Osman Samiuddin
Sportswriter at the National

A history of Pakistan's struggles against left-arm spinners

Trouble in the left-arm front

Pakistan's Old Trafford shellacking was, a Pakistani paper sagely observed, one of their worst ever under Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq

Osman Samiuddin

July 30, 2006

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Monty Panesar might still inflict plenty more damage in this series © Getty Images
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Pakistan's Old Trafford shellacking was, a Pakistani paper sagely observed, one of their worst ever under Bob Woolmer and Inzamam-ul-Haq (justifiably perhaps, ranking as it did up there with their massacre at Perth in December 2004). Another worried that the lack of fight in their crumble was particularly worrying; another didn't bother words, calling it simply, gutless. Much of the English press didn't deem their performance noteworthy enough to warrant labelling. Had they all been wisened left-arm spinners, they would have been tempted to call it, with the understatement that marks their kind, simply inevitable.

For years now, left-arm spinners have been generally overlooked in cricket; indeed for a while many were just left-handed batsmen who occasionally turned their arm over to fill in overs or cause occasional freak collapses. Pakistan alone, though, has championed their cause from the time they became a Test nation, succumbing to them spectacularly every now and again to ensure they don't die out. So really, it was inevitable that Monty Panesar would mess with their happiness at some point through the series. The Oval, you would have guessed, but Old Trafford will do.

Vinoo Mankad set the pattern in Pakistan's very first Test, taking 13 wickets against them at Delhi in an innings win and he enjoyed further success against them through his career. Ray Bright's valour in the second tied Test in Madras isn't readily forgotten but many in Pakistan already suspected this trait; his ten wickets at Karachi in 1979-80 gave Pakistan only a scare eventually in a seven-wicket win, but he ended with 15 out of the 24 wickets Australia took. At Karachi, he was bested eventually by 11 from Pakistan's own left-arm twirler Iqbal Qasim. The immeasurably genial Qasim came out on top in the battle of left-armers again in Bangalore, seven years later; Maninder Singh's 7 for 27 on a much-eulogized pitch (and ten in the match) was undeservedly lessened by defeat and Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed's 18 wickets.

The English may have bemoaned the lack of quality spinners for years, but Pakistanis at least wouldn't know what the fuss is all about. Derek Underwood was hardly orthodox but left-arm and slow he certainly was; apparently that was enough at Lord's in 1974 for eight Pakistani batsmen in the second innings (and 13 all told). And though Karachi scares most tourists, left-arm spinners clearly don't mind it. Phil Edmonds's 7 for 66 at Karachi in the dreary 1977-78 series echoed years later in 1983-84 when Nick Cook's 11 almost led England to an improbable win (Pakistan stuttered to a three-wicket victory chasing a paltry 65). Even though many were, nobody should have been surprised that Ashley Giles picked up seven wickets in the celebrated dusk raid at Karachi in 2000-01, to go with a haul of 17 wickets in a series win.

Giles, along with Mohammad Rafique (and now Panesar) provides conclusive proof that this isn't just a generational glitch but a broader, yet inexplicable, one. But for a dodgy decision or two and some comedy fielding mishaps, Rafique may well have led Bangladesh to a Test win against Pakistan at Multan in 2003; instead he ended only an admirable loser with 17 wickets from the series as consolation.

And yet before any definitive conclusion is made, attention must be drawn to two of the best of the breed - Bishan Bedi and Daniel Vettori - both of whom have records so awful against Pakistan even Ray Price would snigger. Bangalore was also an oddity in Maninder's experiences against Pakistan, Phil Tufnell's only Test against them, in 1992 (at the Oval) was remarkable for precisely nothing and Giles struggled last winter.

Pakistan themselves have possessed few of note - Pervez Sajjad at one time and of course Qasim, who with his portly ways was somehow almost made to bowl left-arm spin. What does it all say? On the surface, not too much really; there is no pattern to the performances referred to here and a number of them are one-offs. What it does do though is further strengthen the argument of some - including Abdul Qadir - that Pakistanis are historically not as solid against spin as the myth generally makes them out to be (certainly their broad ineptitude against Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan adds credence to this). Which means that Monty might not yet have played his last act in this series.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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Osman Samiuddin Osman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.

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