Tauseef Ahmed: The Lionel Richie look alike who bowled enticing off-spin

Tauseef Ahmed…a classical off-spinner © Getty Images

Tauseef Ahmed, born May 10, 1958, probably got more attention for being a Lionel Richie look alike than for being an off-spinner who was good enough to represent his country. Tauseef bowled an unremitting line on and around off-stump and his natural variations that made him a dangerous bowler. Sarang Bhalerao looks at the cricketing career of the Pakistan off-spinner.

A loopy delivery with generous dose of flight dipped and lured an aggressive Kapil Dev into playing an expansive shot in the Rothman’s Cup at Sharjah in 1985. Kapil was bowled. Mohammad Azharuddin, the top-scorer (47), had no answer to the classical off-spin and was beaten likewise in the air. Both victims of Tauseef Ahmed, who got immense pleasure in beating the batsman in the air — a facet of off-spin bowling that’s exemplified the traditional but fast-dying art.

Tauseef was an unheralded prospect in 1980. One of his friends had recommended his name to the then Pakistan captain Javed Miandad. He was invited by Miandad to bowl in the nets, just before the Pakistan-Australia Test series. Tauseef beat Miandad in the nets and impressed one and all. His bowling performance at the nets eventually led to his selection for the first Test of the series.

Tauseef had an immediate impact as he and left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim made the Australians dance to the quality spin bowling on a turning track at Karachi’s National Stadium. Pakistan bowled out Australia for 225 with Tauseef picking up 4 for 64. In reply, Pakistan secured a lead of 67. In their second essay Australia’s perpetual struggle against the spin continued. On the third day, they had a slender lead of 23 and had lost 6 wickets. Tauseef picked up 3 for 62 in the second innings, aggregating 7 wickets on his Test debut.

How good Tauseef was a Test match bowler can be ascertained by the fact that his career average and economy rate were actually better — though marginally — than the legendary Abdul Qadir.

T W Avg ER
Tauseef Ahmed 34 93 31.72 2.27
Abdul Qadir 67 236 32.80 2.71

At Kandy’s Asgiriya Stadium in 1986, Tauseef partnered Qadir to destroy Sri Lanka on a treacherous pitch which spun from the first session. Tauseef picked up 3 for 32 and 6 for 45 [his best bowling performance in a Test innings]. The match aggregate of 9 for 77 was the best bowling analysis in Tauseef’s Test match career and earned his first Man of the Match award.

An epochal moment in Tauseef’s cricket career was the Bangalore Test match of 1987. The pitch was a rank turner. Imran Khan had called Qasim from Pakistan and Abdul Qadir was dropped. Pakistan made 116 in the first innings with Maninder Singh picking up 7 for 27.

Qasim and Tauseef forged a partnership that befuddled India in their first innings. Qasim’s slow left-arm spin was complemented by Tauseef’s sharp off-breaks. Tauseef’s mesmeric loop and guile was refreshing. He picked up 5 for 54 as Pakistan bowled out India for 145 in the first innings. India’s last 6 wickets fell for 19 runs.

Pakistan scored 249 runs in their second innings leaving India to get 221 for a series win. In the second innings, Tauseef bowled Dilip Vengsarkar who failed to gauge Tauseef’s sharp turn and then accounted for Kiran More, who played back at a faster delivery and was adjudged leg before. But Sunil Gavaskar batted quite unbelievable on a treacherous track in what was his farewell innings in Test cricket. When Gavaskar was finally dismissed by Qasim at 96, India still needed 41 runs with two wickets in hand.

Tauseef cleaned up Shivlal Yadav and beat Binny in flight when the Indian all-rounder went for a slog-sweep. The ball took his bottom edge and ‘keeper Saleem Yousuf pouched a catch to give Pakistan a famous win by 16 runs and with it the series 1-0. Tauseef and Qasim both picked up nine wickets each in the Test match.

In 1988, Australia toured Pakistan for a 3-Test series. In the first Test at Karachi, Pakistan played a three-pronged spin-attack: Qadir, Qasim and Tauseef. After notching up 469 in the first innings, the spotlight shifted on the spinners. Australia scored at a snail’s pace and were dismissed for 165 off 122 overs — at a run rate of 1.35 runs per over. Tauseef’s bowling analysis were 26-15-28-1. He gave nothing away. His assiduous line and length made Australia look hapless.

Pakistan enforced the follow-on. Australia struggled to break free even in the second innings. The spinning trifecta triggered another collapse and Pakistan won the match by an innings and 188 runs. Tauseef’s bowling figures in the second innings were 21.4-13-16-2. He finished the Test with match figures of 47.4-28-44-3.

Tauseef played in 70 One-Day Internationals and picked up just 55 wickets with only one four-wicket haul. His attacking line and copious flight were probably unsuited for the overs-limit in the abridged version of the game.

Tauseef with the bat

In the famous match where Javed Miandad hit a six off the final delivery, it was Tauseef who had taken the most crucial single in the penultimate delivery off Chetan Sharma.

“He [Miandad] asked me straightaway, “Kya karoge? [What will you do?]”. I replied “Bhagoonga [will run for everything]”, and that was what I did eventually,” said Tauseef.

In 1986 at Karachi against West Indies, Tauseef and Imran Khan batted for an hour-and-a-half to save the Test match. The series was drawn 1-1. Tauseef faced Malcolm Marshall, Tony Gray and Courtney Walsh and scored 7 from 65 deliveries.

Tauseef is now a coach who teaches Pakistan’s next generation the fun of beating batsmen in the air and getting their wicket. Tauseef is one of the few in the world who can do that in an era where spinners fire the ball at the batsmen to try and escape punishment.

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)