Former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has defended Indian spinners, saying their criticism is harsh when the conditions are against them.
“What can the spinner do when the batsmen have failed to put runs on the board,” asked Saqlain, who spent time with under fire Harbhajan Singh on the sidelines of the Northampton tour game before the bowler pulled out of the series with an abdominal injury.
Saqlain, who took 208 wickets in 49 Tests and was a huge success in county cricket, is now settled in Leicester.
Excerpts from an interview:
Spinners don’t seem to have a role to play on this tour?
A: The conditions have not been ideal for spinners. For the last few seasons at Trent Bridge, spinners’ turn to bowl hasn’t come. It takes four to five overs for the fingers to warm up. In a Test if he bowls 10-15 overs, how do you expect him to take five wickets? And without runs on the board he will only be thinking of bowling dot balls.
What is the key to bowling here?
A: You get more bounce here than the subcontinent. But you have to be more patient here. I have taken wickets here but I have bowled on an average 25 to 30 overs. Even when Warne has got wickets here he has bowled a lot of overs. Here the spinner has to use his brain. It is like you spread the net to catch fish. You have to gamble and you need strength in your arms.
What is your prediction for Mishra, at Edgbaston and The Oval?
A: At the Oval and here (Edgbaston), spinners will come into play. Whenever I have played at Birmingham, I have got help from the wicket. It is a perfect situation for Mishra as no one is expecting anything for him. He will be able to bowl freely. But if Indian batsmen put runs on the board then he will be a different bowler.
Pietersen and Prior have hurt Harbhajan. How does one bowl to them?
A: Pietersen is an attacking batsman. If you bowl dot balls to him and play on his patience, keep him off strike for long spells, then he will take risks. It is a cat and mouse game. You will have to figure out which side to attack him. Prior too is an attacking player. I have always blocked him on one side. He doesn’t mind playing with the spin and against the spin.
You had a meeting with Harbhajan last week?
A: He was on the verge of 100 Tests. He was a bit upset to get injured when it was time to play matches where conditions would have suited the spinners more. The criticism of Harbhajan has been unfair. Swann hasn’t done well either but no one is talking about him. He was bowling on the first day at Lord’s when conditions suited the fast bowlers and you are blaming Harbhajan. Not one, two or three years, he has done well for 12 years. The difference is their batsmen have got runs, yours haven’t. There is a negative sort of attitude against Harbhajan. With Murali, Warne and Kumble retired, for me, he is the No 1 spinner in the world. It is important not to confuse him.
What will be your advice to Harbhajan?
A: He should ignore everything that is being said about him and enjoy his cricket. He doesn’t need to think or do anything differently. His lack of success here had a lot of reasons beyond him, the pitches, the conditions, his injury, the lack of runs on the board. For example: ‘If the match is at the Oval, the Sun is out and the pitch is dry, Yeh unko udake rakh dega (he would blow away the England line-up).