Saqlain: Bowling off-spin is a beautiful art

"If the youngsters are scared, the coaches have to step in and mentor them; they have to build the belief in them that they can bowl off-spin in a legal way. It is the responsibility of the coaches to make sure that the youngsters have the right technique, muscles and grip, and bowl in a legal way," says former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.

Saqlain Mushtaq of Gemini Arabians celebrates on dismissing Ashwell Prince of Capricorn Commanders in a Masters Champions League match in Sharjah. "At the moment, the off-spinners are having a tough time, but I believe that tough times also bring good times," he says.   -  Getty Images

Saeed Ajmal, according to Saqlain Mushtaq, has solved his problem and is playing again.   -  Getty Images

Shahid Afridi is a game-changer, a match-winner, says Saqlain Mushtaq.   -  Getty Images

Saqlain Mushtaq wants talented off-spinners to bowl without fear by imbibing the rudiments at a young age. The former Pakistan off-spinner captured 208 wickets in 49 Test matches between 1995 and 2004, and his record remains intact following Saeed Ajmal’s ban by the International Cricket Council for illegal action.

Pakistan has been the worst hit with off-spinners Mohammad Hafeez and Asif Bilal also coming under the scanner for suspect action. Saqlain, who now holds a British passport, spoke to Sportstar from Dubai, where he was playing for Gemini Arabians in the Masters Champions League (MCL).

When asked if young cricketers are afraid of taking up off-spin bowling for fear of being called by the umpires, Saqlain, 39, said: “I am not seeing it that way at all. Ajmal solved his problem and is playing again. I believe that one can bowl in a legal way and with a legal action. If you have not developed the right technique, don’t have the right muscles and the right grip, you will have problems. The youngsters have to learn all this from the grassroots stage, including the ‘doosra’ and other variations.”

According to Saqlain, bowling off-break is a beautiful art. “If the youngsters are scared, the coaches have to step in and mentor them; they have to build the belief in them that they can bowl off-spin in a legal way. It is the responsibility of the coaches to make sure that the youngsters have the right technique, muscles and grip, and bowl in a legal way,” he said.

Saqlain’s major victims included Hashan Tillekaratne, Grant Flower, Marvan Atapattu, Aravinda de Silva, Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya and Rahul Dravid.

Clearly, there seems to be a decline in off-spinners in Pakistan’s domestic cricket. “I don’t know why there are so many left-arm spinners. Mohammad Nawaz is in the Pakistan World Twenty20 squad. He is bowling beautifully. At the moment, the off-spinners are having a tough time, but I believe that tough times also bring good times. The players and coaches have to work hard. I feel that off-spinners will be a big success in Test cricket.

“Why I am saying this is because fast bowlers, who bring the ball in, make things difficult for the batsmen. The off-spinner generally brings the ball into the stumps, so you have a lot of opportunities to get the batsmen out — lbw and bowled. And with the off-break, if there is a little dip, break and bounce, many wickets can be taken. On top of that, with the arm-ball or the ‘doosra’, you can put a lot of pressure on the batsmen and get wickets. I believe the off-spinners will come back,” Saqlain said.

Talking about the possibility of Shahid Afridi playing a big role for Pakistan in the upcoming World T20, Saqlain said: “I think this T20 World Cup could be his last. There are a lot of expectations from him. He has to play a big part. He is a game-changer... a match-winner.”

So, who are the favourites in the tournament?

“There will be the home advantage (India). Australia and New Zealand are also playing good cricket. The Australians come with full preparation and they come hard. India is playing well; it beat Australia 3-0 recently. When a tournament arrives, Sri Lanka plays very good cricket.

“At the moment, I have to be realistic about Pakistan. It is not playing that good cricket. We all know Pakistan is unpredictable. It’s a format where one knock or spell can shift the balance of the game. I have always believed that one player can win a game of T20, but to win a big tournament you have to play as a team. I think Pakistan is lacking on that count now,” said Saqlain.