Thursday, May 17, 2012

Our 10 Best Spinners

While pace bowling has been the traditional strength that Pakistan is renowned for worldwide, just like their sub continental rivals they have produced some high class slower bowlers as well. They have been trend-starters at it too, just like they once were for reverse swing. Here we look back at some of Pakistan’s finest, including modern day players & where they stand with figures of the past.

Saqlain – inventive off spinner

The leading wicket taker for the Greens when they were finalists in the 1999 World Cup in England during the 12 team tournament. Saqlain also claimed a hat-trick during the competition. Saqlain also has a test match hat-trick against Australia. The quickest bowler to 100 & 200 ODI wickets. Saqlain claimed 20 scalps during a 2 match series in India in 1999 & it’s well documented how well they play spin. Saqlain was the inventor of the ‘doosra’ & his kink & pivot in bowling action has been imitated by many off spinners in Pakistan who have followed & tried to emulate his craft such as Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez & Shoaib Malik. Saqlain made off spin an attacking art. The inventor of the ‘other one’ spent many happy years at Surrey where he is well known & respected. Saqlain last played for Pakistan in a test match against India in Multan where he plundered against a Sehwag assault & last played a first class match in 2008. Saqlain was part of the Lahore Badshahs team which won the ICL in 2008 & in more recent years has been a regular member of the Lashings World XI side which is a charity touring team based in Kent. Saqlain was also picked up by New Zealand as a spin consultant in 2009.

Abdul Qadir – right arm leg spinner

Qadir revolutionised the art of leg spin during a fast bowling dominant era & acted as a mentor & figure of inspiration for Shane Warne who came for Qadir for tips early in his career. Qadir was unique, rejuvenating a dying art of the game. With 236 test scalps under his belt Qadir was a prominent figure in Pakistan’s great test outfit of the 80s & led the spin department as a strike bowler which Imran Khan turned to. Qadir’s main weapon was his googly & he had different varieties of it which was mastered & executed with skill & intelligence. Qadir also possessed a lethal flipper in his repertoire which trapped many batsmen in front & knocked over their furniture, keeping low and skidding through. His action was some viewing, full of arms, legs & bouncy movements as he approached the crease to unravel his craftiness. His career defining moment was taking 13 wickets during a test match including 9/56 on day 1 of a test match in 1987 in the only result of the series against England in his home town. His seniority earned him a brief stint as Pakistan captain later in his career.

Qadir later on served as a selector in 2009 & takes credit for selecting the side which won the Twenty20 world cup in England, although resigned before the tournament due to differences with the board. Qadir has 3 sons all of which have gone on to play junior cricket for Pakistan with success, but are yet to play at the highest level. Qadir also works with various spinners at the NCA from time to time.

Saeed Ajmal – inventive off spinner

Saeed was player of the match in the first domestic 20/20 final in Pakistan & later that year starred for Faisalabad Wolves during the club 20/20 championship in England which they won as well. Pakistan saw the beginning of a fine talent here. Saeed debuted in 2008 Asia Cup against India in an ODI & the following year made his test debut against Sri Lanka. In Pakistan’s record breaking 2011 in tests & ODIs Saeed claimed 89 international wickets, the most & 24 more than the next best. Ajmal was the joint quickest Pakistan spinner to 50 test wickets & the quickest to 100 test wickets by a Pakistan bowler, reaching the milestone in just 19 test matches.

In 2011, Saeed was the only bowler in the world to have 50 test scalps, some achievement considering he missed 20% of Pakistan’s test matches that year & was struggling to break into the side at the beginning of the year. Saeed claimed 12 wickets at an average of 14 in the 2009 World T20 championship in England which Pakistan won. The following T20 World Cup, Ajmal was Pakistan’s leading wicket taker in the West Indies where they were semi finalists. During the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa Saeed claimed 8 wickets in the 4 encounters with 2 in each game. The following summer in England, Saeed bagged his maiden 5 wicket haul in a test match at Edgbaston after coming in for Danish Kaneria & in the same match scored a half century to avoid losing by an innings. Ajmal played only 3 one day internationals in the 2011 World Cup, but in each of them showed his class & spun webs around the batsmen as the unorthodox off spinner claimed 2 wickets at an economical rate in the knock out games against the West Indies & India.

Saeed has been MOTS in the last 3 major test series Pakistan have contested against West Indies, Sri Lanka & England & concluded each of the test series as the leading wicket taker by an uncatchable margin. Ajmal is one of the most feared opponents in world cricket nowadays & if he keeps performing as exceptionally as he has been doing there is little reason why he cannot end up as Pakistan’s best ever spinner in all seriousness.

Ajmal has blossomed late in his career after a long wait in the domestic circuit & in a short career up to now has been all over the best in the business like a rash. Saeed is known for his ‘doosra’ which he executes more dangerously than any bowler I have seen, getting bounce, turn, skid, dip, drop, revs, bite & batsmen are left guessing with a completely scrambled mindset. Saeed gets them to turn with control at pace & in different directions, all well disguised; it doesn’t come more threatening than that. In early 2012 Saeed also was ranked in the top 3 of the world bowling rankings in all 3 formats & was the only player in both test & ODI side for Wisden’s World XI in 2011.

His breakthrough really came in 2011 during the Caribbean tour where he claimed 25 wickets including 17 in the 2 match test series which was shared before going to Ireland and taking 7 wickets in 2 ODIs with a cheap 3 for and a 4 for in Belfast during the bank holiday weekend that year. Saeed was a nominee for ICC ODI player of the year in 2011 & surely will be at least a short listed nominee for the Sir Garfield Sobers trophy at the annual ICC awards dinner this year. Ajmal was discovered & introduced into the team by Pakistan’s current captain Misbah ul Haq & ever since has never looked back, going from strength to strength.

With already 47 international scalps in 2012 including 8 in 4 encounters during the 2012 Asia Cup to give his side their 2nd Asia Cup title in 3 decades, 24 in the all important 3 tests against the Poms & his maiden 5 wicket haul during the 1st ODI in Abu Dhabi in the same tour, the off spinner is clearly leading the way in 2012 in terms of most wickets. Ajmal also featured for the Dhaka Gladiators who won the inaugural BPL in the same year & went for a pricey amount in the auction, giving clear indications of his class, rating, and skilfulness.

What stands out about Ajmal is the fact that he is equally as capable to bowling to both right and left handers from over and around the wicket to challenge batsmen with different angles & lines of attack confidently. He is a genuine specialist when it comes to bowling in powerplays. He is a banker who can be relied on as he is a difficult bowler to target. Additionally, he can bowl an off spinner & doosra or the straighter variations by pitching the ball in the exact same spot. This makes him even harder to pick or read. Unlike Murali who would spin his off break a mile, he does not need to land his variations in different places to work, giving the batsmen even less clues to work with. Truly masterful at playing the ‘mind games’ to disrupt the psyche of the opposition as many would know with the unveiling of the ‘teesra’ prior to the 1st test in Dubai against England.

The manner in which Ajmal has responded and bounced back after the over against Mr Cricket in St Lucia on 14th May 2010 where he was picked off for 22 from 4 deliveries, bowling the final over is a testimony to his mental toughness, self belief & self determination. His confidence must have been shattered, but he’s come back even a better, tougher & stronger character all together.

Mushtaq Ahmed – right arm leg break/googly bowler

The greatest ever county overseas player? Mushtaq gave the country’s image and name plenty of recognition with his phenomenal performances for Sussex who signed him up in 2003. Mushtaq won 2 country championships for the south east country in 2003 & 2006, concluding each of them as the leading wicket taker in division 1 of the county championship with over 100 scalps in the season in the 4 day format alone, the only bowler to do so. Ahmed was the 2nd leading wicket taker for Team Pakistan in their 1992 World Cup campaign, including taking 3 in the grand final, famously bamboozling Hick in front. Known to be a character on & off the field, Mushtaq was signed by the ECB as their spin bowling coach in 2008/09 & has been part of the camp which won the Ashes twice successively, reached the top of the test rankings & won their first ever ICC tournament in one day cricket. Mushtaq did serve as an assistant coach & bowling coach for the Pakistan national side during the Woolmer era, even though there many calls for him to be included in the side as a player because of his performances with Sussex where he was deadly with those googlies, top spinners courtesy of the high arm action that got him countless wickets. Mushtaq ensured the leg spin tradition kept running within Pakistan after Abdul Qadir.

Abdur Rehman - SLA

A wily left arm spinner who bowls accurately & economically with nagging control, perseverance to keep plugging away on a line & length knowing the rewards will eventually pay off & the containment to keep the batsmen under pressure, controlling the flow of runs & keeping proceedings as tight as possible. Rehman’s bowling philosophy is built around bowling dot deliveries & maiden overs. There is a degree of repetitiveness about his bowling, comes in through the stumps, fires it in flat and straight, batsmen defends and it happens all over again. He will just keep on doing this in the hope & backing that batsmen will succumb to the pressure, resulting in a lapse of concentration. Rehman was the joint quickest Pakistan spinner to 50 test wickets, getting to the feat in 11 test matches. The Sialkot Stallion has claimed 2 MOM awards in test cricket during the Hamilton test in New Zealand in 2011 and almost a year later he did against England with his 4th innings heroics of 6/25 defending just fewer than 150 as the world number 1s capitulated to spin bowling of the highest order in the Middle East dessert. Often, described as an 'unsung hero' who will tie an end down reliably, but does not possess that WOW factor about his bowling to astonish the batsmen or viewers. Lastly, no mug in the batting or fielding department for that matter either, with a test match 50 under his belt against the South Africans. Not an easy bowler to score against or get away, but as his test record suggests he takes wickets while he’s at it with that canniness.

Iqbal Qasim - SLA

Now known too many as the current chief selector, but back in the day Qasim was a reliable slow left arm bowler who concluded with 999 first class wickets. Currently, the leading wicket taker by a Pakistani left arm spinner. Qasim’s control & reliability enabled other more naturally gifted spinners, namely Qadir to bowl with a more attacking mentality. The most impressive element about his bowling was the economy rate, barely going at above 2 an over. This enabled Qasim to bowl longer spells, bowl unchanged. The persistent accuracy just kept batsmen cautious, respectful & muted in their approach. Qasim was a workhorse, an underrated bowler. At some point during his career alongside Abdul, Qasim was ranked in the world’s top 10. May not have set the pitch of fire, but played a supporting role & an important one too.

Danish Kaneria – right arm leg spinner

Statistically, Pakistan’s leading test wicket taker by a spinner & the 4th in the country after Wasim, Waqar & Imran. However, statistics can be misleading in context. Here is a prime example if there ever was one. Kaneria was Inzamam’s strike bowler, his go to bowler. Since then his career fell away, struggling to make a constructive impact. There have also been serious question marks raised over his integrity with regards to spot fixing in a pro 40 match for Essex vs. Durham in the 2009 season. There is a frequent overriding criticism for bowling too many different deliveries in the same over & taking a marathon bowling effort to take his wickets, often during meaningless contexts. Last featured for Pakistan at Trent Bridge in the shameful tour of England where he only took a solitary wicket in the match. However, there is an element of sympathy given to him for having to cope with an undeserving wicket keeper behind the stumps, regularly spilling regulation chances. Kaneria reached 1000 first class wickets in the 2011/12 Pakistan domestic season. Over at Essex, Kaneria helped them win the one day league title in 2005, 2006, promotion to division 1 of the county championship during his time there & winning the 50 over Lords final in 2008, all while he was serving as an overseas player down at Chelmsford.

Tauseef Ahmed – orthodox off spinner

The Lionel Richie look-alike. Taufeef was a right arm old fashioned off spinner, falling short of 100 test wickets in reasonably quick time which is his only regret looking back now as a retired player.

Arshad Khan – orthodox off spinner

His heritage, being a Pathan & his giant height made many think of why on Earth he would want to bowl finger spin? Nevertheless this was the trade which Arshad Khan adopted. He was not a regular in the side, but a useful container in the coloured clothing with some magical moments in the whites. His career highlight was the 5 wicket haul in the 2000 Asian Test Championship Final against Sri Lanka. Arshad made a strong comeback into the side in the 2005 tour of India where he played an important part in squaring the test series in his comeback test & winning the ODIs 4-2 from 2-0 down. With his height, gentle action, short run, and side on release Arshad was an awkward frame for batsmen to negotiate.

Shahid Afridi – right arm leg spinner/medium pace

The 3rd leading ODI wicket taker by a Pakistani. The joint leading wicket taker in the 2011 World Cup. The most wickets by a Pakistani in a single ICC event. The most wickets by a captain in an ICC World Cup event. His performances with the ball during the sub continental tournament earned him a place in the team of the tournament during the event, the only Pakistan player to feature in one. The leading wicket taker in Twenty20 internationals & the first to 50 in the shortest version of the great game. Not achieved much to write home about in the longer version of the game which will always count against him, although he produced some fine spells particularly during the Bangalore test match where he out bowled Danish Kaneria.

Shahid Afridi has been Pakistan’s leading ODI wicket taker in 2010 & 2011. The darling of the crowds considers himself more of a bowler now towards the end of his career & is similar to India’s Anil Kumble in terms of style. Afridi is fairly quick for a spinner, not a huge turner of the ball, a bowler who bowls wicket to wicket trying to extract overspin, top spin & drift. You almost have the play him like an inswing bowler rather than playing for the turn. Afridi has a rocket arm faster ball, but can also bowl an off break, unusual for a leg spinner. Throughout his career Afridi has struggled to bowl the googly with control which is one of the reasons the off break with the same action was developed, but in more recent times it’s come back into his armoury as another weapon. With a wide of the crease angle, just narrowly avoiding cutting the popping crease Afridi hones in on the stumps with quick-ish drifting deliveries directed at the feet or ones that will slide through if pitched slightly shorter. You will even find the odd one spitting and turning like a normal leg break. However, when it comes to bowling to left handers this is where his effectiveness is more limited, one way traffic just angling across the left hander or angling into the pads to work away into the vacant leg side gaps when coming around the wicket.


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