Cricket's greatest innovators: Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq's ensures off-spin is never the same again

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With its origins dating all the way back to the 16th century, cricket is a sport that has evolved greatly over the years.

From changes in its laws to adopting entirely new formats, the game has always been in a constant state of flux. While cricket’s lawmakers and custodians have played their part in evolving the sport with time, there have also been several players along the way who have created their own impact.

These players have helped change the manner in which the game is approached and their legacy is permanently etched in stone. Whether it be introducing a completely new shot with the bat or bringing a fundamental shift in the game, these players are cricket’s greatest innovators.

As we look back on some of these visionaries of the game, there is no way to miss out on former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.

‘Doosra’ or the other one

The image of former Sri Lanka off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan terrorising entire batting line-ups is still fresh in the minds of most cricket fans. What made the Sri Lankan legend so fearsome was his ability to generate the sharpest of turns from unfathomable angles. However, what made him near unplayable and eventually end up with a staggering 800 Test dismissals was the fact that he could also take the ball away from the right-handers without making any noticeable changes in his bowling action.

Muralitharan’s ‘doosra’, or simply the ‘other one’, was a variation in which very few batsmen were able to read and was the most lethal delivery in his armoury. The doosra’s effectiveness lies not just in the way it deceives batsmen, but also in the seed of doubt it imprints on their minds.

When you are not sure whether the ball will spin into you or away, you are always playing with fire, especially against a bowler like Muralitharan who was constantly attacking the stumps.

Saqlaind (1)

But while the Sri Lankan might have perfected the art of the doosra to devastating levels, it is a Pakistan man who was the inventor of the delivery.

Saqlain Mushtaq’s international career might pale in comparison to the likes of Murali and even India’s Harbhajan Singh. However, the former Pakistan off-spinner’s impact on the game and the two aforementioned spinners is considerable.

Many off-spinners before Mushtaq have also attempted the occasional ball that goes away from the right-handers, but none of them were able to master it like the Pakistan man. It is, after all, a difficult delivery to pull-off without bending the arm beyond ICC’s permissible limits.

In fact, so effortless was Mushtaq with the ‘doosra’ that the Lahore-born was often criticised for overusing that delivery and variation.

Mushtaq’s international career started off in electric fashion with the Lahore man becoming the quickest bowler to claim a century of ODI wicket. It was in limited-overs cricket that Mushtaq’s brilliance was at its best, although he did have his moments in the Test format as well. His greatest display in the Test whites came in 1999 in Chennai against India, when his 10-wicket haul helped clinch a thrilling 12-run victory for Pakistan.

The off-spinner accounted for Sachin Tendulkar in both innings of that famous Test and it was his win in that fascinating duel that tilted the balance in Pakistan’s favour ultimately.

Unfortunately for Mushtaq, the latter part of his career did not live up to its initial hype. Injuries and poor form saw him drop in and out of the Pakistan squad and his decision to sign a contract with the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) proved to be the final nail in the coffin for his international aspirations.

In the end, Mushtaq’s final international appearance for Pakistan came when he was only 28. His legacy, however, lives on to this day with his ‘doosra’ revolutionising off-spin bowling.

The legacy

Saqlain is one of the most sought after spin coaches on the circuit.

Saqlain is one of the most sought after spin coaches on the circuit.

Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh and Pakistan’s very own Saeed Ajmal have used that variation to good effect subsequently. Now, almost every new off-spinner coming into the game possesses the doosra in his arsenal.

It is a testament to Mushtaq’s skills that he never got into any legal trouble with the ICC for his bowling action for the doosra. The variation is mechanically a very difficult delivery, using the same off-spinning action of bending the elbow beyond permissible limits. The legality of the bowling actions of Muralitharan, Harabhajan and Ajmal were questioned at various stages of their career, although they were all cleared since.

Mushtaq’s off-spin skills have also turned him into a man highly in demand post his cricket retirement. The Pakistan man has been employed as a spin consultant by several international sides now including Australia, West Indies and most recently with England.

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