DUBAI // Saeed Ajmal will be forced to bear an even greater burden than usual for Pakistan tonight as Shahid Afridi has failed to recover from a hand injury in time to take his place in the team to face Australia.
Afridi has been ruled out of the opening two Cool & Cool Twenty20 Cup matches at Dubai Sports City after he split the webbing between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand in the final one-day international in Sharjah.
He has had stitches to repair the injury, which he sustained while fielding a fierce drive by Michael Clarke off his own bowling in the three-wicket defeat.
While the absence of Afridi will clearly denude both Pakistan's batting and bowling resources, Ajmal is already well used to carrying his side's attack.
The in-form spinner, who is ranked second in the world among T20 bowlers, was outstanding in the 50-overs series and Mohammed Hafeez, Pakistan's captain, says he is setting an example his colleagues must follow.
"He is a great bowler and unfortunately the other bowlers are not giving him enough cushion or assistance," Hafeez said.
"But as a team we are not depending on one bowler. I think everyone has to play his role to win matches, and all our bowlers are trying their level best."
One of Ajmal's most immediate tasks could be to blunt the threat of Shane Watson, the all-rounder who will be restored to the top of the Australia batting order following a calf injury.
The two players have history in this city. When the Dubai International Cricket Stadium was first opened with a match between these two sides in 2009, Ajmal excelled but was subsequently reported for a suspect bowling action.
He was quoted as suggesting Watson had played a role in drawing the umpires' attention to his doosra. Even though that rift apparently quickly healed, Ajmal will be well aware of the value of Watson's wicket tonight.
"Watto is vitally important to our team as he is a world-class player," Mickey Arthur, Australia's coach, said. "Whenever he plays he creates that impact for us."
George Bailey, the Australia captain, says his side will have to try to attack Ajmal, because of the nature of the 20 over format.
"We think it an advantage because he can only bowl four overs rather than 10, so that is handy," Bailey said.
"We have to be proactive against him because it is Twenty20, so hopefully that will play into our hands a little more."