Life Before the Green Shirt - Interview with Saeed Ajmal

Moghees Sheikh: When did you first dream of wearing the green shirt?

Saeed Ajmal: When I started playing cricket I thought that one day I will play for Pakistan. That dream became a reality in 2008 during the Asia Cup against India.That match felt like a fantasy. The magnitude of a match-up between these two nations is always a joy, even just to watch

MS: How many years of cricket did you play and what were the greatest challenges you faced?

SA: One faces many challenges over a career. I played cricket for 7-8 years and faced many, most of which, by the grace of God, I succeeded in overcoming. Ive always enjoyed accepting a challenge it is why the best play the game

MS: How tough was it ?

SA: When I started playing competitive cricket my fielding was very weak, my coach talked to me about this and said he liked my bowling but if I were not up to the mark in fielding he would have to drop me from the final squad. I asked him to give me 3 months of time to improve my skills and if I did not succeed then he could dump me.  In the meantime, our fielding coach Ijaz Ahmed, one of Pakistan’s best ever fielders, told me to practice regularly every morning irrespective of the weather. I used to take 100 catches every day from that moment on. I might not have been the best ground fielder but my captain always put his trust in me to take a catch.

MS: Support from friends and family?

SA: I belong to sheikh family and I am a businessman. There is always support from my father, elder brother and my friends but I never thought that playing for Pakistan would become a reality. I put my efforts into cricket and Allah rewarded me for my hard work. Alhamdulillah I played just because of my hard work and determination and I succeeded because of that

MS: How many times did you think of quitting?

SA: Cricket is a game where chance plays its part. For instance, if you study medicine you know you are going to be a doctor after graduation. But as a cricketer you can never say that you are going to be there for sure. You work hard and you might play for Pakistan at international level.Only Allah and the player himself knows his intentions of how hard he has worked. I believe Allah will reward those who work hard with prestige.I never thought of playing cricket for Pakistan but I worked hard and it paid off. I thank Allah for this.

MS: Your favourite captain?

SA: Shoaib Malik was my first captain. He brought me to the team and Misbah was vice-captain back then and I thank them both. I played under many captains such as Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan but my favorite Captain is Misbah-ul-Haq. I played most of my cricket under his captaincy.

MS: The toughest batsman/ opponent you faced?

SA: The thing is I love challenges and I never thought about an opponent’s game only that I should bowl my best to him. One player who did give me a tough time was Kumar Sangakkara, as he was a complete batsman.

MS: Favourite memory in a match?

SA: I have lots of great memories but if I had to pick a few the first would be the semi-final of 2009 T20 World Cup, where I took the important wicket of Jack Kallis. The second would be the match against South Africa in South Africa when I took the wicket of Hashim Amla and gave only one run in the final over of their innings. We were the first Asian team to win an ODI series in South Africa.

MS: The toughest day in your cricketing career?

SA: When my bowling action was questioned and I was the top-ranked bowler in world cricket. It was a rough situation but I handled it with calmness. There is nothing in life that one cannot achieve and one should stay strong in such times.

MS: If you weren’t an off spinner what would you be? 

SA: I belong to a sheikh family and we have a garment business. If I am not an offspinner, I am definitely a businessman.

MS: Your views about Michael Hussey’s innings in the T20 World Cup semi final?

SA: It was a good game and I was a rising star in the Pakistan team at that time. I was the best bowler in that World Cup. In that match Michael Hussey played the most exceptional innings of his life. I still appreciate him for his performance. I was down in that match but after that my career went up

MS: White ball or red ball and why?

SA: Red ball because it is real cricket, it is the ultimate test for any player. Do well enough to get recognised in that form of the game and you are recognised by the world.

MS: How did it feel to clean sweep England in the 2012 Test series?

SA: It was a wonderful experience. Pakistan broke records but the thing isn’t championed as it should be. I believe it was the best series of my career after 2009 T20 World Cup.

MS: Which batsman did you love bowling at? 

SA: The batsman I used to love bowling at was Kevin Pietersen. Every time he walked in I was confident that I will get him out.

MS: Which bowler did you enjoy watching the most as a team member? 

SA: One bowler enjoyed watching the most was Muhammad Asif. He was a very economical bowler; bowling at constant line and length, deceiving the batsmen with his seam bowling.

MS: Current bowlers you enjoy watching? 

SA: I like watching Shadab Khan of Islamabad United and Yasir Shah.

MS: How was the first PSL experience with Islamabad United? 

SA: I have won every T20 tournament I played in at the first attempt; like T20 World Cup, PSL, Dhaka League. It was a wonderful experience

MS: Your feelings about coaching?

SA: It might feel a bit different because a few years ago I was playing with them and now I am their coach. Every sportsman, however well he played, has to retire at some stage and pursue something else. Lucky for me it’s coaching as I will still be attached to cricket. I will try my level best to do a good job. 

MS: Message to the ICA Academy?

SA: ICA is working on cricket development and I pray that they keep growing because it is totally for the good of the game. Good luck to ICA and I am always with them whenever they need me.

MS: Did they help you in remoulding your action? 

SA: They helped me a lot. I am on good terms with Moghees Sheikh and they worked with me on quite a few occasions.

MS: Your Academy in Faisalabad? 

SA: I built this Academy to help my city and my beloved country; it is not something I want to make money from. It totally depends on my financial aid how it develops but I hope good playes come out of the Academy that can one day represent Pakistan.

MS: Your final words?

SA: What I wanted to achieve for Pakistan I have achieved and I always praise Almighty Allah for his support and blessings. People say that Saeed Ajmal came very late to his career but ended it early. Whatever I have achieved in my brief career may be more than what most of people achieve over long ones so I am thankful. Now I want to give time to my friends and family and also help my country in any way possible.

Author: Moghees Sheikh, ICA Chairman

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