Abdul Qadir

'A spinner should be able to land the ball wherever he wants'

The legspinning genius who inspired Shane Warne looks back at his highly successful career: his dominance over West Indies, the unforgettable summer of 82, Imran's influence, and more

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry  |  

"I managed to hold my own among the great pacemen of my time. Many regard me as the first great one-day spinner" © PA Photos

I played all kind of games on the street, from hockey to marbles, but not cricket. One day while playing marbles, a friend asked me to join his cricket team, which was one man short. They used to send their worst player to open the innings. The first ball I faced hit the stumps, but I was told it was a try ball so I could to stay. I was bowled the next ball as well.

I rate the basic legbreak as my most trusted weapon. It was my stock ball and I had very good control over it. It was my saviour even on my worst days.

I saw people of all ages seemed to be interested in cricket. Even older people asked each other, "What is the score?" That got me interested in cricket.

They say my temperament on the field was more that of a fast bowler.

I joined Dharampura Gymkhana, scored a century in a local tournament and became a regular in the team for the Lahore club competitions. I was often the tournament's best allrounder. But those days my father didn't approve of my playing so I used to wear my cricket kit under my salwar kameez.

Imran Khan said my record would have been much better had the DRS been around back then. Those days the umpires almost always favoured batsmen who put their front leg forward to spinners.

The real breakthrough came when I got admission through cricket into Lahore's famous Government College, the alma mater of several international cricketers. I managed the double of a century and five wickets against Islamia College, our traditional rivals. Habib Bank approached me, and in 1975-76 I took 6 for 67 on first-class debut. Within two years, I was in the Test team.

My 13 runs off Courtney Walsh's last over to win a crucial World Cup tie in 1987 is rated by many as equal to Miandad's last-ball six against India in Sharjah.

People said I had three types of googlies. I wanted to have as much variety as I could and kept practising new deliveries. I tried different angles of the arm and practised one delivery with a different number of fingers.

I told [Anil] Kumble: "You are not a big spinner of the ball. But you are fast in the air, which is your biggest strength. Simply try to twist the fingers and use the wrist more. That will add variety into your bowling."

West Indies were easily the best side in my time. My standout performance against them was in Faisalabad in 1986-87 - 6 for 16 when they were dismissed for 53.

I was selected for my first Test, against England, on the basis of my 67 wickets in the previous domestic season. I bowled well but was unlucky to get 1 for 82. Critics said I was selected too early. But in the second Test I took 6 for 44 in the first innings.

In my first three seasons of first-class cricket, I scored more than 1000 runs at an average of nearly 30, and scored a century. But over time, I paid more attention to bowling. I am only the fourth Pakistani to achieve the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Tests.

I declined very lucrative offers to play for English counties, Australian state teams and in South Africa, where I was offered a blank cheque, because I wanted my country to benefit the most from my art. I didn't want to expose it in the domestic circuits of other countries.

During the 1982 tour of England, Imran suggested I grow a goatee. "It will add to your aura," he said. He was right, because when I did, people remarked that I looked like a magician.

It was only in 1998-99, three years after my first-class career was over, that I played one season for Carlton in Victorian Premier Cricket. I was only the second overseas player to win the Ryder Medal for the best player in Melbourne's club competition.

Imran said that Allan Border, Viv Richards, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh, all World-Cup winning captains, all thought I was better than Shane Warne.

"Imran Khan is Pakistan's greatest cricketer. He had great confidence in my abilities and I owe a lot to him" © PA Photos

When I ruptured my tendon during a charity match in London, Nassem Hassan Shah, the PCB chairman, declined to help because I wasn't playing for Pakistan. It cost me about 1.5 million rupees. Towards the end of my international career, I had a head injury during net practice. Again the board refused to help.

My international career coincided with the era of fast bowlers The great spinners like Bedi, Chandra, Underwood, etc. had faded out. But I managed to hold my own among the great pacemen of my time. Many regard me as the first great one-day spinner.

Imran Khan is Pakistan's greatest cricketer. He had great confidence in my abilities and I owe a lot to him. Without him we would not have the fast-bowling culture in Pakistan. Imran guided the fast bowlers and taught them the importance of exercise and running, and the result is a never-ending supply of quality fast bowlers.

I captained Pakistan in ODIs and was once offered the Test captaincy. But since Javed Miandad was a more senior member of the team at that time, I refused the offer.

My most memorable tour was to England in 1982. It was a wet summer but I enjoyed success in almost every match and took nearly 50 wickets in the first-class games before the first Test. It was a major breakthrough for my international career.

All my four sons played first-class cricket. I have great hopes from Usman, my youngest. He played the Under-19 World Cup in 2010, where Pakistan were runners-up. People say his action is not too different from his father's.

Left-hand batsmen bothered me. On our 1983-84 tour, Australia planned well and stuffed their side with lefties, and I was largely ineffective.

I have been running the Abdul Qadir International Cricket Academy and Club since 2005. We have 40-50 boys from all strata of life. The academy team has been to Dubai a couple of times and to Malaysia once. A number of them have graduated to first-class cricket.

In 1987, Razaaullah, a senior member of PCB, rang me and said, "I know a Sahiwal boy by the name of Mushtaq Ahmed who is an exciting legspinning talent and his bowling action is a mirror image of yours." The touring England side was scheduled to play a three-day game at Sahiwal against the Chief Minister's XI. I asked the chairman of the selection committee to include Mushtaq in the team. Mushtaq took six wickets in first innings and was on the national selectors' radar from then on.

Many Indian batsmen played me well, especially Gavaskar, Viswanath, Amarnath and Vengsarkar. Among others, Gatting, Haynes, Aravinda and Ranatunga were the best.

I resigned as chief selector in 2009 after six months on the job. Before accepting the post, I had been assured by the PCB chief that there wouldn't be any interference in the working of the selection committee. But Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's coach, and Yawar Saeed, the manager, continuously intervened and it became intolerable.

Danish Kaneria is purely my product. The PCB boss, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, had invited aspiring spinners from all over Pakistan to a camp in Lahore. I picked Kaneria and worked on him for one month. Imran Tahir was also my pupil before he left for South Africa.

I was always ready to help anyone. Sharne Warne visited my home in Lahore to get tips. Steve Waugh brought along Stuart MacGill, and Andy Flower asked me to teach Paul Strang.

I wasn't picked for the first game of the 1983 World Cup. I was told by the management that legspinners tend to be expensive in ODIs. I told them whenever they felt I proved costly in a game, they could drop me for the next match. In the next game, against New Zealand, I took 4 for 21 and top-scored with 41 Thereafter I was more or less an automatic choice in Pakistan's one-day side.

Saqlain Mushtaq benefited from a tip I gave him. He used to bowl the doosra with a higher trajectory. I told him to deliver it with the same trajectory as his other balls to avoid it being picked up by batsmen.

I enjoyed lofting spinners for sixes.

My best batting performance was scoring my Test highest of 61 against England in 1987-88. It included four sixes off John Emburey.

"I resigned as chief selector because of constant interference by the coach and manager" © AFP

I played my last full season of first-class cricket in 1994-95 and took 52 wickets at little over 20. The PCB asked me to play for Pakistan but I declined as I had already decided that my time was over.

An essential quality for a spinner is the ability to land the ball wherever he wants.

One of the best tributes I ever received was from the greatest spinner of all time, Shane Warne. He wrote, "To the best. Thanks for everything. I look forward to catching up with you. Sincerely, Warne."

Twenty20 is good entertainment. It is also benefitting cricketers and boards, and has brought back crowds to stadiums. I appreciate IPL, but it should be rotated and held in a different country every year.

Once in England, a few old ladies came out of a lift I was waiting for, and one of them screamed, "Is it you, Abdul? My daughter, who otherwise has no interest in cricket, always enjoys watching you bowl. She says, 'Mama, when Abdul is bowling it seems a young lady is dancing on the floor'."

Ijaz Chaudhry writes on cricket and other sports. For more about him and samples of his published work, visit www.sportscorrespondent.info