Saqlain Mushtaq interview January 21, 2004

The forgotten man of Pakistan cricket

With over 200 Test wickets, including 50 in his last tenTests,Saqlain Mushtaq can rightly claim to be among the most successful, as well as revolutionary, offspinners of the modern era -yet he continues to be ignored

With over 200 Test wickets, including 50 in his last ten Tests, Saqlain Mushtaq can rightly claim to be among the most successful, as well as revolutionary, offspinners of the modern era - yet he continues to be ignored as Pakistan rebuild with a young side. Osman Samiuddin caught up with him at the PIA Cricket Academy:

Saqlain bowling during his last Test appearance - against Bangladesh in September 2003
(c) AFP

It's been a long time since you last played for Pakistan. Where have you been?
I haven't been in the national team, but I have been playing for Surrey consistently.

Is it fair to say you had a tougher time this season, compared to past ones, at Surrey?
Actually, the wickets were shared around this season. We've had seamer-friendly tracks and people like Azhar Mahmood, Martin Bicknell and Ian Salisbury have been taking a lot of wickets as well. But overall, I don't think I did too badly.

You are one of the few big names who have been playing in the Patron's Trophy, for Pakistan International Airlines. How would you rate your season so far?
It's been OK. I've enjoyed playing here, although the facilities aren't great. They have improved, but there is still some way to go. The standard of cricket is good, but we have to improve.

You haven't taken that many wickets in the competition so far this season, and there have been suggestions that you have lost some form over the last year.
I don't know about that. I think that judgment was based mainly on the only Test match I played against Bangladesh at Multan. I hardly bowled in that match - I think it was three overs in the first innings and 20 in the second, over about three spells. It wasn't really enough to get into a rhythm. In any case, the pitch was seamer-friendly and the pace bowlers, Umar Gul and Shabbir Ahmed, did so well that they bowled throughout most of the match.

Do you feel you have lost a bit of your mystery because you have played so much cricket, especially at Surrey?
I don't think so. The type of bowler that I am, I need to be playing consistently and constantly, to get into that rhythm. I need to be bowling long spells and I honestly don't think I have done too badly. In the series against South Africa, prior to the World Cup, I got a few wickets, and before that, against Australia and Zimbabwe, I was the highest wicket-taker. I had a few niggles, especially with my shoulder, when I came back from Surrey. I had bursitis, and needed a few injections in my shoulder before I played against Bangladesh. But I'm OK now, I'm feeling looser in the shoulder and getting back to where I was previously.

Do you think that playing so many one-dayers over the years has reduced your effectiveness, because your role is to contain as well as attack?
No, and I think my record in one-day cricket speaks for itself. Over the last two years, however, my position in the bowling order has been shifted too much. Previously, I had a defined role. I would bowl three overs in the first 15, then bowl at the death. Now I bowl all over the place: in the middle, beginning, or the end - but never with a fixed strategy in mind. Also, I haven't played international cricket regularly for almost 13 months - I played a game here and there, but not continuously.

Are you working on any new deliveries at the moment?
Yeah, I have a few things up my sleeve. It's important that you keep doing that - trying new things, experimenting with your skills and not going stale. Most importantly, I am building up my overall fitness, and am concentrating my energies on getting picked to play against India.

Let's talk about your future with Pakistan. Given that you have taken close to 50 wickets in your last ten Tests, why do you think you are not in the team?
In the last year or so, I have been among the highest wicket-takers in Tests for Pakistan. I don't really know why I'm not in the side. I hardly played any one-day cricket last year - two or three games in the World Cup, where I got some wickets, but after that I don't really know. I guess the new guys have performed well, and when I played against Bangladesh, I was injured. I told them that before the game, but the selectors insisted they needed me to play, so I did. And since then, I haven't featured in the team again.

Do you feel that the selectors haven't given you a fair chance?
Yeah, they haven't given me the perfect opportunity. I have served my country for nine years now, and have done so well. If you look at my career, I have performed consistently well and there isn't really a prolonged bad patch in there.

Do you think there are any non-cricket factors keeping you out of the team?
The newer players have been performing well so far, so maybe that's it. I hope I am in their plans, though, but I don't honestly think there are non-cricketing reasons involved. I am only 27 at the moment and I reckon I am good enough to play for another ten years or so at the highest level.

Happier days: Saqlain playing for Pakistan in the World Cup
(c) Getty Images

Are you looking forward to the India series?
I am. I have been successful against them in the past. It's one of the toughest series as a spinner, because they are by far the best players of spin around - especially on subcontinental pitches. Then, of course, there is the added pressure of playing against India.

Do you usually bowl against the Indians with a set plan?
There is usually a set plan against any batsman, but against the Indians you have to play tough, aggressive cricket. I got Sachin Tendulkar a couple of times when we were last over there, in 1999, and you have to look to attack them as a bowler.

What do you think is your greatest weapon as a spinner?
I genuinely believe every ball I throw down is a weapon. I look to take a wicket with every ball I bowl.

Who is the best batsman you have bowled to? Who has impressed you the most?
I try not to think in those terms, where someone is difficult to get out. I back myself against any batsman in the world. I have bowled to some great batsmen: the Waugh brothers, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Aravinda de Silva. But I never think, "Gee, they're tough to bowl against," because I'll never get them out thinking like that.

What has been your most memorable wicket, and match, so far?
Undoubtedly Tendulkar's wicket at Chennai in 1999 - because he is such a good batsman and because it was such a great Test. Also, Steve Waugh in a one-dayer at Adelaide in 1996. He tried to hit me over mid-on, but got a leading edge to my straighter one and was caught by Mohammad Wasim at mid-off. Then there's Marcus Trescothick in a one-dayer at Lord's in 2000, where I got him in the last over of the game and we won by a couple of runs. As far as the match is concerned, though, it would have to be the Chennai Test, just because of the pressure and how close it got at the end.

What exactly happened between you and Javed Miandad after the Bangladesh series? There was allegedly a verbal spat between the two of you over selection?
I don't want to get into that.

Finally, what are your future plans and aims now?
I want to play for at least another ten years for Pakistan. I want to take 500 wickets in Tests, and the same in one-dayers. In the immediate future, I want to get fit and ready, and selected, for the India tour.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National