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All-time XI: Pakistan

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

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Mushtaq Ahmed was in the wickets early at Horsham, Sussex v Durham, County Championship, Horsham, July 13, 2007

Mushtaq Ahmed: lethal on bouncy surfaces  •  Getty Images

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