Danish Kaneria January 31, 2008

Hitting the rough

Kaneria has been Pakistan's leading wicket-taker for four years running, but he certainly isn't the bowler he was in 2005. He has just been demoted a rung in the team's contracts and isn't quite sure of his role in the side. He's not giving up just yet

'If I had better support, it would've been different' © AFP

As 2007 ended, Danish Kaneria was worried and not just because the country was headed for the abyss. Worried despite being one of only three players to play all of Pakistan's Tests last year, despite being their leading Test wicket-taker (for the fourth year running), and despite having bowled over a third of all Pakistan's overs in 2007.

"With due respect, I get more respect at Essex," he said presciently just before 2008. "I play limited-overs and Twenty20. They love me like crazy, so I give them effort. I do it for Pakistan as well, but sometimes my heart is broken, because for all I do for Pakistan, what do I get? I am in category B for central contracts, being a senior player. People who started after me are in A category. In ODIs I don't even get a chance."

Turns out he had reason to be worried. In 2008, Kaneria was again overlooked for an ODI series, against Zimbabwe, which says little for his future in the format. He was demoted in the central contracts to category C, the same tier as Fawad Alam, who has played two ODIs. A financially and otherwise rewarding county future with Essex was also under threat, after the PCB belatedly recognised the need to protect players from burnout and injury.

Selectors privately and persistently muttered Kaneria wasn't flighting the ball enough; an unknown leggie from Swabi in the NWFP played, and was heralded, against Zimbabwe in a tour match, a sly kick up Kaneria's backside. If he didn't get the message then, he sure as hell didn't miss it as the only 51-Test, 220-wicket invitee to a specialist two-week camp for spinners overseen by renowned.opening batsman Mudassar Nazar. Tough love, yes; just more tough than loving.

But some stirring was needed. Top of the wickets pile he has been, but over the last two years they have cost him 40-plus and arrived every 13.2 overs. Those numbers don't hide much and yet don't fully reveal the true depth of his struggle either.

He just hasn't looked a consistent threat, falling quickly into predictable, repetitive rhythms. He bowls good balls, but few wicket-taking ones; the longer he goes wicketless, the more he experiments and fidgets, and he rarely gets one early. The fizz, in short, has gone.

Not that he accepts it readily. Pitches are blamed first, particularly Indian ones, from where he had arrived with 12 very expensive wickets. "My performance was okay. I was Pakistan's highest wicket-taker and I was second overall. If I had better support, it would've been different," he reasons.

So you are happy with your bowling?

"There can be improvement. In 2005, I was the highest wicket-taker in India. This time people asked Kumble about my threat and he said we have a solution. The wickets were slow without bounce or spin," he sidesteps.

Then follows what is every spinner's clinching defense against poor performances in India: Shane Warne's nightmare experiences. "Look at Warne. I have more wickets against India than he does." Point noted, and almost entirely true: they have the same number of Indian wickets (43), but Kaneria has taken them in three Tests fewer (11), at a less poor average (41 to 47) and a better strike-rate.

But only later, to an unrelated query, does he acknowledge that, yes, he may be going through a dip. Even then it is qualified. "Bad patches come to all players, to the greatest like Wasim, Waqar, Sachin. The best emerge from it. I'm going through a bad patch right now but even then my performances aren't completely zero. I just need more support."

In that last plea lies a large part of the Kaneria conundrum. Since the summer of 2006, Pakistan have played with joke pace attacks, forever missing not one but at least two top bowlers. Kaneria has played every Test, flitting uncertainly between shock and stock bowler. Which is he?

Two years ago it didn't bother him much. "If I bowl 50 overs in an innings, then will I not give away 100 runs for my wickets? As a leggie I attack, so runs will be scored. But I take wickets, which is how you win matches," he said before England arrived in 2005. But, as he points out now, support was solid back then: Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami, Shabbir Ahmed and Abdul Razzaq.

"There is confusion over my role now," he admits. "When Inzamam was captain, he used me as a strike bowler, a wicket-taker. Unfortunately, this time I was both an attacking and defensive bowler. All responsibility was under me. We didn't have another bowler to stop runs or take wickets, so I ended up doing both.

"Sami is going through a bad patch and we're missing Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif. Along with a fit Shoaib, these are guys who perform, and with them [around] it's a different ball game."

Misfortune of all misfortunes is that when Kaneria has bowled well, Kamran Akmal has been keeping wicket. Conservatively, Akmal has fluffed 15 chances off Kaneria alone. Thus comes true Rashid Latif's observation that a legspinner owes at least half his prowess to the keeper.

"Warne had the best in Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist," Kaneria begins diplomatically. "Unfortunately, chances have been missed and others tell me how many wickets I've lost. No problem, everyone goes through a bad patch. Kamran is having a few problems, but if he had taken them, I would have 30 more wickets. No regrets, it is part of the game. It's a bad time right now but let's hope he gets better."

He just hasn't looked a consistent threat, falling quickly into predictable, repetitive rhythms. He bowls good balls, but few wicket-taking ones; the longer he goes wicketless, the more he experiments and fidgets, and he rarely gets one early. The fizz, in short, has gone

Right from his days as a short, chubby youngster at Karachi's St Patrick's School, Kaneria has been fiercely individualistic. He is justifiably proud that nobody has helped him get to where he is today. Admirably, he has never, privately or publicly, made an issue of his religion, but understandably, perhaps, being Pakistan's first real Hindu star has added to a sense of pride.

Maybe that is why he never felt the need for a mentor, a sounding board. "I've played over 50 Tests and done it as a lone spinner. Younis Khan is great as he always has tips and is willing to give ideas. But it doesn't make a difference. I have enough experience, knowhow and brains to adapt and progress."

The subject is poked further: to move up, prevent stagnation, might not some outside help or perspective be a good idea? "I'd love for someone to work with me. A leggie matures after 29. I have achieved something before it, but I now want to learn more. I want it to be in the right way so that I benefit, so that I add to my skills. Mushtaq, Qadir, Kumble, Jenner, anyone."

The other endearing Kaneria trait is the one that makes possible every 50-over spell on a merciless track. He is determined, cussedly so, and even when times are bad, confidence is never fully gone. "I need to shift up a few levels. My aim is to take 500 Test wickets, then attempt the record. Someone in India asked me whether I could take 700 wickets. I believe I can.

"I've gone past Saqlain and I am a few away from Qadir. After that Wasim, Waqar and Imran. I don't ever think I can't do it, because if I start thinking that, then I won't. Sure injuries, fitness and form issues are there, but whatever happens in the world or to me, I want wickets. That's it."

So it is, for Pakistan will hope it is this trait that might ultimately see him through.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • shankha on February 2, 2008, 9:57 GMT

    Danish i think is one more example of the way Pakistani captains and PCB have failed to handle talented players. Pakistan keeps on churning talented players series after series but most of them don't last their full potential. Be it saqlain, azhar mahmood mushtaq ahmed and many others. Pakistan needs someone like Imran to install confidence in their players and help them out in time of troubles.

  • Sarma on February 1, 2008, 14:05 GMT

    I have a computerised system that indicates series-wise performances on a 0-100 scale. As per this system, Danish's performances in the last few series are as under:

    (1) 2007-2008: Pak Vs SAF: 2 Matches - 10 wickets (out of series wickets of 64) for 422 runs in 910 balls - rating 85.1 (2) 2007-2008: Ind Vs Pak: 3 Matches - 12 wickets (out of series wickets of 87) for 628 runs in 1,050 balls - rating 60.4 (3) 2006-2007: SAF Vs Pak: 3 Matches - 15 wickets (out of series wickets of 101) for 395 runs in 1075 balls - rating 88.7 (4) 2006-2007: Pak Vs Win: 3 Matches - 14 wickets (out of series wickets of 88) for 448 runs in 924 balls - rating 90.8 (5) 2006 Eng Vs Pak: 4 Matches - 13 wickets (out of series wickets of 117) for 651 runs in 1338 balls - rating 74. (6) 2005-2006: SRL Vs PAK: 2 Matches - 8 wickets (out of series wickets of 58) for 235 runs in 463 balls - rating 48.9

    Danish is bowling on batsmen-friendly pitches, quite well.

  • kaiser on February 1, 2008, 12:08 GMT

    Some say he is overrated, some say he shouldn't compare himself with others, some say he is a stock bowler etc etc. I believe he is a good bowler but he never had an advice or two from anyone but still he has managed to get his name through thick and thin but still he finds himself in a limbo. Pakistan really doesn't have a real back up bowlers of late, every time we start to think we have someone real to bowl the opposotion out we find injuries and bans coz of drugs issues and conflicts of interests between the big fishes. Thats how things have been going worse, Pakistan should build strong bowling attack and give sincere and gritty players some confidence and place in the side then ask Kaneria how he bowls. If we have lame attack at the other end as it happened in the Banglore test. You let the opposition off the hook and put injured players in the side and ask only one player to do it all alone how is it possible. It may be the case that he gives less fligt, i pity to see him toil.

  • zia on February 1, 2008, 9:30 GMT

    Kaneria is not a Test Cricket Class bowler he doesnt know how to bowl in the 1st inning he need to bowl minimum 30 overs to find his rythym.. as i search his record book . i fine his last 23 innings he bowls in those innings he only achieve only 1 Five Wickets haul and in his career he gives away over 120 Runs in 33 times.. so how you feel he is a good bowler i bet if Yunis khan bowls 50 over he can get 6 wickets. so if Selectors thought he is a good bowler then please drop him 1 or 2 series. and give chance to improve his wicket taking ability and try Shahid Afridi as a Genuine Leg Spin option in every match and you will see he bowl well in Test . Please Drop Kaneria Thx Cricinfo

  • Madan on February 1, 2008, 5:15 GMT

    The perplexing thing is that in the Delhi Test between India and Pak last year, it was Kaneria who got a lot of nip and seemed more effective than our spin duo. As things turned out, Kumble was lethal in the second innings and Kaneria simply didn't cut it and thereafter was ineffective all through the series..like Brad Hogg in the Ind-Aus series, he was the bowler Indian batsmen looked to attack from the word go.

    While it is true that he lacks support from his pace bowlers, it is worth noting that Kumble soldiered on and ran through batting lineups even at a time when Harvinder Singh was our second seamer and Ganguly the first change!!! It is time for both Kaneria and the other "future prospect" of spin bowling - Harbhajan Singh - to get a reality check....they could start with reducing their average through-the-air speed by at least 10ks! Taking some advice from Daniel Vettori would do any harm either.

  • Hassan on February 1, 2008, 2:54 GMT

    What a joke! Why is he comparing his record against India to Shane Warne's record. Unfortunently we never saw the best of Shane against India but that was because he was either injured or recovering from injury and his first ever test match was against India. Rather if he compares his record against India to Saqlains record or Mushy's record he would realise how poor he is in comparison.

  • Shailendra on January 31, 2008, 21:38 GMT

    This whole article seems silly - Kaneria is way overrated - period.

    Name one batsman which Kaneria managed to trouble consistently... ever!

    Kaneria should consider himself lucky to even have played whatever games he got to play for Pakistan so far - and forget about setting himself ridiculous targets like going beyond 700 wickets.

    Danish - Be happy with whatever you have achieved so far. And as far as Saqlain is considered, he was a true champion!!!

  • Imran on January 31, 2008, 20:16 GMT

    No doubt Danish is the best Spinner in Pakistan but he needs to learn how to take wickets. He has to plan against batsmen by bowling to their weaknesses. It seems that Kaneria believes he can only take wickets with his googly or topspinner. He has no faith in his legspin. What was outstanding about warne was that his legbreak had three varieties of turn whereas the other varieties were used after the third or fourth delivery.Kaneria tries to do it from ball one. Build pressure by bowling more legbreaks that would allow him to bowl to a field thus conceding less runs.

  • yasir on January 31, 2008, 13:21 GMT

    I believe that Danish is a pretty big asset to Pakistani cricket. Not only because Danish is a great player, but also becuase Pakistan lack a quality spinner and aren't the team they used to be. Danish has every right to say what he says. he deserves a chance to play one dayers as well.

  • Deepak on January 31, 2008, 13:12 GMT

    part of the grudge could be his non selection for the ODI's or the general treatment that he has been meted out by all and sundry. And he has a point or two when he says that there has never been a potent seam attack off late for Pakistan playing regularly. Warne had Mcgrath/gillespie/lee to start the demolition.Kumble had the support of Srinath/Zaheer and then he had some one like Harbhajan breathing under his nose all time to take up his spot if he didn't perform and then Kumble is fiesty as hell. Never giving an inch away at all. To be frank it would be unfair to compare him again these two at this stage of his career. If Danish is reading this then mate one suggestion, Improve your body language, get the balls flighting and importantly pitch then right. It's easier said than done, but then one who dares gets the glory otherwise it's always a sad sad story.

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