The 90s and the first half of the 00s were dominated, spin wise, by two geniuses. One was a genius of the mind, all smoke and mirrors. The other was a genius of the body, with a super flexing shoulder and wrist that fizzed and turned the ball more than any other before him. If Saeed Ajmal had come earlier to Test cricket, maybe he would have become regarded as in the same class as Warne and Muralitharan.
Still, he’s indisputably the one genius spinner in the world at the moment. Graeme Swann is the consumate craftsman, honing and using traditional skills of turn, drift and bounce as a more or less conventional off-spinner. Ajmal however bowls like a supercharged mix of Warne and Murali, maybe not of the same class as either, but containing elements of both. He has a doosra like Murali and some of the freakish physical attributes in his wrist and shoulder that makes him able to bowl the doosra that made the Sri Lankan brilliant. Add to that the sense of bowling like a game of chess and his constant cheeky and irreverent presence and you see the echoes of Warne in him.
Today he bowled as well as he may have ever, constantly changing his pace and flight, and using the doosra only sparingly, he constantly induced false shots and prised out the entire top five of South Africa. All this whilst maintaining enviable accuracy. His fields were set well too, whenever he spun it too much down leg, a short fine leg prevented the get out show, and he had the mid on and off straight enough to cut off any drive.
Three of his wickets came from clever reviews, although one was controversial. Jacques Kallis refused to leave after being given out LBW on umpires call after originally being given out at bat pad. The decision seems to have been the right one, Law 27.4 states that an appeal “covers all ways of being out.” The the playing conditions contradict this, stating that when the third umpire notices evidence to give it out in another than for what it was reviewed, the DRS will consider the umpire’s call on that decision not out: “The process of consultation described in this paragraph in respect of such other mode of dismissal shall then be conducted as if the batsman has been given not out.” The laws take precedent, though this is a situation that needs clarification.
The usual controversy surrounding Ajmal is usually a chucking allegation, but I’d like to withdraw my accusation from about this time last year of chucking. Like Murali, I accept now that it is an optical illusion caused by an “unusually high elbow abduction” and an brilliant wrist and shoulder. This along with the fact that he bowls with a bent arm does not mean he chucks if it doesn’t straighten more than 15 degrees. If the ICC are satisfied he doesn’t, so am I. I wouldn’t want to see his career tainted with these accusations, he’s too brilliant for that.
Ajmal bowled 25 straight overs from ten past two in the afternoon to stumps and didn’t go through one without making the batsmen nervous, barely one without some half chance or false shot. He’ll come back tomorrow with, whispers of the prospect of all ten. It could be possible, he is the only bowler who has threatened for Pakistan, and the tail will struggle against him if he continues bowling like this. As a spinner and fan of spinners, wouldn’t it be lovely to add a third spinner to the only players to take all ten in an innings? Spinners do it better.
Originally published 15-Feb-2013