When we talk of spinners produced by Pakistan many names: Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Iqbal Qasim, Akram Raza and Nadeem Ghauri come to mind. After Abdul Qadir retired Saqlain Mushtaq emerged as Pakistan's best spinner. Saqlain has an exclusive style of bowling which has not been seen in former spinners.
Saqlain is the first spinner who has the ability to bowl well in the 'death overs' in one-day cricket. He is also the inventor of the 'doosra' - the other one – an offspinner's 'googly' which spins away from a right-handed batsman.
Interestingly, Saqlain's performance has not deteriorated with time. He is a bowler who is not submissive to different pitch conditions and does not only bowl well but has a reputation of being a good Test batsman. He scored 78 against Zimbabwe in a Test played in Pakistan in 1995-96. Then in 2001, when Pakistan toured New Zealand, he scored a Test century. His record while playing county cricket for Surrey has been widely acclaimed.
While examining his playing record in more detail, there are many recorded instances which prove he is Pakistan's best spinner.
When Pakistan visited India under Wasim Akram in 1999 he took 20 wickets in the two-Test series. In the Chennai Test with India on 256 for 6 and only needing 17 runs to win, it was Saqlain who bowled that magical over to grab 3 in four balls.
In 2000-01 when England toured after a gap of thirteen years, no cricket fan who saw the Faisalabad Test could forget the spell when Saqqi took 5 for 20 and Pakistan won this series 2-1. The first Test was played in Lahore and Saqlain was the only bowler who showed his class by taking 8 wickets for 164 in the first innings.
In 2002 when Pakistan had to play an ‘offshore’ Test series against the Aussies in Colombo and Sharjah due to security concerns, Saqlain was again the leading bowler.
In the 2003 World Cup Saqlain played against England and took 2 for 40. Inexplicably and to wide criticism by experts, he was dropped against India and Pakistan faced defeat.
Saqlain Mushtaq's last appearance for Pakistan was in the Multan Test against India in 2003-04 and he took one wicket for 201 runs. The story may well have been different had Virender Sehwag's catch not been dropped by Mohammad Sami when he had only made 45 before battering Pakistan for 309 and bat them out of the match. After this fateful match Saqlain was dropped from the team.
The fate of a player who has been a match winner on many an occasion should not be decided on one performance. With the tour to the West Indies nearing and Pakistan’s dire need for quality spinners, the selectors would be well advised to recall Saqlain Mushtaq.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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