DHAKA - He is Pakistan’s go-to man against all opposition, in all conditions. Every time any Pakistani captain has looked for a breakthrough, or sought out a bowler to control things, in all formats of the game, he has turned to Saeed Ajmal. More often than not, the off-spinner with easily the best doosra in world cricket has delivered.
A late bloomer – he didn’t play his first international game till he was past 30 – Ajmal has been quickly making up for lost time since his debut in July 2008. In 33 Tests, he has winkled out 169 batsmen at 27.46, inclusive of nine five-wicket innings hauls, while 110 One-Day Internationals have fetched him 182 scalps at a frugal 22.24 and a wonderful economy of 4.14.
Ajmal, though, is at his most effective in the Twenty20 International version, where he is thus far the highest wicket-taker, with an astonishing 83 victims from just 61 games. His average of 17.22, economy of 6.27 and a wicket every 16.4 deliveries are second overall only to Dale Steyn, who, it must be kept in mind, has only played 36 T20Is.
The top three wicket-takers in T20I cricket are all Pakistanis – Umar Gul occupies the second spot with 77 wickets from 54 games while Shahid Afridi has 75 from 72 – and are involved in a personal battle to determine which one of them is the first to 100 international Twenty20 victims. Ajmal clearly has a headstart, and is determined to be the first to get there.
“I am now 17 short, I want to become the first bowler to take 100 wickets in Twenty20 cricket,” proclaims Ajmal.
Pakistan are training at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium nets on a sweltering Friday afternoon and Ajmal is busy perfecting his craft, wheeling away with a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. But as personally ambitious as he is, he has the team’s interests paramount, with Pakistan needing to win against West Indies and Bangladesh in its bid to maintain a wonderful record of having made the semi-final of every edition of the ICC World Twenty20 since its inception in 2007: “My aim is to bowl Pakistan into the semi-final. And we have very good chance of reaching the semifinal.”
Ajmal is one of nine spinners among the top 10 in the ICC ratings for T20I international bowlers, the sole exception being Nuwan Kulasekara, the Sri Lankan medium pacer. The spinners have particularly enjoyed themselves here in Bangaldesh, and especially in Mirpur where they have found no little assistance from the tracks. Ajmal has a record-equalling four four-wicket hauls in T20I cricket, but unlike Gul and Ajantha Mendis (twice each), or Lasith Malinga, Darren Sammy and Tim Southee (one each) among others, he doesn’t have a five-for in this version of the game.
“The wickets here are made for spinners,” announces Ajmal, a sprightly and energetic 36. “That’s why spinners like Amit Mishra and all other spinners have been very effective. I want to take five wickets in an innings during this tournament. It does not matter who my opponents are; be it Bangladesh or West Indies, my aim it to pick as many wickets as possible.”
Ajmal has figures of 4-0-18-1 and 4-0-33-1 against India and Australia respectively, but will fancy better, more productive returns in the two remaining Super 10 matches now that he has a better understanding of conditions, and now that he has bowled in a couple of games at the Sher-e-Bangla.
That he will soon come up against Chris Gayle, the most feared T20 batsman in the world, doesn’t faze him one bit. “I don’t bother who I bowl to because for me, all batsmen are the same,” he says with that lop-sided grin. “Be it Chris Gayle or anyone else, I won’t change my bowling. I will bowl the way I have always bowled. All that I aim for now is to become a consistent performer.” As if he is already not consistent enough. This threat of becoming a more ‘consistent performer’, now, that’s a frightening thought for batsmen the world over.