Top Performer - Mushtaq Ahmed September 13, 2006

Driving to success

Sam Collins
Hindsight is a marvellous thing.
  shares



Mushtaq Ahmed claimed match figures of 13 for 132 against Kent © Martin Williamson
Hindsight is a marvellous thing. As Pakistan limped towards the end of their tour this week, having let the one-day series slip through their fingers with defeat at Edgbaston, their players and selectors could have been forgiven for casting wistful glances towards the south coast. There they would find Mushtaq Ahmed, one of their own, basking in the glory of a potentially Championship-winning performance for Sussex against Kent. Pakistan arrived in England this summer with a legspinner they were convinced would spin them to victory in the Test series, and were not afraid to shout about it.

A county cricket enthusiast would have believed them too: this lad Kaneria must be good if he's keeping Mushtaq out of the team. The same Mushtaq who played his last Test two years ago, but had taken a mammoth 267 wickets at 26 in the previous three English summers. England's batsmen, however, had obviously not read the script, proving so unfazed by Kaneria that he claimed just 13 wickets at a shade over 50, with not a single match changing spell in the four Tests.

But what of Mushtaq? While his former international colleagues have been engulfed in ball tampering storms and suffering Test defeats, Mushtaq has been quietly guiding Sussex towards their second County Championship in four years. His 13 wickets for 132 in last week's defeat of Kent at Canterbury took Sussex 19 points clear of Lancashire at the top of the first division, and moved him to 89 wickets for the summer. Once again he is within striking distance of the hundred wicket mark, a feat he achieved in 2003 when he took 103 wickets. He has the opportunity to claim the eleven he needs against Nottinghamshire in the final match of the season.

Only a fool would bet against him; after all he did take nine for 130 in the match against them at Hove earlier this summer. He is immensely popular with his team mates, talismanic in fact, and played a massive part when Sussex won their first Championship in his first season at the club. Such is his status in Hove that Sussex have applied to Brighton and Hove council to have a bus named after him, following in the footsteps of characters as diverse as Sir Lawrence Olivier and Fatboy Slim.



Mushy is a talismanic figure at Sussex © Getty Images

So, to Canterbury, and after two early dismissals, Kent had added 149 for the third wicket, and were beginning to look comfortable. A large first-innings total by Kent would have been a serious dent to Sussex's title hopes, with victory at Canterbury a must. Enter Mushtaq. In 53 deliveries, he claimed 6 wickets for 16 runs and reduced Kent from the comfort of 176 for 3 to 241 all out. Game changed.

The second innings provided more of the same, as he claimed 7 for 74 to record his best figures for Sussex. As if this wasn't enough, he then scored a vital undefeated 13 with the bat to guide his team home when it looked like they might falter. Rumours that he also made the tea and brought the bails are unsubstantiated.

That it was a turning pitch is clear, Kent's offspinner James Tredwell recorded a maiden ten-wicket match haul in the same game, but in a strange way that put Mushtaq under more pressure. He had to produce, his team were relying on him, and he did. It is this consistency that marks him out as a great. He has battled through shoulder, neck and groin injuries this summer and yet has managed to play every game bar one in the Championship, becoming the country's leading wicket taker for the fourth year in succession, a remarkable feat. As James Kirtley steered the leg-side single that brought up victory at Canterbury, Mushtaq dropped to his knees in prayer, a clear indication of how much victory still means to him.

With hindsight, Pakistan's selectors might have cause to regret turning their backs on him when he is still as deadly as ever. Still, you won't find many complaints in Hove.

Statistically Speaking....

In 284 first class matches since his debut in 1987, Mushtaq has taken 1268 wickets at an average of 25.77.

He has taken five wickets in an innings a staggering 92 times, that's once every 3.1 matches.

In 52 Tests for Pakistan he took 185 wickets at 32.97, with best match figures of 10 for 106.

His strike rate in Tests of 67.74 compares unfavourably with his career strike rate of 51.06.

In four seasons with Sussex, he has taken 356 wickets at an average of 25.05.

In his 63 games for Sussex, he has taken 10 wickets in the match 11 times, one every 5.7 games.

Everybody loves Mushy because...

He can't drive... One former Somerset team-mate remembers how a wide driveway was always one of the key criteria in the Mushtaq's search for accommodation....

He can't remember his team-mates' names... After four seasons of playing alongside the Zimbabwean Murray Goodwin, he often still calls him Murray Goodman.

He can't count either... After Chris Adams had scored a match-winning hundred in a one day match at Hove last summer, Mushy bounded up to him and said, "I have two words to say to you, I love you".

What next?

He has a year left on his contract with Sussex, which they will undoubtedly be looking to extend. If this falls through, then, having already played for Somerset, Surrey and Sussex, he might look to extend his career in the minor counties, with Suffolk, Staffordshire and Shropshire sure to be interested.