Pakistan’s Ajmal back to face Bangladesh

Spinner Saeed Ajmal returns to centre stage after almost eight months, hoping to strike early form with a remodelled bowling action on Friday when Pakistan open their tour of Bangladesh.

The prolific offspinner became the most high-profile casualty of the International Cricket Council’s crackdown on illegal actions when he was suspended last September.

The 37-year-old was cleared to bowl again in February just before the World Cup, but was not picked for the showpiece event in which Pakistan lost to champions Australia in the quarter-finals.

Ajmal’s effectiveness with a reworked action will be tested during the month-long tour of Bangladesh comprising three one-day internationals, one Twenty20 game and two Tests.

“It was torture living without cricket,” Ajmal told AFP ahead of the tour. “I am confident of bowling as effectively as I used to before the suspension.”

Pakistan will hope their main strike bowler, who has taken 178 Test, 183 one-day and 85 T20 wickets, will deliver in all three formats on the traditionally slow pitches in Bangladesh.

With skipper Misbah-ul Haq and senior pro Shahid Afridi having retired from one-day cricket after the World Cup, Pakistan named batsman Azhar Ali as captain for the three-match series starting on Friday.

Ali, who has not played one-day cricket since 2013, leads a new-look team including just five players who featured in the World Cup. But the experienced Mohammad Hafeez returns to the side along with Ajmal.

Pakistan were hit by injuries to two of their World Cup squad, batsman Sohaib Maqsood and fast bowler Sohail Khan, before the tour and, on Thursday, legspinner Yasir Shah was ruled out with a hand injury.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh were bustling with confidence after making the World Cup quarter-finals, despite only beating Pakistan once in 47 games across all formats.

The lone victory came during the 1999 World Cup at Northampton, England, when Pakistan lost a group match by 62 runs even though they went on to reach the final.

Seasoned allrounder Shakib Al Hasan saw the upcoming series as Bangladesh’s best chance to improve his nation’s record against the unpredictable Pakistanis.

“I think we should be starting as favourites to win the one-day series,” said Shakib. “This is our best chance to win against Pakistan. If we play our best cricket, we can beat any side at home.”

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