An eccentric genius who smiled a lot, Saeed Ajmal retires!

An underwhelming exit, reminiscent of his entry in the Pakistan team

When Saeed Ajmal, made his debut for Pakistan, there was not much excitement around it. This was a disastrous period for Pakistan cricket. Horrendous performance in the World Cup 2007, death of their long time (by Pakistani standards) coach, and internal wrangling for captaincy, 4 to 5 players were jostling within the team to become captain. There were Quran per qasmien, there were over stated revolts and eventually, it led to Misbah becoming captain. However, during the Asia Cup 2008, the last international event of note played in Pakistan, Misbah lead the side in absence of permanent captain Shoiab Malik. He had played with Saeed Ajmal for years, and brought him in the side. Ajmal was successful, with his wily ways. The next day newspaper (yea they were relevant) read ‘Inzimam ICL lejana chatay thy, Misbah ne Pakistan khelwa diya’. A star was in the making. The guile was there for everyone to see. Yousuf Phatan was the 1st victim of Saeed Ajmal’s famed doosra. A delivery that made him the best in the world and then ended his career effectively.

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And in between Saeed Ajmal reigned supreme. In T20s, in ODIs and in test matches. 2009 T20 World Cup, Afridi’s heroics are remembered, Gul’s reverse swing is flashed again and again, but there was Saeed Ajmal too, miserly as ever. Bowling late in the innings, picking crucial wickets. In the 2011 World Cup the way he bamboozled West Indies, it’s a sight rare to international Cricket. How that ball missed the Sachin's leg stump on the DRS is a mystery to date. Then came his finest moment. The series against England. Where he and Abdur Rehman simply dismantled the English side. Their helplessness was palpable. The Asia Cup triumph, that 49th over against a rampant Hashim Amla on way to Pakistan’s 1st away ODI series victory in South Africa. The 10 wickets haul in South Africa in a Test match, Pakistan should have won. These are just a few of his many match winning performances.

His battles with Hashim Amla, showed what a genius cricketing brain he had. There is a piece by Hassan Cheema, on that 49th over to Amla, with Misbah. I hope someone does it from Ajmal’s point of view. His interviews have been limited to him talking about the team plan. Would love to hear, how he used to outfox the batsmen. The persona that Saeed Ajmal has would change if he explains how masterfully he would plan those dismissals. Obviously Misbah played his part.

But everyone is aware of his bowling excellence. It’s his demeanor, his attitude and his smile that stood out. Saeed Ajmal, in an era of brand building and superstardom, was a throwback to the good old times. He was playing with his mates, having the best of time. The real character of Saeed Ajmal was evident with the bat. While, many who were termed ‘all rounders’, would shy away from the contest, Saeed Ajmal would never back down. He’d be up for any battle at any given time. He valued playing for Pakistan and it showed when he batted. He ran like a mad man, he batted like he was devoted to it. The magic of bowling was natural.

It was such a pleasure to see him bowl and perform for a team I supported. It would be extremely hard to find a cricket who’d despise Saeed Ajmal. As tributes pour in, I’d like to say my thanks to the great man. Thank you for carrying the weight of our expectations on your shoulders. Thank you for ensuring that even at our lowest point, we still were competitive. Pakistan remembers.

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