In a Test career spanning a little over 13 years,you played just once against India. That was here in Delhi. Now you are back in a different avatar,as a member of the coaching staff for the citys IPL franchise.
I felt an immediate love for Delhi,the first time I came here with the Pakistan Test team. For me personally,there is absolutely no difference between Delhi and Lahore. The people are very similar,and the cities itself are alike. I would like to thank Allah for the opportunities he has provided me with. I got to serve my country as a player and now,having retired,I am able to help youngsters with whatever ability god had given me. Overall,working in this city and going to the Ferozeshah Kotla have been great experiences. It has brought back some great memories.
Yes,of course. What a first match for me to be part of. Anil Kumble was outstanding. It was such an honour for me to witness history,for a fellow leg-spinner and colleague of the same practice to take all 10 wickets. But to be honest,it wasn’t such a great day for Pakistan cricket. We got a lot of criticism when we went back home,with people asking us,’Why did you guys give Kumble all 10 wickets’? But I would really like to say that it was all Kumble’s effort. He didn’t get wickets,he took them. When Allah writes a script,it is impossible to change it.
That was one of the two Tests you played that year. And over the next four years,you featured in just nine more ending a once flourishing career with just 52 Tests. Do you believe your career to be a curtailed one?
It was still a privilege,to represent my country for whatever period of time and to play alongside the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. You see,when you are in the same bowling attack as those two,who were always hungry to perform,you don’t get too many chances to get batsmen out. I’m not using this as an excuse. It in fact was an honour to be a part of the same dressing room. I’m still very satisfied with everything Allah gave me. But maybe,I could easily have played another 50 Tests for my country. For when I went to play County cricket for Sussex between 2003 and 2008,I was at my very peak. Those six years could have been tremendous if I was a part of the Pakistan set-up.
What was the main reason,or reasons,for you being neglected by the Pakistan Cricket Board and the selectors?
I’m not sure. For one,the selectors backed Danish Kaneria. It could also have been my injuries. For two years,2001 and 2002,when I was the highest wicket-taker in Pakistan’ domestic cricket,I did not play a single ODI. Somehow I did not get selected for the nation. And then,after I went unpicked for the 2003 World Cup,I was called back to play one game against South Africa in Lahore,only to be dropped permanently after that. To give me just one game to prove myself was not fair. It wasn’t enough to justify anything,you cannot do that to a player. But when people make their minds up and say this person isnt fit to play for the country anymore,you cannot do anything about it.
Talking about the good days,you went through a three-year period between 1995 and 1998 where you claimed at least 10 wickets in every Test series you played in. Also,a little before that,you were the second highest wicket-taker (with 16 wickets to Akram’s 18) in the 1992 World Cup.
That World Cup was a dream come true for everyone in Pakistan. Imran Khan was such a sensational leader and he had a huge role to play in making me the bowler I became. In all the dressing rooms I have worked in,from the England one to the current Delhi Daredevils set-up,I always make it a point to narrate stories of Imran’s leadership.
Were Imran around as captain in the late 90s,would he have allowed talents such as yourself and Saqlain Mushtaq to be ignored by the system?
I would like to say that if Wasim and Waqar weren’t around,I can guarantee you that Pakistan cricket would have been known for its spin twins,Saqlain and I. We would have been around for a very,very long time. Duniya badal dete. But with them around,it was always going to be very difficult to play two spinners at the same time.
Would it be justified to say that Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed were the spin equivalents of Wasim and Waqar? Left-right against leggie-offie; Seam-swing versus doosra-googly.
Yes,I would definitely say so. The only thing is we did not play together in tandem as long as those fast bowlers did. Our careers clashed for about six years and in that time,sometimes I would sit out and at other times he would. But had we been given a longer spell together,we would have been a terrific combination. A brilliant combination. You see,Saqi had invented the doosra and I was armed with the wrong ‘un and the flipper. We would have been unstoppable. But as I look back,I realise more and more that those running the game in our country did not have the vision that time. Their focus was only on the two Ws.
Like the two Ws,did the two Ms too have their fair share of ego problems?
No,no. None whatsoever. We are very good friends to this day. He was always like my younger brother and a very humble man,who respects his seniors. We still keep in touch once in a while. A rare cricket friendship.
Let’s talk about your terrific post-international career. The unfulfilled promise for Pakistan was realised in Sussex,wasn’t it?
They truly love me there and treat me with utmost respect. It was refreshing and I wasn’t complaining. In fact,just this morning,I received an email from the club asking me if I would like to become vice-president of Sussex CCC. Now what an honour that is for a Pakistani guy who went there to find work. They of course still keep in touch with me,but not only that,they consult with me before signing a new overseas player and ask for my opinion on all matters despite me not having any formal role in the club anymore. My family too made plenty of friends from that County and I will not forget everything we have shared together.
So does Mushtaq Ahmed’s heart beat for Sahiwal,Multan,or Sussex,Brighton?
That heart is still completely Sahiwal. Sahiwal always comes first. Even now,when I go back there with my family and enter my village,I get goosebumps and start talking a lot. There is a lot of emotion and passion associated with Sahiwal. I studied in its school,I swam in its canal and ran through its fields. Sahiwal will always remain my home.
Just a few months after your retirement from first-class cricket in 2008,the ECB snapped you up as their spin bowling coach. Are you as proud of your coaching career as you are of your achievements on the field?
Definitely,no doubt about it. Allah has been very kind to not only make me the first Asian to be a part of the England coaching set-up,but also that the spinners in England are now widely considered the best in the world.
What is your primary role as a coach? And according to you,what makes a coach a good one?
A coach can only tell you what to do. The player has to still go out to the middle and perform by himself. I am a firm believer that a good coach is one who is a relationship-maker. You have to be on fantastic terms with your players. You have to create this relationship and work at it. And I am fortunate to say that I can call all the spinners in the England set-up whether it is Swanny,Monty or Tredwell as my friends.
Do these spinners discuss stuff outside of cricket,like their personal lives,with you?
Absolutely. We are essentially friends. And as friends,I can call Monty in the middle of the night to just talk and pretty much anything and Swanny can call me for a chat at 3 in the morning. And trust me,he is very good at it.
The 3 am chat?
Yes,he’s the naughty one. But the truth is that Swanny doesn’t call me at that time and disturb me. Because he knows that I have to wake up for my prayers at 5 in the morning. Over all they are a great bunch of guys and I am happy to be around them.
Tell me about your relationship with Graeme Swann. Is he the best spinner in the world today?
Yes,by far the best spinner in Test cricket today. You don’t have to take my word for it,just look at his records home and away. Few can boast of that. We share a fantastic relationship. Everyone knows by now that he’s a funny guy with a great sense of humour. But few know about his sensitive side,a man with a very big heart. Lots of people don’t get to see this,Swanny’s other side. He has a lot of time for people and cares immensely for those around him. Like I said,he has a very big heart. That goes for Monty too. He,unlike Swann,is extremely quiet. But we share plenty of our domestic matters with each other.
As the Indians found out recently in the Test series at home,when Monty Panesar gets that drift going,he can be as menacing as Swann.
The truth is,Monty is Monty with the drift. He was struggling before that series as he had lost the ability to drift it in. But his work ethics were good and while Swann was playing as the lone spinner and taking all those wickets for England,Monty wasn’t sitting idle. He was working in the nets on getting that drift back. Then he returned. We all saw what he did.
That first Test in Ahmedabad against India,the only one that England lost and the only one that Panesar sat out of,were you aware that the team management were making a mistake? Had it been just your call,would you have left Panesar out?
I cannot answer that because we are getting into confidential territory on the topic of team selection. But what I can say is that everybody makes mistakes. Maybe the system of selection we went through could have been different for the Ahmedabad Test. But mistakes are mistakes,we will keep committing them till the day we die. The point is to learn from them. We did.
The 3-1 Ashes win in Australia or the 2-1 series win in India. As a member of England’s support staff in both,what means more to you?
India. No two ways about it. To beat India in India is unimaginable. With their batsmen in these conditions and with their spinners,it is the closest thing to impossible in cricket. We made it happen and that is the most satisfying feeling.
What are your realistic hopes from the double Ashes year ahead?
I really think we are good enough to win both,Inshallah. I am praying to Allah for that. But the aim is to take it one Test match at a time. If we begin thinking too far ahead,it can backfire. We’ve got to be confident and have the belief that we can win it all. That belief,when coupled with preparation,is the key to success on a cricket field. If things still don’t go well after that,at least it isn’t for the lack of trying.