Pakistan offspinner Saeed Ajmal has dismissed speculations of retirement, insisting he’s still a “good limited-overs bowler”, even as chief selector Haroon Rasheed said he was looking forward to “judge him” in the national T20 main round beginning next week in Rawalpindi.
Ajmal, who completed his county stint with Worcestershire recently, felt he had “two years of competitive cricket” left in him. “I never wanted to retire in obscurity as I have done enough for Pakistan to win matches singlehandedly,” said Ajmal. “I want to retire with respect and honour. I will definitely sit with the selectors and discuss my future plan with them.”
Ajmal has seen his career nosedive ever since he was banned from international bowling in September last year. He remodelled his action – it was cleared five months after he was banned – but his bowling was shorn of its earlier menace.
He returned less than impressive numbers for Worcestershire as well, having played nearly an entire season for 16 wickets at an average of 51.25. Ajmal’s fallow phase coincided with the rise of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar, who have cornered Pakistan’s spin-bowling spots.
“Obviously I needed some time to settle down with my bowling action,” Ajmal said. “I could have persisted for the national selection earlier but it might have been a risky case as we have seen [Mohammad] Hafeez is reported again after been cleared. So it’s a matter of getting things right and wait for the right time.”
Ajmal didn’t play a single international till he was nearly 31, but he made up for that over the next few years, stacking up more than 400 wickets across formats. While at the height of his powers, he was even offered Pakistan’s T20 captaincy, but he declined, reckoning he was better as a “team player.”
“Cricket is cruel sometimes but I always said one can’t relax,” Ajmal said. “People forget the good and make the bad part our defining feature. There are ups and downs in cricket and you can’t deny the fact every day is a new day and you can’t be taking five or ten wickets in every match. We are human and its natural to have good days and bad days.
“Regardless of being reported, there were odds that I might have faced a dip in form, could have struggled taking wickets with previous action as well and then what? Actually it’s not really a case that I am not effective, it’s a matter of form and confidence that I just need to hit and I have started to get flow.
“I know I am not able to get wickets in four-day cricket maybe because the pitches [in England] are green, soft and it rains a lot but at the same time I am still a better limited-overs bowler and taking wickets in the shorter format. I was assured that I will be considered and won’t be discarded. I also understand that Yasir and Zulfi are doing very well and I don’t want to dislodge their place but I think there is some room for me in limited-overs cricket and I will prove that in the T20 cup in Pakistan.”
Rasheed acknowledged Ajmal’s persistence and said he was ready to assess him. He said the doors were never shut on any player, including Ajmal, but there was a yardstick in place by which he would be judged. “I understand Ajmal has been a No. 1 bowler and has been a great servant for Pakistan cricket and we never wanted to discard him. But we want an effective Ajmal and we are always open for any discussion with him.”
Ajmal, who will turn 38 next month, will be playing for Faisalabad Region under Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq. He will have at least five group matches to impress the selectors – who will be monitor the performances of the players for the upcoming Zimbabwe series starting from September 27.
“We are not asking him to retire or stay away but he needs to realise the situation realistically where he stands and what is the requirement,” Rasheed said. “We have created such an environment for anyone to come to us and discuss with us about anything. But at the same time he has a opportunity to play in the T20 cup next week and there we will consider his performance.”