With tears in his eyes, a slight tremble in his voice but with nothing to regret, Saeed Ajmal officially brought the curtains down on his international and domestic career, after Faisalabad exited the National T20 Cup following their semi-final loss to Lahore Whites in Rawalpindi.
According to Cricinfo, the farewell was not too extravagant: he walked off the field after the match , waving to a nearly empty Rawalpindi Stadium. However, players from both Lahore Whites and Faisalabad gave him a final guard of honour as he left the ground. The PCB, too, arranged for a press conference, which had 'Thank you Saeed Ajmal ' across its backdrop. Ajmal walked into the packed conference room, with every news channel's reporters in anticipation, as the nation saw the Pakistan offspinner - via live feed - battle hard to keep from tearing up.
'It's been 25 years...my love for cricket...so when you retire you do get emotional,' Ajmal said, after taking a moment to gather his thoughts. 'I am retiring with a heavy heart, but I am satisfied with my career. Although I am retiring from international and domestic cricket, I want to stay in touch with cricket through my cricket academy and want to contribute for the country.'
Ajmal, however, did not completely rule out the possibility of playing in T20 leagues elsewhere. 'I want to remain available for foreign T20 leagues, other than the PSL, and want to continue to play the format. But for now I have accepted Islamabad United's offer to be their spin-bowling coach. I think now is the right time to go away. I am 40 years old and I think I am now considered as baggage in domestic teams. So I don't want to lose respect here. I want to leave with my head held high and it's time for the youngsters to come in and take my place.'
Ajmal, who was captaining Faisalabad in the National T20 Cup, finished his final innings with figures of 1 for 13 in four overs. That, however, did not bring an end to his player duties right away. After the match , PCB conducted a dope test with him, the results of which are due only after a week.
Nine years ago, he had made his international debut, when he was chosen by chief selector Salahuddin Salu for the 2008 Asia Cup. Back then, Ajmal was considered one of Pakistan's best spinners, and was soon one of the world's most successful bowlers. He ended his Test career with 178 wickets in 35 Tests at an average of 28.10. His form swelled under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq, when he took 141 wickets in only 26 Tests, including the 24 wickets against England in the UAE in 2011-12, when Pakistan won 3-0.
But for all of Ajmal's successes until 2014, his career was dented due to his bowling action. He was reported for an illegal action twice in his international career and it brought the potency of his doosra - a delivery he used to devastating effect - under a cloud. He was later cleared to bowl by the ICC, albeit with the doosra still outside the limit, but the remodeled action came with a dip in form. He was eventually discarded from the Test team, with his last foreign tour coming against Bangladesh in 2015. Two ODIs and a T20I later, Ajmal faded away.
Ajmal, however, has often been sensitive to criticism on his bowling action, including lashing out at the ICC over their 15-degree flex rule. 'I feel only 10% of all bowlers would be able to stay within the limits defined by the ICC protocols,' Ajmal said. 'I always felt ICC has been hard on Pakistan and PCB never did enough for the bowlers. Doosra is a regular delivery and it's purely legal.
'I don't know why there is a false perception about its legality,' he said. 'It's a routine thing and if a bowler works on it it can be done easily. Not every fast bowler can bowl the reverse swing. Similarly, doosra isn't for everyone. You have to work really hard to master it, and rejecting it is outrageously harsh. It should be encouraged as it was one of the finest deliveries by an offspinner.
'Whatever I have done in my career, I am absolutely happy and proud. I came into the national team after the age of 30 and have done great things for Pakistan. What I have done, many take over 20 years to achieve. Therefore I have achieved everything in my career, but I wish my last match could have been in international cricket. However, I am still happy and thank you to every single person who has supported me through my ups and downs.'
Since Ajmal's exit from the national team, Pakistan had been struggling to find even one promising offspinner, but have never looked back after legspinner Yasir Shah took over the spin-bowling reins. Selectors, however, are still on the look out to find Pakistan's next big offspinner, but haven't found one yet.
'PCB needs to think seriously about it,' Ajmal said on the lack of quality offspinners in Pakistan. 'We are never short of talent and I believe we will never face a drought. We do have offspinners in the system, and they need to be developed, but I am afraid offspinners are being discouraged. They [PCB] should plan to bring offspinners back into the cycle and keep this system alive. We have great offspinners and historically, spinners have done a lot for Pakistan.'