Saqlain Mushtaq – the man who revolutionised off-spin in the modern era

In many ways Saqlain Mushtaq was the trend-setter, with many aping his style and tactics in the years ahead © Getty Images

Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at Saqlain Mushtaq’s career on the occasion of his birthday.

Saqlain Mushtaq, born on December 29, 1976 revolutionised spin bowling in the modern game and defined a spinner’s role in one-day cricket. With his craft and uncanny deception, he rose to become the best off-spinner in the world in the late 1990s. In a land that has produced a long line of fast-bowlers, Saqlain along with Mushtaq Ahmed established themselves as the frontline tweakers. In many ways Saqlain was the trend-setter, with many aping his style and tactics in the years ahead.

In 1995, Saqlain burst on to the scene as a promising 18-year old against Sri Lanka. He immediately caught the eye and one could see that he was a natural wicket-taker. He had that typical side on action and the occasional pause on the delivery stride. However, he was the one who perfected the art of bowling the ‘doosra’ – a delivery that goes the other way. That copious variety made him a force to reckon with and the statistics reflect that tale.

A statistical analysis of Saqlain’s career – One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in particular – shows how effective he was. Pakistan already had Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar handling the pace-bowling duties and Saqlain added to that to make it one of the most dangerous bowling attacks in the world. Here is his career record in both the formats:

  M Wkts Avg SR Inngs Best Match Best 5WI 10WM
Tests 49 208 29.83 67.6 8-164 10-155 13 3
ODIs 169 288 21.78 30.4 5-20 5-20 6

These are fantastic numbers and show how prolific he was. The detail that stands out in this table is the bowling averages in both formats. In ODIs in particular, an average of 21.78 is simply brilliant – that too in a format where the batsmen try to attack the spinners. Even a strike-rate of 30.4 shows how effective he was in the said format.

However, the table does not reveal a very interesting detail – one that puts Saqlain’s wicket-taking ability into proper perspective. He was the fastest to 100, 150, 200 and 250 wickets in ODIs.

The said details:

Milestone Matches
100 wickets 53
150 wickets 78
200 wickets 104
250 wickets 138


Until the 200 wickets landmark, he was going at almost two wickets in a game. He held the advantage until the 250 wicket mark and ultimately finished on 288 wickets. Thus, he couldn’t build on that and his records galore stopped there. In ODIs, he also has two hat-tricks to his credit.

On the tour to India in 1999, he showed his class with a performance that stunned the hosts. In the two Test match series (the third one was an Asian Test Championship contest), he picked up 20 wickets – picking up five wicket hauls in each of the four innings. In that series, he helped Pakistan steal victory from the hands of Sachin Tendulkar at Chennai. Now, that performance was evidence of his ability. Indian batsmen are known to play spin well and are tigers at home. And, to take five wickets in each of the four innings speaks volumes of his efforts.

Saqlain couldn’t maintain a hold over his spot in the Pakistan team after the 2003 World Cup. His final Test came against India at Multan in 2003-04 – where he ran into a rampaging Virender Sehwag who helped himself to a triple ton. A bowler of Saqlain’s calibre should have played a lot more and it is a pity that he featured in only 49 Tests. After being discarded by Pakistan, he went on to play for Sussex and Surrey in County Cricket. He played his last First-Class game in 2008.

Looking back at Saqlain’s career and his contribution to cricket, one wonders whether we would have seen a Saeed Ajmal – someone who is considered his able successor. Would the off-spinners have considered pausing on their delivery stride or tried their hand at numerous variations without Saqlain’s example?

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at