Spinners July 14, 2007

Saqlain's conversion of convenience

For Saqlain was once a spinner who held the world in his mesmeric grip

More and more of us enjoy an existence of divided loyalties. You might live in England or Australia but support India or Pakistan for reasons of birth or ancestry. With the same birth or ancestry you might support England or Australia. These are differences and preferences of the heart we should celebrate. It is possible to be a fully committed British citizen and support Pakistan at cricket.

When it comes to who you would play for the calculation becomes more pragmatic. Those same India and Pakistan supporters living in England, for example, would mostly jump at the chance of playing for England. It is already happening--and rightly their loyalties switch quickly and emphatically to their country of residence.

Some talented cricketers are groomed in one country and then switch loyalties to another, taking up their qualification rights at the start of their international careers. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Symonds are two recent examples. If you have a choice at the start of your international career, then lucky you.

Other cricketers with insubstantial international careers have switched countries to improve their chances of playing regular international cricketer. Graeme Hick and Dipak Patel made moves for different reasons. This is where players' behaviour begins to verge on the mercenary.

Which leads us to the case of Saqlain Mushtaq. He is still young for a spinner with potentially many years of international cricket before him. For much of his career, he was an indispensable part of the Pakistan cricket team. He almost helped Pakistan win a World Cup. He played a hand in some memorable triumphs. He also took his share of criticism for Pakistan's unpredictable performances and was touched by the finger of accusation for some of the scandals.

Saqlain lost his place in the Pakistan team through a mixture of injury, declining form, and political machinations. He was a spinner who had it all--perhaps even a teesra--and then had nothing. I feel for his plight as an international sportsman cast into the wilderness. But I don't support his willingness to consider playing for England. It seems wrong to me that a player fails to be selected for a country and then fancies his chances with another instead of fighting for his career. It is also unfair on English spinners.

Saqlain has played hundreds of matches for Pakistan. He could play many more. The words he should be uttering are ones of determination to regain his place as Pakistan's premier spinner. These thoughts of England aren't those of a winner, which might mean that he doesn't have the right attitude to compete again at the highest level. I hope not. For Saqlain was once a spinner who held the world in his mesmeric grip. His conversion to England would be an admission of failure and an act of convenience, unworthy of the spirit of cricket.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here