or so. With the scars of the 2010 England series still fresh on the Pakistan team, they hosted England in the UAE for a 3 match test series. Saeed Ajmal had already built up the hype, supposedly about a new delivery he had invented. This came as a shock to England as they were already worried about how to combat the doosra.
The story behind the new delivery is exactly what you’d expect from a Faisalabadi. Ajmal himself narrates that: I remember one day our manager came to me and asked, “Yaar, why don’t you invent a new variation for this series?” I told him, “They can’t handle the variations I already have, what will they do with new ones?” He replied, “O yaar, just create some false hype, put out a rumour and name it the teesra.” I was about to have my third child. So I announced to the world that the teesra is coming.
The rest of the team played along. Hafeez while creating more doubts for the opponents remarked that “I have played his delivery in the nets. I can’t tell more about it, he can better tell you. He has this new weapon and has command over it”.
The series began in Dubai and Saeed Ajmal became too hot to handle. His 10 wickets in the match propelled Pakistan to a 10 wicket victory.
In the second match in Abu Dhabi, England were set a paltry target of 145 runs. During the final innings break, Ajmal says that Mohsin Khan, Pakistan’s coach asked him how the pitch was behaving. Ajmal told him the wicket was deteriorating and spinning more than normal. “If we get the openers somehow then you watch – Pietersen is mine, Bell is mine. In fact, Bell and Morgan were so under my thumb that they batted like they were blindfolded. I said, “Aena nu mei nai chaddna!” [I won’t let them go.] Ajmal’s 7 and Abdur Rehman’s 8 wickets in the match meant Pakistan defended 145 runs and thus went 2-0 up in the series.
In the 3rd match at Dubai, Ajmal and Rehman again took 7 wickets apiece. Ajmal ended up with 24 in the series as Pakistan inflicted a crushing whitewash on the world No.1’s, avenging their 2010 series.
Pakistan then went to South Africa in 2013. Although they were humbled 3-0, Saeed Ajmal returned with his head high. Pakistan were humiliated in the 1st test at Wanderers, where the hosts had prepared a green top. When Pakistan arrived in Cape Town for the 2nd test, Ajmal had one look at the pitch and haughtily remarked that “I’ll take 10 wickets here”. The groundsman reminded him that the record here by a spinner is 7 wickets by Harbhajan Singh. But Ajmal insisted that he’ll take 10. He kept his word, taking 10 wickets in the match but batting collapses and no support from the other end meant Pakistan lost that match too.
His action got reported in 2014 and he was subsequently banned for a suspect action. This came after he had a successful County season, taking 56 wickets for Worcestershire. Although he came back with a remodelled action, but he never became as menacing as he was before the ban.
All in all, Ajmal took 5 wickets in an innings 10 times in tests and 2 times in ODI’s. He ended up with 178 test, 184 ODI and 85 T-20 wickets. On 23rd March 2015, keeping in view his services for Pakistan cricket, the President of Pakistan conferred upon him the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s 3rd highest civilian award.
Saeed Ajmal finally hung up his boots on 13th November 2017. He’ll be remembered as a modern day great and we’re truly privileged to have seen Saeed Ajmal bowling in his prime.
Adios legend, your legacy will live on forever!