Spinner May 17, 2010

Three leggies, an offie and a leftie

Though spin has mostly played second fiddle to Pakistan's pace attack, in the hands of these masters it took a starring role

Pace has always been the way of Pakistan. Many of the most famous triumphs have been scripted with fast bowling at the very center. But fine cameos have been provided by spinners, mostly as handy sidekicks, but occasionally in the identity of some, the main story themselves; in Pakistan's very first Test, in fact, the elderly portly legspinner Amir Elahi was their leading wicket-taker.

The story of Pakistan's spinners is of quality rather than quantity. Zulfiqar Ahmed, an offspinner, and brother-in-law of AH Kardar, was the country's first regular spinner and the first of his kind to win them a Test; 11 cheap wickets at the National Stadium in Karachi in 1955 brought Pakistan their first home Test win. Nineteen for him in the series brought them their first series win. Nasim-ul-Ghani and Pervez Sajjad, left-arm spinners both, kept things moving shortly after and spin has since been an essential component of any successful Pakistan attack.

The tradition is also a significant one with broader ripples. At a time, for example, when legspin had all but disappeared, Pakistan was captained by two, in Intikhab Alam and Mushtaq Mohammad. Not long after came Abdul Qadir, and though he didn't make the art as fashionable as did Shane Warne later, he stands at ground zero of the revival. With Mushtaq Ahmed and Danish Kaneria, Pakistan can truly claim to have done their bit and then some to keep alive cricket's most compelling skill.

Later would come Saqlain Mushtaq and in his own way he broadened the scope of modern-day offspin like no other. The doosra was his contribution to his breed and the variation is now an essential part of the offspinner's kit. There are names of real quality in the nominations and as Pakistan have needed only one spinner to complement their attack, so any all-time XI has space ideally for only one. The choice is not straightforward.

The contenders

Abdul Qadir
The true father of modern legspin, Qadir had more tricks than - to paraphrase Almanack editor Scyld Berry - a truckload of monkeys. There were two kinds of googlies (from the wrist and fingers), a killer flipper, leggies of various breaks and speeds, and an over regularly threw up six different deliveries, all from a wonderfully wheelin', dealin' action. Qadir was a slave to his moods but when the mood took him - usually at the coaxing of Imran Khan - he was unplayable. Graham Gooch reckoned him to be more difficult to negotiate than Shane Warne.

Saqlain Mushtaq
A wonderfully innovative offspinner, who gave to the world the offie's wrong'un, the doosra. His basics were solid too, and his offbreak was a big-spinning and accurate staple, delivered from a fast, short-stepping action that has spawned numerous imitators in Pakistan. At his peak, from the mid-90s to the end of the decade, he was arguably the best of his kind in the world, even with Muttiah Muralitharan around; even India, those masters of spin, were regularly troubled by him. Over-use of the weapon that made him eventually eroded his effectiveness.

Mushtaq Ahmed
Though he began as a Qadir clone - the action was essentially a bouncier version - Mushy actually hastened the end of his career in the late 80s and early 90s, so impressive was his arrival. He had the variations, even if he relied too heavily on the googly, but on bouncy surfaces he was lethal and a perfect complement to Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His best years came in the early and mid-90s, and at his absolute peak he didn't come off poorly in comparisons with Warne.

Iqbal Qasim
Comfortably Pakistan's best left-arm spinner, Qasim wasn't one to lure batsmen into elaborate traps of flight and spin. His was a more pragmatic charm, relentlessly pegging away at one target, often pushing it through, drying up runs and playing on patience. The famous Bangalore win in 1987 was a case in point, where he smartly took Bishan Bedi's advice to not spin the ball too much and rely instead on the track to misbehave. But 50 Tests in a time when Qadir ruled the roost and Tauseef Ahmed was around speak highly of just how good he was.

Danish Kaneria
No spinner has taken more Test wickets for Pakistan than Kaneria. He was the man who ended Mushy's Test career in the early years of this decade, and though not as explosive as his two predecessors, Kaneria has been a worthy successor in troubled times. Flight is not the weapon as much as bounce and accuracy, and the googly - again overused - is a well-disguised one. He has suffered from not having reliable pace-bowling support at the other end and can go for long spells where he doesn't look like getting a wicket. Unlucky also to have Kamran Akmal as a wicketkeeper, but on his day he can and has transformed Tests.

We'll be publishing an all-time Pakistan XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your spinner click here

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • yacoob on May 20, 2010, 12:25 GMT

    an all time xi of prima donnas?- the criteria should be who is a team player - and wants to play for the team? individual ability and skill and performance can never be a criteria to select an time Pak XI. Zaheer?he never liked Javed becoming a captain before him neither was he in the good books of Imran - Wasim and Waqar had knives out for one another. read the autobiography of miandad - full of vitriol against former team members!!!

  • Binod on May 20, 2010, 10:10 GMT

    I personally would have fancied Saqlain as I grew up with his generation and his records are far too impressive as well but I will go with Qadir for this team as I think Qadir had it all to be listed in all time great team. His mere presence was enough and his spirits always so high. I feel sorry for fantastic Saqlain but here Qadir wud be more appropriate than him. Lastly I think Pakistan will be a greater force with both of these in team, hunting in tendom along with two Ws and of course Imran wud b there, as a leader; as an all-rounder!

  • kim on May 20, 2010, 9:50 GMT

    Why can't I pick two spinners? My team is: Hanif Mohammad, Saeed Anwar, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Inzumam ul Haq, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Wasim Bari, Saqlain Mushtaq, Waqar Yunus

  • Vishal on May 20, 2010, 2:15 GMT

    The most balanced team is as follows, in batting order: 1. Hanif Md 2. Majid Khan 3. Zaheer Abbas 4. Miandad 5. Inzamam 6. Mushtaq Md. 7. Imran Khan 8. Wasim Akram 9. Wasim Bari 10. Saqlain Mushtaq 11. Fazal Mahmood Majid vs Anwar and Fazal vs Waqar are close calls, but in both cases I think preference should be given to legends who were ahead of their times. Picking Mushtaq Mohammad as the allrounder provides real balance to the team as he is both a genuine batsman and genuine legspinner. He is the perfect answer to the question of whether to have 3 or 4 batsman and also allows a balanced bowling attack with 3 fast and 2 spinners. In absolute terms, I would pick Qadir ahead of Saqlain as a spinner, but having Mushtaq Mohammad in the team as legspinner means picking Saqlain for team balance. Clearly, the result of the poll depends on whether you pick the XI as a team, or pick the best under each category independently - Cricinfo are you listening!!

  • Vishal on May 20, 2010, 1:49 GMT

    Dear CRICINFO, For future all time XIs, instead of the current structure of voting in various categories independently, pls adopt a structure to select all XI on a single page once the nominations in all categories are complete. In Pakistan's case there are people who want flexibility to choose 4 batsmen or 2 spinners. The current set up is 2 opnrs, 3 m/o, 1 ar, 1wk, 3 fast and 1 spinner. For team balance, one should select Mushtaq Mohammad as the allrounder (however, since it is a category-wise poll, most would select Imran), selecting 3 more fast bowlers results in an imbalanced bowling attack with 4 fast and 1 spinner. Also, if Mushtaq Mohammad is in the team, one should select Saqlain Mushtaq instead of Qadir - something many would overlook in the current setup. When you have the poll for India - Vinoo Mankad will be nominated both as opener and allrounder - the entire structure and choice of team depends on whether Mankad or Merchant is chosen as Gavaskar's partner to open!

  • Erwin on May 19, 2010, 23:20 GMT

    to all Pakistanis who are routing for Saqlain: Saqlain Mushtaq was even overlooked in his own career for other spinners in the Pakistan team. This says how much ineffective Saqlain was in his later days. For a spinner, fitness can be one of the last obstacles, except for finger or wrist injuries. So, Saqlain could not even guarantee a place for himself in the Pakistan XI in regular basis, how come we are arguing he be included in the all time XI? Does that make any sense? beside a quality leggie is usually more preferable in the longer version of the game as leg spin is usually more difficult to play against in a turning wicket final day wicket. It's Abdul Qadir guys.

  • Hamza on May 19, 2010, 16:19 GMT

    Best Pakistan All-time 11:- 1)Hanif Muhammad 2)Saeed Anwar 3)Inzamam-ul-Haq 4)Zaheer Abbas 5)Javed Miandad 6)Imran Khan 7)Wasim Bari 8)Wasim Akram 9)Waqar Younus 10)Saqlain Mushtaq 11)Shoaib Akhtar/Abdul Qadir

  • Bennett on May 19, 2010, 15:18 GMT

    Ok, Ok, now listen to me here, selectors. Dont just pick the ' best Test ' team of all time, even though that's what the title says. Pick the team that best projects Pakistan cricket, the most fascinating, the most impressive, the one that gets other countries to pay heed. Considering what Pakistan cricket has been through, I believe this is the right approach. So, Zaheer over M.Yusuf, Qadir overSaki, Bari over Latif, Majid over Saeed A....you get what I mean ? Thank You,

  • Akhtar on May 19, 2010, 3:28 GMT

    Jury's XI most probably would be this. Hanif Mohammad, Saeed Anwar, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Inzamamul Haq, Imran Khan, Wasim Bari, Wasim Akram, Fazal Mahmood, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. I would prefer Mohammad Yousuf over Zaheer Abbas and Moin Khan over Wasim Bari or Rashid Latif. Reason:- Yousuf has a much better overall record than Zaheer. Zaheer in his 15 innings against the West Indies never scored a century and crossed 50 just once. It shows how much weak he was against pace. His record in home and away tests is also nowhere near Yousuf. Even Younus Khan's record is better than him. Moin was a never say die kind of player. To win matches you need fighters like Moin. Wasim Bari and Rashid Latif may be a little better as wicket keepers but were far behind Moin when it comes to bravery. Rashid was also penalised for cheating once. Thus my XI would be Hanif, Saeed, Yousuf, Javed, Inzamam, Imran, Moin, Wasim Akram, Fazal, Waqar and Qadir. 12th man Younus.

  • Siva on May 19, 2010, 2:47 GMT

    To drop Md.Yusuf is so wrong. Also, if you play with only 5 batsmen, Yusuf is a must- lends that stability so often missing in a typical Pak XI. My all time best Pak XI: Hanif, Saeed, Javed, Inzy, Md. Yousuf, Imran, Akram, Bari,Waqar, Saqlain, Qadir

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