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By Amir Husain
As a member of the famous squad led by Imran Khan that lifted the World Cup in 1992, Mushtaq Ahmed is also considered as part of a fine tradition of exceptionally talented spin bowlers originating from Pakistan.
At his peak, Mushtaq was described as being one of the best three wrist-spinners in the world. In an international career that spanned from 1990 until 2003, he played 52 Test matches and claimed 185 wickets and took 161 wickets in 144 One-Day Internationals. He was at his most prolific internationally between 1995 and 1998 during which he was also named as a Wisden Cricketer of the year (1997).
After his retirement from all forms of cricket in 2008, Mushtaq pursued a successful career as a spin bowling coach for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) starting late 2008 until May 2014. At the age of 43, Mushtaq has been asked by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to take the position of spin coach on a two-year contract, where he will work under Waqar Younis to help Pakistan develop its spin talent.
Speaking exclusively to PakPassion.net, Mushtaq spoke about his tenure with the England team, his aims and objectives in his new role as Pakistan spin coach and his impressions of the spin talent available in Pakistan.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): How do you feel your stint with the England team went?
Mushtaq Ahmed (MA): I enjoyed the five years I spent at the ECB. I made a lot of good friends and I am thankful to the Almighty for the respect that I got in that role. It was also a great experience for me and I want to take this opportunity to thank the ECB who treated me like a member of their family.
PP: What would you count as your achievements during your tenure with the ECB?
MA: During my tenure, England rose to the No 1 position in all formats of the game. They were top of the list in Tests, ODIs and also won the World Twenty20. I was part of the coaching staff during this period of dominance and this is a matter of great personal pride that I played some part in making that happen.
PP: Which players did you particularly enjoy working within England?
MA: Overall, I enjoyed working with all the squad members, but in particular, I would like to mention Andy Flower, Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar, Kevin Pietersen, Stuart Broad and Matt Prior with whom I had the pleasure to interact and work with. I also had a special and great understanding with Jimmy [James] Anderson with whom I enjoyed my time, as well.
They were all good friends and they all respected my skills. There was a mutual understanding amongst us and the friendships will continue even though I’m no longer working with them.
PP: How do you rate the current state of spin bowling in England?
MA: They are facing some difficulties after the departure of a tremendous bowler like Graeme Swann. They have some good and upcoming youngsters such as Adil Rashid, Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan, but there is no ready made replacement for Swann at the moment. In addition, they have James Tredwell, who is performing well and is well suited for the limited-overs formats.
The reality is they have an issue in Test cricket but any of Adil Rashid, Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan can eventually be developed into good bowlers and can become important members of the England Test squad in future. However the immediate situation isn’t too great as far as England’s Test spinners is concerned.
PP: How do you feel about being appointed Pakistan spin coach?
MA: It’s a matter of great honour and pride for me as a Pakistani that the Pakistan Cricket Board has trusted me with this position. I am grateful to the PCB for offering me this position and in particular would like to thank the Chairman and the members of the committee that selected me.
I can only thank the Almighty that He has given me an opportunity to return to my homeland and I can assure everyone, that I will serve my country with sincerity and honesty and to the best of my abilities. I owe a lot to my country as whatever respect I have gained is due to Pakistan and I will do my utmost to serve the nation once again.
PP: Are you looking forward to working with recently appointed head coach, Waqar Younis?
MA: Absolutely, as Waqar is a good coach and also a friend of mine. His vision and objectives are very clear and he is only interested in serving Pakistan in the best way possible. He has given up other commitments to devote his attention to Pakistan cricket and both of us will work towards helping Pakistan achieve higher goals to the best of our abilities.
PP: What are your aims or personal objectives as spin coach for Pakistan?
MA: That’s a good question and all I will say is that nothing good can be achieved unless there is an aim or a vision. We are lucky to have someone like Waqar as head coach and we have to follow his lead on this issue. Waqar’s personal aim is to make sure that Pakistan should continue to improve in their international rankings. He also wants to develop a system or culture of unity in the team such that the young and senior players feel it their responsibility to help Pakistan improve in all aspects of the game. This is most important and from the brief conversations I have had with Waqar so far, it is his personal vision that the goal is to move Pakistan up the rankings and to give confidence to the players to ensure they play to their potential and abilities.
PP: Is your plan to work with the players in the senior team or are you also looking to pay attention to junior players, as well?
MA: As part of my role, I will be working with spinners at the NCA in Lahore during the time when the Pakistan national team is not on tour. My objective will be to work at the grassroots level, specifically with the spinners who have played at Under-19 level for Pakistan and havetalent.
I will also consult local coaches as well as the National Cricket Academy (NCA) coaches and selectors with the aim of creating a pool of talented young spinners who are ready to take the places of Saeed Ajmal, Shahid Afridi or Abdur Rehman in the national team at some point in the future. I think the NCA has a great role in this and we will work on that to make sure we have spinners ready who can serve Pakistan for the next ten to twelve years with ease.
PP: What is your impression of Pakistan’s upcoming spin bowlers?
MA: Pakistan has a lot of talent amongst their young spinners. I have seen some excellent bowlers in the Under 19 squad such as a left-arm spinner Zafar Gohar and leg spinners Karamat Ali, Usman Qadir and Yasir Shah. I am still new to this position so my intention is to consult local coaches and also keep an eye on the domestic performances of other bowlers, as well. We will also look at Under-16 and regional cricket levels to find more talent and to groom such talent and to look after such bowlers.
PP: What targets are you setting yourself in your role at the PCB?
MA: My aim is to find and develop “mystery spinners,” so we will be interested in seeing an off-spin bowler who has a special delivery like a Doosra or a leg-spin bowler who has some other kind of variation. The aim is to get such bowlers from the grassroots level and to help them develop variations and for them to eventually play First-Class and international cricket. They can then compete with “mystery spinners” who are currently playing for other countries in international cricket.
PP: Amongst the young and upcoming talent, we have such names as Karamat Ali and Raza Hasan. What are your impressions of these bowlers?
MA: I have seen Karamat bowl in Under-19 games and also met him while he was bowling in the nets at the NCA. He practices in the academy run by umpire Aleem Dar and he really impressed me. He’s definitely a young man with a bright future and he’s one of the young bowlers who I will be keeping a close eye on.
I was once invited to come and give Raza some advice, as well. I feel that he has a lot of potential as well as the ability and temperament to succeed at the highest level. As far as Raza Hasan is concerned, he is a good spinner who burst onto the international scene, but has been hampered by injury. However, as I said, we will look at all good spinners with a view to look at their fitness and to develop them as a group who can serve Pakistan in the future.
(Amir Husain is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://pakpassion.net/)
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