'I'm proud that I revived an art'
Shane Warne will rightly be celebrated as the greatest legspinner of all time, especially after an individual performance in The Ashes that has few rivals. But if he is widely acknowledged to have made legspin fashionable again in the 1990s, one man - Abdul Qadir - took the first, necessary step of making it acceptable in the '80s. On his 50th birthday and nearly 28 years after he hopped, skipped and danced into cricket, we speak to the original modern-day legspinner about his career, his art and Warne.
You are 50 today. How would you look back at your time in cricket?
I am very thankful that I got to play in such a good era for the game and with so many great players. Obviously I am also proud that I revived an art like legspin, especially in a time when there were hardly any spinners who had any success. I am happy that I was involved in bringing alive an art that was so valuable but had become redundant. My time was dominated by fast bowlers and to have taken 236 Test wickets in that is something I am very proud of. Then, pitches wouldn't assist turn that much, especially not on the first or second day as they do now, and to have played and played well then is an achievement.
Why did you take up legspin in that time?
It just happened, starting off in the street matches we used to play. But legspin became like a love affair with me, like you would have with a woman. I used to sleep with the ball by my side at night. I picked up all the variations myself because I loved it so much, I wanted to discover more about the art, find out how it can work, what makes it tick, what makes it special, how it can succeed in different conditions.
What attributes do you need to be a good legspinner?
You need courage, above all. With the ball, you need to have complete control over line and length - this is absolutely crucial. So many legspinners can get good turn and bounce but just don't have any control and thus aren't successful. You also need to be a good thinker about the game, more than other bowlers I think. That is why Shane Warne is successful, because he really thinks about his game. Variation is crucial as well. Field placings and having an idea of what fields to bowl to is important; you can't just rely on the captain to set fields for you. Finally, an ability to use the crease well, although it is underrated, is very important.
What do you make of the state of legspin today?
This is the most fulfilling thing for me. When I started, it was unheard of to bowl legspin, especially in ODI matches. To bowl to batsmen like Ian Botham in a match and get their wickets with legspin - that didn't happen. And now, the highest wicket-taker in the world and one of the greatest bowlers of all time is Shane Warne. Close behind him is another great, Anil Kumble, and in Pakistan, we had Mushtaq (Ahmed) after me and now Danish Kaneria. This is vital for the game itself and for viewers because they get to see some really accomplished performers executing a rare art. After me, there has been a mela (festival) of legspinners and that is great for the game. It's just great to see bowlers like that in a game now and having so much success.
What did you think of Warne's performances in the Ashes series?
Absolutely amazing and full credit to him; 40 wickets in any series is an unbelievable haul. But I would like to point out that English players play legspin so badly that at times it is inevitable bowlers will succeed against them. I would go as far as to say that several club batsmen in the subcontinent would play legspin better than some of the English batsmen today. You wouldn't have batsmen being bowled around their legs like some English players were. They can't use their pads properly against balls pitching around leg stump and find it impossible to read from the hand. Above all, sweeping a legspin bowler is one of the worst ways of playing him. You can't account for the bounce or the turn so it becomes too dangerous.
|He [Warne] is simply one of the greatest bowlers ever. His record speaks for itself. The best thing about him, what sets him apart, is his heart and bravery|
How would you rate Shane Warne?
There is no rating - he is simply one of the greatest bowlers ever. His record speaks for itself. The best thing about him, what sets him apart, is his heart and bravery. Legspin is mostly about being brave. You know you might get torn apart, you know, occasionally, you might bowl a loose delivery but you also know you will take wickets and to keep that attitude is the most important thing. Also he has tremendous control. He can do pretty much what he wants with the ball, the amount of spin he wants to impart, where he wants to land it. If you have control as a legspinner, then you have a basic ingredient to be successful. It also helps if you have a reputation like he does. So many batsmen are already lost before they even step out on the pitch against him that even when he does bowl a loose delivery they still end up either getting out to it or not scoring off it.
What do you think of Danish Kaneria?
He is an excellent bowler but the only thing I worry about is his attitude and just how aggressive he gets. It's good to have aggression but when you have just gotten rid of Justin Langer after he has almost scored a double century and you celebrate like you have won and give him a send-off, that is not good. You have to have respect for good players and especially those who have dominated you. He should worry that he got him out after such a huge score and not early on. Brian Lara really hit Kaneria everywhere and dominated him but when Danish got him, with a poor ball as well, he celebrated like no tomorrow. As a bowler he doesn't really have many weaknesses - good action, variety and control but it is his attitude that is a concern I think. You have to respect your opponent, especially players of calibre. Also he is playing so much county cricket, he has exposed himself to batsmen. I avoided it because I didn't want to sell my art, I didn't want batsmen to know my tricks. But with Danish, they might have a better idea of how to play him now, having seen him play at county level so often. He should be a matchwinner against England in this series and I hope he will be.
It was always said that you had a lot of variety, which was the key to your success. Nowadays it can be argued that bowlers like Kumble and Warne may be don't possess the variety you did but are still so successful. How important then is variety in a legspinner's armoury?
This is a good question. See today, the performances of Warne and Kumble are there. Nobody can or should doubt their achievements. But there is no fun there in the bowling. Partially, I guess it is due to a decline in the quality of batsmanship today. Because it has gone down, that variety is not actually needed because you can get them out repeatedly with one or two types of balls - they are unable to cope with it. When I was playing, you used to have batsmen like Imran (Khan), Kapil (Dev) and Hadlee coming so low down the order and they were quality players. It is an indication of how strong top orders were then. Now because batting is not of the standard it used to be, you don't need to have too much variety to succeed.
You said that you had three deliveries: the googly, legbreak and the flipper. Where did your variety come from?
These are all part of the art. This is what makes it what it is, the building blocks. The variety comes from how you use them. So you use the crease, approach it from different angles, get different amounts of turn. I developed two googlies, one that came from the back of the hand and the other that was a finger-spinning googly delivered with a conventional legbreak action. If you bowl from close to stumps, you get more spin but from wider it spins less. I used to do all sorts of things not just different types of balls. Going wide of the crease, coming closer to the stumps, bowling from behind the crease, dropping your shoulders a little, bowling the same ball but with different grips or actions; all of it should be part of the package of a legspinner.
You had a very distinct, unique action and you once said it was a construction.
Yes, it was an artificial action. As I became more experienced, I started realising the importance of uncovering the psyche of batsmen and playing on it. The action was for show really, to create a physical aura, to give them that feeling of `wow, who and what is this coming in to bowl?' and work on their minds even before I bowled to them. My natural action was very different, quite beautiful. It was like Wasim Raja's action only right-arm. It was also designed for deception, to shield the ball from batsmen. It is important with legspin to not allow batsmen to read from your hand because those who can will play you really well. Our whole job is about deceiving batsmen and so hiding your grip is important. So the action worked in that way as well. Actually, that is one thing about Warne - he doesn't hide his hand too much and good batsmen should be able to read him fairly easily because he has such an open action. My first advice to any budding spinner: you should hide your hand as much as is possible from batsmen. Obviously though, 600 wickets later, we can't really say to Warne that he should change his action!
You also had a successful one-day career - not many legspin bowlers used to play in ODIs.
I thought it was a great injustice when I wasn't picked early in my career as an ODI player. I could bat handily as well at times so I used to get very annoyed. I actually fought with Imran Khan to be picked for the ODI squad. I asked him, as a captain, what do you want from me? He said, any bowler who gives away roughly 40 runs in ten overs and not more I will pick. I said to him the day I give 41 runs you drop me from the team. Like this I fought to get into the side. And in my first match I took 4-21 against New Zealand at the World Cup.
Did you go in with a different attitude to a one-day match?
See, it depends on the situation of the match. If you are defending a small total, then I find it best to attack, go all out, and crowd the batsman with fielders. If you have been dismissed for 150 runs, then you just have to bowl them out so you take a chance and attack as much as you can. That is something you don't always see from bowlers, any bowlers, today. The whole game has gone so much in favour of batsmen that it is difficult for bowlers to attack.
Who was the most difficult batsmen you bowled to?
You know it all depended with me on how I was feeling. If I didn't have any rhythm then even tailenders used to frighten me. But if I had some rhythm then nobody could scare me. I remember one Test where I had to bowl to Geoff Lawson and I was in such low confidence and poor rhythm that I spent an evening worrying about how badly he could hit me and how he would sweep a legbreak from outside off-stump to the fine leg boundary. But if I was in the mood and feeling good, then nobody scared me. It is part of my psyche, whether at Test level or club level. If you can conquer me do so, but if you can't, then I will be all over you. All or nothing, do or die. If I got a wicket early then I would run through but if I didn't then I could go for over a hundred runs for none.
9 for 56 vs England, Lahore, 1987-88
Unfortunately remembered more for umpire Shakeel Khan's itchy finger than Qadir's wrists, this was nevertheless vintage. He came on after only 10 overs and began by deceiving fully Graham Gooch with a googly. He continued for another 37overs, teasing, taunting, appealing, bemusing and getting the occasional dodgy one from umpire Khan to end with the best bowling figures by a Pakistani.
6 for 16 vs West Indies, Faisalabad, 1986-7
The genesis of Qadir's torment of the West Indies. Chasing 240 to take the series lead, the visitors crashed to 53 all out in just over 25 overs. Qadir bowled nine of them and in a twinkling of googlies, legbreaks and the occasional flipper, deceived six batsmen, including the batting heart - Richie Richardson, Larry Gomes and Sir Viv Richards.
7 for 96 vs England, The Oval, 1987
The pitch, according to Qadir, offered nothing but runs. The other spinners - John Emburey, Phil Edmonds and Tauseef Ahmed bowled 162.3 overs between them for three wickets; Qadir bowled 97.4 overs for ten wickets, thus proving Qadir's own theorem-where no one else can succeed, legspin can find a way. His 7-96 in the first innings set up the chance for a win and only dropped catches and stodgy rearguard from Mike Gatting and Ian Botham in the second prevented it.
5 for 44 vs Sri Lanka, Leeds, 1983 (World Cup)
In 1983, playing a legspinner in an ODI was cricketing taboo. Qadir fought with Imran for his selection, Imran fought with the selectors and on his debut Qadir befuddled New Zealand with 4 for 21 and the match award. Two matches later, with Sri Lanka cruising at 162-2 in pursuit of 236, Qadir removed Roy Dias, Duleep Mendis and Arjuna Ranatunga to induce a startling collapse. He finished with five and Pakistan squeaked home by 11 runs.
4 for 83 vs West Indies, Trinidad, 1988
Qadir left his mark not only on the fiercest rivalry of the 80s, but also one of the decade's best series. Although his role with the bat - permanently undervalued - was crucial in eventually scrapping a draw, he feasted on a strong middle order in the first innings, getting rid of Gus Logie and Carl Hooper. But his dismissal of Richards, chewing gum and swinging bat, both threateningly, for 49 runs that kept West Indies to a controllable 174 was essential. Richards' violent century in the second confirmed the form he was in. The pitch and umpiring, says Qadir, could only be defied by his legspin and Imran's reverse.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo