Saqlain Mushtaq also said that commentators should focus on opining about skills of cricketers rather than their bowling actions © Getty Images
By Saj Sadiq
Widely regarded as the inventor of the famed ‘Doosra’ delivery, Saqlain Mushtaq is considered as one of the greatest spin bowlers to have graced the game. He was the first off-spinner to consistently utilise the mystery delivery which formed a key part of his armoury in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Also noted for his characteristic pause when delivering the ball, Saqlain was indeed a formidable limited overs bowler — picking up 288 wickets from 169 matches at an average of 21.78.
Saqlain also achieved success in the 49 Tests he played, collecting 208 wickets including 13 five-wicket hauls and on three occasions taking 10-fors, the highlight being the 10-for he claimed in Pakistan’s famous 13-run victory over India at Chennai in 1999.
Saqlain’s career did not have the longevity of the quality spinners of his era and was cut short by persistent knee injuries. Since his retirement, he has been working as spin-bowing coach for the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and has had coaching stints in Australia, England and New Zealand and most recently, for the West Indies in the ICC World T20 2014 in Bangladesh.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Saqlain spoke about his role with the West Indies squad, his opinion of Sunile Narine and Samuel Badree as world class spinners, his assessment of the Pakistan Twenty20 (T20) squad and views on the legality of some bowling actions.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion.net (PP): How was it working with the West Indies spinners leading up to and during the World T20 and your assessment of West Indies performance at that tournament?
Saqlain Mushtaq (SM): The numbers don’t lie. West Indies’ spinners are No 1 and 2 in the world when it comes to T20Is. [Samuel] Badree is at No 1 and Sunil [Narine] at 2 and they are deservedly in those positions. The facts and figures are there for everyone to see.
The way we played against Australia and Pakistan showed the world that the West Indies can play like champions. They came into the tournament as champions and in those matches they showed why they were the reigning champions.
Unfortunately, due to the weather we lost the semi-final, but there were a lot of positives to take away from the tournament. The team played as a unit, the spirit was good and we prepared really well for the tournament. The commitment levels could not be criticised at all, and I really enjoyed the experience of working with the West Indies boys.
PP: You’ve worked with spinners from all over the world. How would Badree and Narine compare with the spinners you’ve previously worked with?
SM: Badree and Narine are special. They are very intelligent cricketers, hard-working individuals and extremely talented. They are above all very skilful and I don’t just mean that they are skilful when they have the ball in their hand, but they are also very skilful when analysing and preparing. They know their game and they are very thoughtful characters.
With Narine and Badree, you have the complete all round package. They know how to set the batsmen up and with them it’s not just about running in and bowling each delivery without much thought. As a spinner, you have to be patient and you have to have that ability to lead the batsman into making a mistake. Both Badree and Narine have the qualities to become even better bowlers.
PP: What was predominantly your role in the West Indies coaching set-up?
SM: One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about working with the West Indies team was my relationship with the players. They knew exactly what they wanted from me and it was an excellent two-way relationship. The emphasis was for me to act as an advisor on anything the players needed from me and I enjoyed the role. The players came to me on technical advice both from a bowling perspective and also from a batting perspective. It was a good experience.
PP: You were pictured with Mushtaq Ahmed ahead of the game against England. You were of course in West Indies colours and Mushtaq in England colours. That must have felt a bit strange?
SM: I’ve never thought of such things in a negative light as some people did when they saw that picture. At the end of the day, the world of cricket is one without any borders as such, and it’s a good thing that we are all allowed to work where we feel like without any restrictions.
Wherever and whoever I have worked with whether, let it be in the Caribbean, in New Zealand, in Bangladesh or in England, I have always worked to the best of my ability and I have always been committed to the role. There is absolutely no way I could ever perform a role without giving it 100% commitment.
Some people were very emotional about me being part of the coaching setup of an opposition team against Pakistan, and some also said strange things about it, but this is just part of cricket. All I can do is to do my best whichever board wants to hire my services.
If you are wearing the shirt of one team as a coach and your loyalties lie elsewhere then that is wrong, that is unfair on the players you are working with and unfair on the board that has hired you.
Also there are a number of coaches around the world working for and in other countries. For example Andy Flower who is from Zimbabwe has been working in England for a number of years, as have many Australians around the world. Duncan Fletcher is working in India, so it’s just part of the game and everyone should accept that it’s part of cricket and not take it too personally or in a negative way.
PP: As a former Pakistani cricketer, you know the mentality of the Pakistani players. What did you say to the West Indies players ahead of the match against Pakistan recently in Bangladesh?
SM: My main input to the discussions was to tell the boys that with one eye look at our strengths, but with the other eye look at the opposition’s weaknesses. We had a specific plan for that match and we never needed to move away from that plan at all against Pakistan.
PP: There’s been a lot of criticism of Pakistan’s performance at the World T20 and the fallout from that has of course been the resignation of Mohammad Hafeez as captain. What did you make of the Pakistan team at the event?
SM: Pakistan on paper had a very strong team. Their bowlers were of course their main strength, and they had bowlers at their disposal who were match winners. They had a good bunch of all-rounders and their batting line up was satisfactory. I was surprised that they never made it to the semi-finals.
The problem is when there is a lack of consistency in your levels of performance, and you are regarded as an unpredictable team then that is a clear signal to the opposition that you have weaknesses and flaws which outnumber your strengths and positive points. Individually, Pakistan looked a good side, where they fell short was playing as a team and I also think they lacked preparation as a whole across the three facets of cricket.
PP: There were some interesting comments from one or two commentators about bowling actions during the World T20. What did you make of the accusations that some bowlers are not bowling with legitimate bowling actions?
SM: Cricket is played under guidelines and rules. The rules are there regarding the number of bouncers per over, the rules are there for no-balls and every other aspect of the game and those rules have to be abided by.
Now, the opinions of commentators are irrelevant when it comes to bowling actions. What the media or public says is also irrelevant. What really matters is what rules and regulations are laid down by the ICC. If the ICC has cleared the actions of the bowlers under the current guidelines, then who am I or who is the television commentator to question that bowlers action?
I’d rather see commentators focusing on the skills of the players and appreciate those instead of criticising bowling actions which I feel is unnecessary and negative.
PP: But do you feel the current rules that the ICC have regarding the 15 degree limit are too lenient?
SM: No I don’t. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into that ruling and if the ICC feels that should be the limit then me as an ex-player and coach, the media and everyone else should move on and accept it. There are lots of cameras at every match, and if there are any glaring issues with actions then the ICC will deal with them accordingly and as far as I am aware no actions were reported during the World T20.
PP: Do you think by changing the rules to ensure all bowlers bowl in short sleeves would help the ICC and umpires identify illegal actions more easily?
SM: I mean where will this end? Shall we also impose a rule that batsmen can only wear one pad or that batsmen cannot bat with a helmet, or you cannot wear a sweater whilst fielding? I’m not in favour of the idea at all.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)