PakPassion.net presents an exclusive interview with Saeed Ajmal. Saeed Ajmal is an excellent off-spinner who has represented Pakistan in 8 Tests, 32 ODIs, and 24 T20Is. Hailing form the city of Faisalabad, Punjab, Saeed made his debut for Pakistan in 2008 at the relatively older age of 30. Saeed answers the fans questions and tells us how he finally made it to the national team. Saeed also reveals exclusively to PakPassion that he's working on a new delivery. We thank Saeed for his time and wish him good luck in the upcoming series.
PakPassion: Saeed, we'll start off by discussing the upcoming series against South Africa. The South African team is a strong one and has always given Pakistan some trouble. What planning has been done for the South African series?
Saeed Ajmal: Our bowling has been our strength and we'll continue to rely upon the bowlers. The bowlers did very well in all three formats in England. Our batting was a bit troublesome during the England series, and could also trouble us against South Africa. Inshallah, the batting will also be sorted soon.
PakPassion: Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif will not be with the team during the upcoming series. Don't you think the bowling will not be as good as it was in England?
Saeed Ajmal: Aamer and Asif are our strike bowlers and we'll obviously miss them. Asif wouldn’t have been part of the team any way due to the restrictions against him. But we'll definitely miss Aamer and Asif as they are world class bowlers.
PakPassion: People often say that the South Africans don't play spin very well. Let's talk a bit about you. What are your goals for the upcoming series? Which South African batsman will be the greatest threat for the Pakistani bowlers?
Saeed Ajmal: The South Africans have some good players. Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla are very good Test batsmen. The rest aren't extraordinary and I think we can get them. I want to be the top wicket taker in the series.
PakPassion: Inshallah, we also hope that you'll be the top wicket taker. Which South African player will you target during the upcoming series? Who is their main player that you would like to get out?
Saeed Ajmal: I've gotten Kallis out a few times in the past and I'd like to get him out again. He plays his cricket in a very mature fashion, so I'll target him. Hashim Amla also plays very well and I'd like to get him as well. I'll target them all because what I really want is to get all of them out by myself.
PakPassion: The UAE wickets will obviously assist the spin bowlers. Do you think a spin combination of you with either Danish Kaneria or Abdur Rehman can be very useful there?
Saeed Ajmal: Whatever the combination is we'll do well. We'll win these matches with our bowling, regardless of the combination.
PakPassion: Let's talk a bit about how you got into the game of cricket. Who was the cricketer that you followed the most when you became interested in the game of cricket?
Saeed Ajmal: I got into cricket in 1990. I played school cricket at that time, but I really became interested in 1992, the year in which Pakistan won the World Cup. After Pakistan won the World Cup my interest in the game grew even more. That was the time when I decided I should leave tennis ball cricket and start playing with the hard ball. In 1992 I attended an Under-16 camp which was supervised by Imran Khan. At that time I got an opportunity to meet Imran Khan and even had a picture taken with him. I really wanted to be like Imran Khan as he was very famous and a World Cup winner. So I have to say that I'm playing cricket right now because of that. I've also been inspired a lot by Saqlain Mushtaq, so I've followed those two the most.
PakPassion: Did you learn the doosra from Saqlain Mushtaq or did you learn it by yourself?
Saeed Ajmal: I've learned the doosra by myself. Obviously you pick up tips from other bowlers, but I learned the doosra by myself by watching videos of Saqlain Mushtaq's bowling.
PakPassion: While you were in England you had an opportunity to meet with Saqlain. What tips did he offer you at that time?
Saeed Ajmal: One thing I wanted to learn was how to get more turn. So that was one thing we talked about. Another thing he told me was that my doosra is very good and I should never abandon it. He also told me that I should bowl my over with plenty of variation and let the batsmen know that I can bowl a variety of deliveries at any given time.
PakPassion: Let's now talk about the domestic cricket in Pakistan. Do you think it's competitive or are there too many teams at the domestic level?
Saeed Ajmal: Departmental cricket is very important in Pakistan because the departments give salaries to cricketers all year long, as well as the match fee for playing. If you only play cricket three months a year then it's hard to survive based solely on the match fees. The salary by the departments makes it possible for the cricketers to continue their cricket and improve. Regional cricket is also good but it lacks when it comes to money. The more money there is the better chance there is for better cricketers to play. If the money isn't there then the families of young players won't let them get into cricket.
PakPassion: What you have said is absolutely correct, but are you satisfied with the domestic structure in terms of the competition? There are about 21-22 teams during the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, do you think that the competition in the domestic circuit is diluted?
Saeed Ajmal: If we cut down the number of teams then there are many Pakistani cricketers that won't have the chance to play. The players that will be left out of the team will at some point just give up on the game so cutting down the number of teams won't help.
PakPassion: You came into the Pakistani team at a relatively older age. You were 30 years old when you made your debut, why did it take you so long to get a chance to play for Pakistan?
Saeed Ajmal: I was ready to play for Pakistan earlier than that but there just wasn't a place in the side for me. Up until 2003-2004 Saqlain was still part of the team. Then after that Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi were the main spinners in the team. So there just wasn't an opportunity for me to play at an earlier time.
PakPassion: When you made your debut for Pakistan, there were many reports out there that Misbah-ul-Haq had a significant role in your selection to the national side. Is that true?
Saeed Ajmal: That is true. I played under Misbah's captaincy in domestic cricket so he knew me. He had asked the board to give me a chance a few times before as well but like I said, there just wasn't a spot in the side for me. So when Misbah became the vice-captain he was able to convince the selectors to give me a chance and get me in the side.
PakPassion: You've played a lot of cricket since making your debut. At this point, what do you think is your greatest moment or the best wicket that you have taken? What is you greatest achievement in international cricket at this point?
Saeed Ajmal: I think that moment came in the 2009 T20 World Cup. It was the wicket of Jacques Kallis in the semi-final. Getting him out at that point was very important because he was in good touch and we knew that if we got Kallis out then we would have won the match. Getting him out at that point was the peak of my happiness. That was the turning point of the match. My performance in that world cup was very good. I did well in the last World Cup as well but there was that shock that came in the semi-final against Australia.
PakPassion: Since you brought it up, let's talk about the shock from that semi-final. If you had to do that over again and had the chance to bowl at Hussey once more in the last over, would you do something different?[/B]
Saeed Ajmal: Since that match I've had the chance to bowl to Hussey in two T20s and he hasn't been able to hit a single boundary off me. If you make a mistake once then you shouldn't repeat it again.
PakPassion: Do you think the results would have been different had you bowled outside the off-stump?
Saeed Ajmal: At that time he was in great touch. He was hitting the ball everywhere so he would have done the same no matter where I bowled to him. There comes a time when you feel almost helpless.
PakPassion: Is there anything that you would like to change about your career so far?
Saeed Ajmal: One thing that I'd like to do is to add more variety to my bowling. With more variation I'll become an even better bowler.
PakPassion: Can you give some information on what sort of variety you are looking to add to your arsenal? Any specific delivery?
Saeed Ajmal: I can't tell you anything about it right now. Once I've gotten it fully under control and bowl it in a match, I'll speak more about it.
PakPassion: So how long will it take before we can see you bowl that delivery?
Saeed Ajmal: Inshallah you'll see me bowling it at the World Cup. I'm really working hard on it right now there still is some work left to be done. Inshallah it'll be done by that time.
PakPassion: Let's talk about the differences in the white and red ball used for Tests and ODIs. In your opinion, which ball is better for an off-spinner?
Saeed Ajmal: The red ball gives you a greater chance of turning the ball but you need to be very patient. It requires long spells and your stamina needs to be very good. You need to bowl at a good line and length. Patience is the key when bowling with the red ball because you have a lot of time to set up the batsman. The white ball requires a lot of variation to be successful. The white ball gets harder as the match goes on, so variation is the key.
PakPassion: Saqlain Mushtaq or Muralitharan, who was the better bowler?
Saeed Ajmal: Saqlain Mushtaq is our legend and I'd have to pick him over Muralitharan. Muralitharan is a great bowler, but Saqlain is the one who came up with this variety. People always talk about the doosra and it was Saqlain who introduced us to the doosra in the first place.
PakPassion: During the recent series against England, the doosra was a popular topic amongst the commentators. Bob Willis, one of the commentators, said that no bowler can bowl the doosra with a legal action. How do you respond?
Saeed Ajmal: If no English cricketer can bowl the doosra then does that mean that no other bowler can do it with a legal action? If an English bowler was bowling the doosra then it would be considered a world class delivery. The same things were said about reverse swing. Reverse swing was introduced by Pakistani bowlers, the googly was introduced by Abdul Qadir, and the doosra was introduced by Saqlain Mushtaq. They will never accept it unless an English bowler can bowl it. The English have been playing cricket for more than a 100 years, why can't they come up with such variation? Our country is small but we've been blessed with great talent. We don't have the resources that other countries have but we make up for it with talent and hard work.
PakPassion: Why do you hold the bowl at a cross-seam position when you bowl the doosra?
Saeed Ajmal: I do it sometimes to add more variation and to confuse the batsman. Sometimes I bowl my conventional off-spinner from a cross-seam position as well so the batsman can't tell if I'm bowling the doosra or the off-spin. During the tour of Australia, the Aussie batsmen thought I bowled the doosra with my thumb up so now I don't even point the thump up when I bowl. It just adds to the variation and confusion.
PakPassion: Which captain have you felt the most comfortable with since starting you international career?
Saeed Ajmal: That's a very leading question!
PakPassion: Alright, then we'll leave it at that. Which opposing captain do you think is the best?
Saeed Ajmal: Ricky Ponting. He never accepts losing and he's able to motivate his players to do the same. They'll play just as hard for the last run as they do for the first ball of the match. That all comes down to the captain. That's the difference between us and the Aussies. We start thinking that we've won or lost the match when there are still 10 overs left in the game. That's the mistake that we make.