'Australians said I was a spin bowler with the attitude of a fast bowler'

Abdul Qadir Getty Images

Your Australia tour wasn't as successful as your overall Test career. What do you recall of the Test series from 1983?
I had just one tour to Australia, and I can safely say it was a failure for me. There are many reasons for that.

One of them was the sandy outfields in all the Australian grounds. I used to apply dry mud from the outfield to my fingers and use saliva to tighten my grip on the ball. But due to the sandy soil, I wasn't able to grip it. I didn't find that out until my last Test. I was actually never in control with the ball. It was really very frustrating, and my entire tour was a chaotic one.

I took five wickets at the MCG, but there's a background involved. I was surprised, frustrated and worried about my bowling and was always thinking about it. One day, just to clear my mind, refresh my thoughts, I went to the dance floor in my hotel in Melbourne. I was standing next to a pillar, lost in my thoughts, when someone came up behind me and covered my eyes. I thought it was Immy [Imran Khan] - no other Pakistan player would dare to do that to me - but then I realised it was the great Dennis Lillee.

He's a charming man with beautiful thoughts. He said to me: "Abdul, I can understand what you are feeling. A bowler like you when you are not performing, how it feels. You looked depressed to me, and why not, when a great bowler is not performing, he must be upset. I have gone through this as well. You are still a great bowler and we admire you."

I was touched because a bowler like Lillee was praising me regardless of the fact that I was bowling badly all tour. This really lifted my spirits and I went on to take five wickets.

You conceded 166 runs for those five wickets.
Yes, the problem was still there. I wasn't really up to my own standard. It was like Yasir Shah or Danish Kaneria, not Qadir at his best. I remained dissatisfied despite the crowd standing on their feet and clapping for my fifer. I looked happy but I was hollow inside.

Also, maybe I was missing bowling with Imran. We had such a great time bowling together. I had a good bunch of bowlers [in that series], but it didn't go well.

Commentators like Bill Lawry, Ashley Mallett and Clarrie Grimmett were arguing that I should be bowling from over the wicket, but my problem was the grip. I didn't bother which side I was bowling from. The main worry was that I was wasting my deliveries, as I was not able to concentrate.

Because Qadir was a bowler with killer instincts, I would have gone all out for the kill. But something was missing.

I spoke to Nazar Junior [Mudassar Nazar] about the problem with the mud not staying on my fingers. I actually used to spin the ball with my last three fingers, but the ball wasn't gripping. Nazar told me that the outfield was made of sand. When I realised the problem, the series was over.

In the ODI series, I used the soil and made it wet with saliva, and I made the headlines after that - "Abdul takes revenge". I still have those newspaper clippings with me.

"In an era of fast bowlers, I took more than 200 wickets as a spinner. Other spinners came, got hammered and faded away, but I hung around and did well"

So legspin in Australia is all about how you grip the ball?
In my case it was.

Why do you think you were so popular in Australia?
Australians are naturally aggressive cricketers and they have always had a great regard for the art [of legspin]. They always came to me and told me that one thing they liked about me was that I was a spin bowler with the attitude of a fast bowler.

See, in cricket legspin is the most difficult art because the mechanics involved in it aren't easy to master. I am satisfied with my overall career - in an era of fast bowlers, I took more than 200 wickets as a spinner. Other spinners came, got hammered and faded away, but I hung around and did well in that era.

You returned to Australia to play club cricket. What was your experience?
Oh yes, it was a learning curve for me. Only by the end of that '83 tour had I realised how to bowl in those conditions, but I never returned to Australia for Pakistan again. I did return some eight years after the '83 tour to play club cricket in Melbourne for Carlton. Being older and much more experienced, I managed to take 72 wickets and won the Ryder Medal at a time when Shane Warne was also playing. I don't remember, but I think it was a record and it earned great praise.

Richie Benaud always rated you highly. Did you ever get a chance to meet him?
He came to Lahore once and we had a chat for two or three hours sitting in the Holiday Inn hotel. He asked a lot of questions, and we had a long discussion on how many types of deliveries a legspinner can bowl. We were surprised that I had more ways of delivering and spinning the ball, while he, despite being a legendary spinner, knew only a few, traditional ways of doing legspin bowling.

I told him that, unlike other legspinners, I used my last three fingers, with the middle finger generating most power. I would use a combination of my last three fingers in such a way as to manage the workload of my fingers. I used to flick with my middle finger to make the ball turn, and would hide the ball from the batsman to prevent him from reading it early. The index and ring fingers were my triggers for the googly, and that was the main art.

Benaud appreciated me and praised me, and I was humbled that I had won his praise. You can't bullshit with a guy like Richie. He was a legend and his knowledge of the game was immense. We both walked away with more respect for each other. I am glad that I was able to add something to his knowledge.

Captaincy didn't sit well with you?
I played in an era with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, so I never even thought about the captaincy. But it did fall in my lap when Javed got injured. So I was lucky to have got it somehow, and the matches I lost as captain were close ones.
I can also tell you that I was offered the captaincy in the presence of Javed Miandad, but I refused. I told Haseeb Ahsan [PCB secretary at the time] that I wouldn't accept the offer. I stood by that principle and never accepted the captaincy, except for that one series when Javed was injured. He was my captain at HBL and it wouldn't have been proper to promote me while bypassing him.

What do you think of Yasir Shah's progress?
He is a good bowler and he was always in our plans when I was chief selector in 2009. He was among 20 players I had told the PCB to keep an eye on and select as soon as possible. But, without a googly and a flipper, a legbreak bowler will struggle at some point, and I have seen his form fluctuating. I think he tries to bowl the googly but it goes too flat. For his flipper, he might not really be gripping the ball well.

Has he ever come to you to talk about his bowling?
No, never. And I am not surprised at all. Because he probably sees Shane Warne as his idol and he is more tempted to approach him [smiles]. There were so many bowlers who came to me, and that is the blessing of Allah. Shane, Kumble, Afridi, MacGill [all approached me] but it is up to them to give back the credit if they are willing to.

Mushtaq [Ahmed] replaced me in the team in the early '90s and - you can ask him - he came to me and I told him why I had struggled in Australia and what he needed to do to get wickets there. He was really good, bowling long spells and had good control over his line and length. He needed to bring variation in his bowling, but I liked his spirit and ambition. He was very positive about the game.