Dubai: Pakistan’s legendary spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who did magic with the cricket ball to create unplayable deliveries, is today a world-renowned coach.
He created deliveries such as the doosra, an off-spinner’s delivery bowled with an action similar to off-break but spins the opposite direction to confuse the batsman.
He also invented teesra, which was an orthodox backspinner for finger spinners. A knee injury ended his international career at the young age of 29 but his passion made him one of the finest coaches in the game.
Mushtaq was invited by the Kings School Al Barsha to conduct a masterclass for budding cricketers at the Kings’ Cricket Academy backed by their coaches Ash Mohammad and Russell Sissing.
In an exclusive interview to Gulf News, Mushtaq narrated the tale of his success and on how spinners should aim for more success.
Answering to a query on how he discovered the doosra and whether today’s bowlers should experiment more with their deliveries, Mushtaq said: “Bowlers should have a strong intent to do something special. When I was young I had very strong intent to discover something special. Since I came from a spiritual background, I used to pray to God asking him to gift me something special. I used to do a lot of experiments. I started my cricket by playing on the roof of my building with table tennis ball and did lot of experiments and discovered the doosra delivery from there. Discovering a delivery is a long process, you cannot earn that skill or variation in a day or two. I moved to playing with a tennis ball and to a tape-tennis ball and finally to a cricket ball. It took me years to gain control over it. So my advice to all youngsters is to have a strong intent to find something special and think out of the box and only then will they get variations. For this they need to have patience as it takes time.”
Mushtaq then revealed how he discovered the teesra too. “I always used to think out of the box and do different things,” he said. “Due to my knee injury I could not play international cricket after 29 but by then I had developed the teesra and introduced it in the Indian Cricket League, the rebel league, as it was called. I took a lot of wickets in that league and in English county cricket. I produced that delivery for the last time against Sachin Tendulkar in America and got him out.”
Mushtaq believes that limited-over cricket had destroyed the intent in bowlers to experiment with deliveries. “Shorter-version cricket has forced bowlers to play a safe game rather than setting the batsman up by watching his weaknesses and trying to get him out,” he explained.
“They all aim for dot balls rather than attack and control the batsman and get him out. To become a good spinner, everyone should change their present mindset and aim to get the batsman out than play a safe game. Today’s bowlers are scared of getting hit and hence scared to experiment too.”
Mushtaq then narrated incidents from his career on how he overcame the fear of being hit. “When I started to play cricket, I played on small grounds where the boundaries were very small,” he said. “If you were only hit for 15 runs in an over, it was considered very good. So playing with a shorter boundary helped me learn on how to handle pressure and not be scared of getting hit. Though I used to be hit for sixes and boundaries, I picked wickets too.
“When I was playing in 1988-89 in a Ramadan tournament at home I got hit for 32 runs in one over. I could not sleep that whole night. I used to pass through the main street and through a market area to go for practice and the people who watched me being hit for 32 runs used to make fun of me. So for two to three weeks I changed the route to go to the practice ground until one day I realised that getting hit is part of the game and hence I should not be changing my route. I knew that as long as I am trying my best and I am not giving up the game and is confident and enjoying my cricket, I will be a success. Since then I always used to take responsibility to bowl in power play and in the death overs as well.”
Mushtaq had dismissed Tendulkar twice in the 1999 Chennai Test match and ensured Pakistan a 12-run win. He bagged five wickets each in both the innings. “I have lot of respect for Sachin and he is my all-time favourite,” he insisted. “I first heard about Tendulkar when I was playing first-class cricket. Everyone talked about Tendulkar, the teenager who was a short in height and from India who is technically very strong and skilful and had strong character and fantastic attitude and is a phenomenal player. They all told me that bouncers or even reverse swing never mattered to him. The first time I played against him in Singapore and I got him out in the first over. I also got him out in the Sahara Cup. In the 1999 Chennai Test, I got him out in the first innings for a duck and in the second inning he came back to hit 136 runs. He was absolutely phenomenal and made me give up hope of getting him. He was picking me well, using his feet and finding gaps and boundaries. I thought he was controlling me. I went to my team captain Wasim Akram, who changed my mindset. He told me that I am only one who can get him out because I had got him out thrice before and have a psychological edge over him. When India needed 30 runs I introduced my doosra, which I had held back, and I got him out. This is an instance of how patience can get you success and not be worried on getting hit.”
Mushtaq is enjoying his life as a coach and he said: “I always say that I will die twice. First it will be when I end my relationship with cricket and second will be my natural death. So I want to live with cricket as a coach and groom as many players as possible.”