Pre-ICC Champions Trophy Interview with Saeed Ajmal
By Saj Sadiq
Hailing from Faisalabad in Pakistan, 35 year old Saeed Ajmal could be classed a late bloomer as far as his international career is concerned. Debuting at the age of 30 in 2009 in an ODI game against India in Karachi, Ajmal has made progress in leaps and bounds. Picking up 125 wickets in ODIs at an average of 27.6 and 71 wickets at 16.59 in T20Is, he is ranked the world’s top ODI bowler and only recently has dropped to second position in the T20I bowling rankings. In the Test arena, with 133 wickets to his name, he is ranked number four on the back of some superlative performances since making his Test debut.
With a wealth of big match experience behind him, Ajmal is one of the most popular cricketers in the world. He's expected to play a key role in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy campaign this summer and will undoubtedly be a bowler that opposition batsmen will be thoroughly tested by.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net Ajmal provides his opinion on the preparations for the Champions Trophy, the goals achieved during the camp in Abbottabad, speaks about Misbah-ul-Haq's captaincy, the IPL, provides an update on his academy in his home town Faisalabad and much more.
PakPassion.net: Saeed, tell us about the recent training camp in Abbottabad. Do you think it was a good idea to hold the camp there ahead of the tour of the United Kingdom?
Saeed Ajmal: Yes I think it was an excellent and really innovative idea from the Pakistan Cricket Board and the coaching staff. The camp was very enjoyable and very well organised, it was hard work but the weather was great, around 14-15 degrees Celsius dring the day and not as hot and humid as other parts of the country at this time of the year.
The wickets in Abbottabad were very conducive to seam bowling and our batsmen got a flavour of what they can expect in England during the Champions Trophy, which will undoubtedly be beneficial to them. The wickets were prepared to replicate English conditions and that was achieved, so yes all in all it was very good preparation.
PakPassion.net: The planning at the camp seemed very meticulous ahead of the Champions Trophy. Did it focus on some key areas?
Saeed Ajmal: Absolutely, there were no grey areas. The players knew exactly what was expected of them on a daily basis. There were some key and important areas that the coaching staff wanted to focus upon and all in all I think it was a success. In addition having Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad in attendance in Abbottabad was a huge boost for the players and I’m sure all of the players in attendance at the camp are very grateful to Wasim and Javed for their time.
PakPassion.net: You were one of several players recently told by the Pakistan Cricket Board to lose some weight. Was the target weight achieved and easy to accomplish or did you find it difficult?
Saeed Ajmal: Well I was given a training and dietary plan by the PCB which I’ve had to follow. Generally it was OK, but I had to stop the parathas and eating the sweetmeats which was the toughest part of the routine. I love my parathas and sweetmeats, but as a professional sportsman you have to make some sacrifices sometimes.
PakPassion.net: Moving away from culinary delights to the new one day rules. How have recent changes in the one day rules regarding the number of fielders allowed in the circle affected your approach and your bowling?
Saeed Ajmal: The rule changes have made life even tougher for spinners in one day cricket. As if bowling in limited overs cricket wasn’t hard enough for a spin bowler. By having to have the extra fielder in the circle for non power play overs means that batsmen can free their arms and take on a spinner with an even more carefree approach knowing that there’s less chance of them getting caught in the deep.
Fast bowlers have been given the luxury of being allowed to bowl two bouncers in an over in one day cricket, but the rule changes have definitely made life tougher for spinners.
I find myself having to really think hard about my approach to bowling these days in the one day format, especially against those batsmen who are ready to use their feet to me. The rule changes have undoubtedly had an effect on my approach to bowling in the fifty over format as it probably has for other spinners around the world.
PakPassion.net: June 15th sees Pakistan face arch rivals India at Birmingham. Give us your thoughts on that particular match and also the fact that India will be without Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar?
Saeed Ajmal: It’s always a fantastic occasion playing against India. The atmosphere wherever we play is always electric and I’m sure the fans lucky enough to be at Edgbaston and all those watching the telecast around the world will not be disappointed by this match. It’s like a mini-final within the tournament.
Both sides are very strong and at the end of the day, the team that handles the pressure will be victorious. We have the psychological advantage having defeated India in their own back yard in the one day series and I’m confident that we can defeat them in Birmingham.
As for some of the Indian big names not playing in the match in Birmingham, players come and go. Big names are replaced by lesser known players who then turn into big names and then they get replaced. The cycle of cricket goes on, no cricketer lasts forever and no cricketer has a God-given right to be picked again and again. If a player is out of form or struggling for form then it’s only right that they are replaced by a player who is in form.
PakPassion.net: Can Pakistan win the Champions Trophy?
Saeed Ajmal: The eight top teams in the world will be competing and it’s very tough to predict who will win the tournament. I think whoever gets the right balance in their team and copes with the pressure can go on and win the Trophy. There are no weak teams in the tournament. I look at the West Indies and New Zealand and they are very balanced teams with several players who can change the course of a match in the space of a few overs.
Pakistan can go into the tournament with a lot of confidence. We have six matches ahead of our first game so that gives us plenty of time to get the team balance right and establish a settled starting eleven. We’re full of confidence, preparations have gone well and we are all looking forward to a tournament that if we play to our potential we can win.
2009 in England was fantastic when we crowned Twenty20 champions and I hope we can repeat that performance next month.
For the full interview, please click here.
The last few tickets for Pakistan's game in the ICC Champions Trophy against South Africa on 12th June at Edgabston are available by clicking here, where you can also purchase tickets for the warm-up match against Sri Lanka at Edgbaston on 30th May.