Usually in training I bowl a lot to guys who go for big hits. The thing I learn from them is how far their reach is, how far they step out to go for those hits, how far they will step out to pick up the ball. In the process, I get hit for sixes in the nets, but those experiences help me in the match.
In the last qualifying round of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Shahid Yousuf was standing at slip. I told him to stay focused as the batsman would give him a catch or he would get out bowled. I told him I would bowl the doosra on middle stump. If the batsman misses it he would get bowled, but if it hits the bat, the ball will come into your hands. He got out bowled. This was the last qualifying round in the Quaid-e-Azam, Grade II.
It was a topspinner. Mishits happen when there is a little extra bounce. If the ball is flat, straight, then there is no mishit. When it comes onto the bat, he is beaten.
By the grace of Allah, after a long time there is a feeling inside me that I am trying to bring back the set-up which was there earlier. The last T20 match I played was a county match last year. Here in the PSL, in the first match, there was a bit of pressure, but my bowling was good. In the last match, whatever I desired, whatever ball I bowled, it happened. I am getting my confidence back and the variations I am trying are happening now.
Even with the round-arm action I have learned some variations. In the round arm if I do this to my finger, it goes out that way [drifts out], if I do it this way, inside, it goes like this and spins in. That minor - half a foot in and out. The bat is half a foot wide, that is what you have to deceive. If he gets deceived, it will hit the pad - like when I bowled a little quicker to James Vince, he went on the back foot. That spun just a tiny bit and he was deceived.
"I watch my videos after every match to check if I have bowled any balls that are suspect. Ninety per cent of my deliveries are good"
I have relearned everything. Even with my body, I have had to start new exercises. Then I followed that up by bowling with a heavy ball. Everyone knows my right wrist is broken [in a bus accident]. The wrist bone protrudes out and my whole arm flexes. To get this under control, because it is already ten degrees, I have learnt to bowl with a heavy ball. To keep the wrist taut, my biomechanist, Dr Paul Hurrion, suggested I bowl with a heavy ball. I worked really hard. I bowled 12,000 deliveries during the rehab before coming back. I am developing those muscles. Initially I didn't have the pace, but thankfully my pace is up to 90kph.
Definitely. I learnt a lot of things. I learnt that you can bring everything from your fingers if you are willing to work hard. At 38 I have learnt something that I probably never did in my 15 years as a cricketer. I had to become a child - like the first time I went into the academy as a ten-year-old. So I had to look at it like that again over the last year.
He knew what my action was before. Working along with Saqlain bhai, I changed my action eight times. Initially he would like the action for a while, say for a month, but then he would change it. After ten days he would be impressed with a different action, but then say it is not proving to be effective. He would keep liking it but was not totally convinced. It reached a stage where one day, I just said I would leave it [bowling]. But Saqlain bhai said, "Himmat na haar." [Don't lose hope.] One day it will come.
I was bowling with my earlier action for 22 years. Even now, when I see videos of my old matches, different things come to mind. Batsmen's legs used to shake, every batsman used to think twice before stepping out to hit me, lest the ball bounces or turns. I can't forget those memories. Now when a batsman stares back at me I get angry. I think: till last year he used to cry, but why is he staring back now? To bring that back I have worked hard in the last six months to make my action effective and get back my pace. Now my pace is really good. Also my doosra, even though it is not as big as it used to be, is still there. There is topspin and it moves out a little bit. I am happy that I'm bringing that back.
No way. I will leave cricket with this [new] action. If I am not effective, I will step aside and leave. What I have done, I am happy with. I have been bowling about 90% with the new action. The odd ball might have exceeded 20 degrees, but I work hard immediately to rectify that. I watch every video of my matches. Ninety-nine per cent of my deliveries are under control. Since I have not played international cricket I will need to continue to work on how I bowl under pressure. I also need to work on how I bowl when I am relaxed.
"Fingerspinners can't survive in international cricket, especially in limited-overs. You have to have variations and for that you have to work hard"
In the last six months I have played 100-plus club matches [back in Pakistan] where I was also hit for many sixes. I was starting to understand at what pace the batsman was hitting me. I played club tournaments, local tournaments, a few outside. Slowly my confidence was coming back. In my mind I started thinking, "Now I am delivering my hand in the correct fashion." Earlier I had doubts, it was in my mind that I was chucking. It took me nearly a year after the ban to get rid of the fear and khauf [dread]. Now it is out and if you noticed my bowling in the last domestic T20 tournament in Pakistan and now in this, there is a big difference.
My ability against the batsman has remained the same. I am mature enough to understand how to play the batsman. I understand where the ball will go if I press this finger and this finger [points to different fingers on his right hand]. I have taken a year just to master these fingers, only to get my confidence back so that one day when I return to the Pakistan team I don't want to feel that I am finished or that I have come on somebody's sifaarish [recommendation]. I don't want to feel like a liability. If I feel I am finished, I will retire.
There is a little bit of change. Earlier my deliveries used to have a lot of bounce. Now I have killed the bounce somewhat. Because of the high arm, my hand used to drop, so to stop the wrist from falling, I have now locked that wrist, so the spin is less. Earlier my right wrist used to fall away due to the bone injury. Now I have locked the wrist at the time of delivery. Consequently, the spin and bounce have reduced. But my variations remain the same. I have also learned to deliver with a low bounce against a tall batsman who stands and hits, or moves back to hit. In these matches, you will see a better version slowly.
Definitely. I have cleared the doosra during the ICC testing process. Even against Karachi Kings I got Saifullah Bangash with a doosra. I bowled a few to Iftikhar Ahmed. Out of 18 deliveries I bowled six doosras. Once again, with the doosra, there has been no difference in pace. The only difference has been with the spin and bounce when I deliver the doosra and the topspinner. I still rely on the doosra. I know it is a weapon that unnerves a batsman. With time my hand speed will get faster, as it was before. Then the doosra will become more effective.
The offspin. My wrist used to drop, and as soon as it used to drop - for the doosra it is fine - for offspin I had to lock the wrist and when I let it go, it did not break. Because the wrist remains locked now. So I found it really difficult to spin the ball. People think it is very easy, but for me it is really hard because my wrist bone is broken. I always need to ensure that the wrist does not fall. Now the ball has started breaking, and as an example I got James Vince lbw [against Karachi] with the offspinner.
The biomechanist Paul Hurrion has really helped me. To control the wrist it took a lot of time. I never thought about it. Earlier I would think, "This is Chris Gayle, or Pietersen, no problem." Now I have to think about where to pitch it, how to get the batsman out. Earlier the batsmen would be scared to face me. Now there is a muqabla [contest].
I agree. But muscle memory is built when you start as a youngster. I am a mature spinner. It didn't take me that much time again because I know how to put the ball in. I already had the memory of where to bowl to what batsman and from where to deliver. My focus was just to clear my action. I cleared it very soon. I am very happy that I have developed the memory so quickly. I had almost lost hope. But I have this belief inside. I believe that everything I can put my head to, I can achieve.
"Earlier my right wrist used to fall away due to my bone injury. Now I have locked the wrist at the time of delivery. So the spin and bounce have reduced. But my variations remain the same"
Saqlain bhai would strap my wrists with 1kg bands on both wrists. He did not want my front arm staying to the side and the bowling wrist high and locked. I also strapped 2.5kg weights on my [left] leg to make sure it did not go high and the head did not fall down sideways. The head needed to be straight and relaxed. I would then deliver with a heavy ball. It took me three months just to get used to it, to develop muscle.
Perhaps it is easier for the fast bowlers, considering they have two new balls in ODIs. It has become very difficult for spinners. Why did the spinners start chucking, bowling faster? Heavy, broad, big bats, a mishit would go for a six; Powerplays, four fielders outside the circle, five inside in the ODIs. Pitches have changed. What can spinners do in such a setting? Spinners had to learn something new, and so started bowling faster. Earlier if you flighted the ball, you would get respect. Abhi agar hawa mein do toh hawa mein jaata hai. [Now if you toss it up in the air, it disappears into the air.] With the playing conditions changing, spinners started to learn to bowl fast and the chucking issue became prominent.
I have already given reasons as to why chucking started. There is nothing for the spinners. The ICC should allow spinners some relaxation. I said it to the ICC but it didn't make a difference.
Last county season, I was playing for Worcestershire in a home one-day match against Leicestershire. Former England left-arm spinner Richard Illingworth, who played for Worcestershire, was the umpire. He asked me how I was going to get the batsman out. I told him I would bowl a whole over of offspin. He would push me to the leg side. Next over I would bowl the doosra and he would get caught at slip. So I bowled only offspin in the first over and the batsman played me to short midwicket. Next over, first ball, I bowled the doosra and he played it to the slips. Illingworth was astounded. I told him, this is cricket. I looked at what he was trying to do, and if he wins, it's fine. But what I was doing to him, that is in my control. I was making him play on my terms, not his.
I am ready. There is a big difference from the time when I played in the Bangladesh series last year after I was cleared. At that point I had the fear on the inside. Now I have removed that fear by working hard.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo