Once ranked as the world's best ODI bowler as well as being a magician with the red ball, Saeed Ajmal's international career took a dramatic turn in 2014 when his bowling action was deemed illegal by the ICC and required a complete modification. In his first match with a remodelled action in early 2015, Ajmal conceded 74 runs for no wickets in an ODI against Bangladesh. He played two more matches in a Pakistan shirt but failed to impress, resulting in his axing from the side.
Fast-forward one year and Ajmal remains hopeful of bamboozling the world's top batsmen once again. In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the 38-year-old off-spinner talked about a wide range of issues including his new bowling action, the ICC's testing procedures for actions, day-night Test cricket and Mickey Arthur's appointment as Pakistan coach.
By Saj Sadiq (15th May, 2016)
PakPassion.net : You must be disappointed after being omitted from the camp ahead of the tour of England?
Saeed Ajmal : Disappointed isn't a word that is in my vocabulary. Nothing disappoints me these days and nothing has ever disappointed me throughout my career. Ups and downs are part and parcel of any sportsperson's career so you have to accept the highs and lows. All I can do is concentrate on working hard and maintaining my fitness and if it's in my destiny to play for Pakistan in future, then that is exactly what will happen. If it's not meant to be that I play for Pakistan again, then so be it. I have served my country with pride and honour and I am very happy with what I have achieved with the Pakistan cricket team.
PakPassion.net : You've not played a great deal of cricket recently, do you think that's why you have been ignored for the preparation camp?
Saeed Ajmal : It was going well in the Pakistan Super League for me, but then I suffered an injury after Sharjeel Khan hit a ball at me during practice and I was out for six weeks after suffering a shin fracture. I returned in the recent Pakistan Cup fifty over tournament and I was satisfied with my bowling during that competition. The more cricket I can play, the more at ease I will be with my new deliveries and slightly altered bowling action. I'm working on my new deliveries as well as looking to bring back my previous deliveries that were so effective.
PakPassion.net : Have you found bowling difficult since your return from the International Cricket Council (ICC) ban?
Saeed Ajmal : It feels like I'm starting my career again. Honestly it's felt like I was back at school learning how to bowl again. I've had to redevelop my bowling and re-invent myself as a cricketer. It's been a long, tough road but I'm happy with where I am at the moment and I'm pleased with my form. The only negative I feel is that I've not been able to play enough cricket and as much cricket as I would have liked to.
PakPassion.net : Do you think that the International Cricket Council rules regarding bowling actions are too strict?
Saeed Ajmal : Modern day cricket has become a game that has been designed for batsmen. Spinners are penalised for their bowling actions but look at the size of cricket bats these days, they are like tree trunks. Also look at the power-play rules and the relevant field-settings. Fast bowlers have been given two bouncers an over, but what concessions have the spinners been given? I'll tell you what they've been given, nothing apart from more suspicion and scrutiny. The art of off-spin is dying. The number of off-spinners around the world is dwindling and even some of those have dodgy actions. I feel that as a Pakistani I am scrutinised more than bowlers from other countries. Everyone can see that some bowlers are getting away with their actions, but others are monitored closely and banned. It seems to me that the actions of bowlers from Pakistan and Bangladesh are watched more closely than other countries by the ICC.
PakPassion.net : Are you surprised that some bowlers' actions have not been reported by officials and those actions subsequently tested for legality?
Saeed Ajmal : Absolutely. There are several bowlers out there whose actions are not clean but they never get reported. I cannot name them of course but it's obvious who I am referring to. I have video proof that the bowling actions of some bowlers are not legal but they have never been reported. What hurts me is that I was suddenly banned after seven years of playing international cricket and no consideration was given for my unusual action due to an accident I was involved in.
PakPassion.net : Do you think the ICC's testing procedures for bowling actions are 100% accurate?
Saeed Ajmal : No I don't think they are. Careers are at stake here and these things need to be tested thoroughly before bowlers are banned. Can the ICC say that their testing procedures are absolutely accurate? No, they cannot. Therefore, the careers of bowlers are being jeopardised by equipment that is not totally accurate. If the ICC can prove to me that their testing procedures and equipment is 100% accurate, then I will be satisfied, but as things stand, bowlers are being banned by a testing procedure that is not entirely accurate.
PakPassion.net : Do you think the points system that has been agreed for the series between England and Sri Lanka, and also for the series between England and Pakistan is a good innovation?
Saeed Ajmal : I'm in favour of it. I think it adds interest to the series and keeps everyone interested throughout. If you have a bad couple of matches then you still have a good chance of winning the overall series. I'm in favour of innovations and new ideas for cricket and this is definitely a good idea and something that could become more popular around the world.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan's past tours of England have been shrouded in controversy. How important is it for Pakistan cricket that the events of 2010 are not repeated this time around?
Saeed Ajmal : Yes the Pakistani players have to remember that they are ambassadors for their country wherever they go, not just in England. The players have to act with responsibility and maturity in England and I think it's very important that the team management and security personnel with the team are vigilant. There must be no incidents in England which give Pakistan a bad name. There must be no repeats of 2010. The players need some freedom and free time from the team management but they have to be careful and responsible as to who they interact with and keep the team management aware of their whereabouts and who they are meeting.
PakPassion.net : Mohammad Amir will be under a lot of scrutiny on the tour of England. What advice would you offer him?
Saeed Ajmal : It will be a tough tour for him, no doubt about that. But he's not a young kid now and he will know what to expect in England. The crowds will be looking for a reaction from him and he will know what is going to happen there. He should just smile and stay silent when it comes to the crowd taunting him. I also think some of the English media will be looking for a reaction or something negative to focus on, but Amir must not get involved in any incidents that will harm his reputation. He should just focus on taking as many wickets as possible. He's a wonderful bowler, a great talent and I expect him to take a lot of wickets and bowl well in England.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on Day/Night Test cricket?
Saeed Ajmal : Cricket has become colourful in the limited overs formats and the idea of Day/Night Test cricket is an idea to make Test cricket colourful. The ICC is obviously trying to broaden interest levels in cricket and ensure attendances do not keep on falling. The idea is to make Test cricket available to people after a day's work or after school or college. It also appeals to people in hot countries who don't want to sit in the stands in the daytime heat and would prefer to attend Test matches on an evening when it's cooler. It would be even more comfortable for the players in hot countries and I'm sure players playing in Sri Lanka, India, UAE, Bangladesh would appreciate playing in cooler temperatures. I think it's good that it's being trialed, if it's a success then let's make it a regular feature around the world.
PakPassion.net : Is Mickey Arthur the right choice as Head Coach for Pakistan?
Saeed Ajmal : He's an experienced coach who has coached around the world. He's coached big teams like South Africa and Australia and he has coached some of the biggest names in cricket. He has a wealth of experience and whilst coaching Pakistan will be different to what he has done previously I'm sure he can do a good job. I'd like him to bring some new ideas to the table for Pakistan's limited over's teams who have been struggling of late. Limited overs cricket has changed but Pakistan has been left behind especially when it comes to our approach to batting and this is an area I'd like to see Arthur focus on and improve.
PakPassion.net : Arthur is rumored to be strict on discipline. Will the Pakistan players be able to handle the no-nonsense approach?
Saeed Ajmal : Discipline is a must. There must be no compromise when it comes to discipline in Pakistan cricket and this is perhaps an area where we have let ourselves down in the past. Some of our boys have lacked discipline on and off the field and this has meant that they have underachieved so far in their careers. Those boys need to take a look at themselves and think about what they want to achieve from cricket, before it's too late for them. There is no point having talent if you have no discipline. Some Pakistan players need someone behind them with a stick to get them to work and hopefully Mickey Arthur is that man.
PakPassion.net : Have we seen the last of you in international cricket?
Saeed Ajmal : I have never wanted to be picked on reputation or through favouritism. That is not how it should be. I am working hard on my cricket and I want to be picked for Pakistan through good performances in domestic cricket and leagues around the world. Throughout my career I have played positive cricket and never been negative or pessimistic. I'm ready, I'm getting there and I feel that within two or three months you will see the Saeed Ajmal of old back. I feel that I still have plenty to offer teams around the world in leagues such as the Pakistan Super League, County Cricket and others and also I feel that I can play for Pakistan again.