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Out of the box? Not really

Ajmal, in perhaps all of world cricket today, has the widest range of varieties to his conventional off-spin.

Updated: March 6, 2014 5:20:10 pm

Saeed Ajmal came on to bowl during the 17th over of India’s innings. The batsmen, Rohit Sharma on 53 and Ajinkya Rahane on 12, were well set. During his first over, both Rohit and Rahane looked out for the ball that has made Ajmal a household name — the deadly doosra. It never came.

Ajmal, in perhaps all of world cricket today, has the widest range of varieties to his conventional off-spin. Yet, for his first 16 balls — nearly a third of his entire spell — Ajmal didn’t land a single wrong ‘un. He stuck to his basics, employing the simple off-spinner with plenty of flight, and conceded just four runs.

When it did arrive, half way through his third over, it surprised Rahane. As any suprise ball should. The batsman looked to work the ball through midwicket. It pitched on middle and spat past his bat. Rahane barely survived a stumping appeal. Immediately, Ajmal went back to his stock ball, the big turning off-spinner, and bowled two more dots. Three overs, five runs. One doosra.

The 36-year old had proved his point. In an era where the role of a spinner in the shorter formats has become all about thinking out-of-the-box by inventing newer variations to fox big-hitting willow wielders, Ajmal showed that conventional wisdom still has a place in this game. On a non-condusive wicket, Ajmal kept a simple plan of attacking the off-stump with appropriate fields and was brave enough to give the ball some air. It worked, of course.

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In his first five overs, Ajmal took no wickets but conceded just two boundaries. By then, India’s chances of a big total had vanished. He didn’t have to cull the Indian batters; just a simple choke was enough.

In fact, until his penultimate over, the 47th of the match, Ajmal wouldn’t take a wicket. But here, bowling his ninth over against the lower middle-order and the tail — players who aren’t equipped enough to block off his variations — the doosra came out from hiding. Ambati Rayudu fell to it while trying to up the run-rate with a slog and Ravichandran Ashwin was stumped against it when stepping aimlessly down the track.

Ashwin must’ve walked back to the dressing room with a lot more than just nine runs. Not only did Ajmal show him how and when to use the variations, but also taught his Indian counterpart the importance of sticking by the stock ball.

Shamik is a principal correspondent, based in Kolkata

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