Tauseef Ahmed

'The ability to spin is more important than line and length'

The former Pakistan offspinner recalls his fairytale debut, competing with Qadir and Qasim, getting tips from Bedi, Miandad's last-ball six, and more

Interview by Ijaz Chaudhry  |  
Tauseef Ahmed: Lionel Richie lookalike

Tauseef Ahmed: Lionel Richie lookalike © Getty Images

How I got picked for my first Test sounds a little like a Cinderella story. I was playing club cricket in Karachi when the Pakistan team for the first Test against the visiting Australians was announced. One Mr Javed Sadiq, who had recently moved to our locality, saw me bowl in the club games. He knew Mushtaq Mohammad, the manager of the Pakistan team, and asked him to have a look at me. Mushtaq and the captain, Javed Miandad, were so impressed that the day before the start of the Test they included me in the playing XI instead of Ilyas Khan.

The most essential quality for a spinner is the ability to spin. Line and length come second.

After my first series, I got a job with United Bank's sports department. I played for their cricket team for 16 years. Next I played for Customs for one season. Then, from 1998 to 2001, I was a match referee in first-class cricket in Pakistan.

I was told by some Indian players that I look like Lionel Richie, who I wasn't familiar with. But when they showed me his photo, I couldn't agree more.

I didn't even know the names of most of the Aussie players in my first Test.

I shifted to Sharjah in 2001, to coach in a private academy. I had a feeling that having staged so many ODIs, Sharjah would provide a good environment for coaching. But it was mainly a money-making exercise. We were asked to give extra attention to pupils who paid more.

In my debut Test series in 1980, I took 12 wickets in Pakistan's win, but I was not considered for the national team for the next two Test series.

After two good first-class seasons I was recalled for the home series against Sri Lanka in 1981-82. I took 11 wickets at 24 but was again ignored for the next five Test series. But I appeared in most of Pakistan's Tests from 1984 to 1990.

On a long flight to the West Indies in 1988, a young Ijaz Ahmed kept refusing meals every time the air-hostess came around with the menu. I asked him, "Ijaz, you don't feel hungry?" He replied, "The food is very expensive." We all laughed and told him the food was free.

Among current offspinners, I like Graeme Swann the most. He is from the classic mould: he flights, invites the batsman to drive, and uses the doosra sparingly.

I didn't have a proper cricket kit for my first Test. The patron of my club got the uniform stitched overnight, and I had to borrow a pair of shoes from a friend.

Normally offspinners prefer to bowl at left-handers, but the batsman I found the most difficult to bowl to was a left-hander - Allan Border. He had superb technique and a watertight defence.

I got a recall in 1993, the evening before the Karachi Test against Zimbabwe. But I was not in the frame of mind to play international cricket. I had played my previous Test in 1990, and I had resigned myself to the fact that my international career was over. No wonder I played so poorly in my final international.

"My best attribute was that I was a great trier. Even if I didn't get a wicket the whole day, I would keep bowling"

My biggest regret was that I fell just seven short of 100 Test wickets.

Had the DRS been around in our time, I would definitely have had more wickets. Those days batsmen just extended their front leg forward to spinners with no fear of being given lbw.

I returned to Pakistan in 2008, after the PCB gave me a job as the regional head coach of the Hyderabad region. My job involves training of grassroots talent of Under-16s to senior teams participating in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Quite a few players from the Hyderabad region have made their mark. Currently three are in the National Cricket Academy. One of them, Sharjeel, has played for Pakistan A, and was also a member of the Pakistan team in the 2010 Asian Games.

In the first Test of the 1989-90 series in Australia, I had two unbeaten knocks of 9 and 14, for which I batted around two hours each. Most of our top batsmen had failed. I felt proud when our captain, Imran Khan, told the batsmen, "Learn from Tauseef how to stay at the wicket".

The doosra is an addition to the offspinner's armoury. But I think it is often delivered with a suspect action. Saqlain Mushtaq's doosra was clean; it was delivered with the same action.

I played almost all my Test cricket under Imran and Miandad. Both were attacking captains who rarely played for a draw.

Abdul Qadir, Iqbal Qasim and I fought for one or two spin slots in the Pakistan side, but there was never any jealousy between us.

I think we were unlucky in our 1987 World Cup semi-final against Australia. Ramiz Raja, our top run-getter in the tournament, got run out very early, and Imran was wrongly given out caught-behind.

I was at the other end when Miandad hit that famous six off the last ball of the Austral-Asia Cup final in Sharjah in 1986. Even today I am often asked about it. Coming in at No. 11 with five needed, I had to face the second-last ball of the match. Before coming in to bat I had decided to run a single no matter where the ball goes. I did that, though I barely survived being run out.

My best attribute was that I was a great trier. Even if I didn't get a wicket the whole day, I would keep bowling.

My favourite batsman was Majid Khan. He played with unbelievable ease, executing his shots with time to spare. His hook shot was especially a sight to cherish.

"For spinners now the main priority is to avoid being hit, so they bowl a flat trajectory. They are afraid to invite batsmen to drive." © Ijaz Chaudhry

As an offspinner, Lance Gibbs was an iconic figure to me. He had such a simple yet graceful action, and his fingers weaved magic.

My most memorable bowling performance came in the Bangalore Test of 1986-87, when my 9 for 139 helped Pakistan win the series. Maninder Singh took seven wickets on the first day, so everyone expected me and Qasim, the two Pakistan spinners, to also perform well. We met Bishan Bedi at a function that evening, and he told us, "If you try to spin the ball a lot, it will turn so much that it will miss the bat and the stumps. Just concentrate on line and length." We followed his advice and were successful. After the match there was a lot of hue and cry in the Indian media, condemning Bedi for revealing the "secret" to the opponents. Bedi said, "It was just a five-minute meeting with the two Pakistani spinners. I have been telling the same to the Indian spinners over the last so many years."

My most memorable batting performance was when I partnered Imran for 90 minutes to draw the 1986 Karachi Test and the series against West Indies. I faced Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh in full fury during the innings.

My offbreak was the most lethal weapon in my armoury. It would often "bite" the surface and shoot off it, giving me a lot of catches at short leg and silly point.

Twenty20 is good entertainment, but it is harming techniques. For spinners the main priority is to avoid being hit, so they bowl a flat trajectory. They are afraid to invite batsman to drive.

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