'As soon as you set your fields, the batsman knows your plans'

Former Pakistan offspinner Saqlain Mushtaq on the 1999 World Cup, fighting with Mohammad Yousuf, and hiding his wife in a closet

Interview by Scott Oliver  |  

"In Multan against India I was struggling even to walk in the field. Almost all the balls I bowled were arm balls. I couldn't roll my shoulder" Jewel Samad / © AFP

We were actually very confident that we were going to beat Australia in the 1999 World Cup final. Winning the toss and batting: I still can't understand why we did that.

A couple of days before we played India in Multan [2004] I went for a scan. I wasn't fit. They gave me injections in the shoulder and knee. Inzi was captain. He told me he wanted me to play. I said, "Inzi bhai, you've seen me. I haven't bowled for weeks. I think I'm seriously injured. Let me go back to England and sort out these things." He said nobody was performing well, I was needed. He convinced me to play. It was a flat wicket, some of our bowlers got injured, and after five overs, when all the painkillers came out of my system, I was struggling even to walk in the field. Almost all the balls I bowled were arm balls. I couldn't roll my shoulder. I heard that some people said Sehwag finished my career, but it wasn't like that.

When I was 14, playing with a proper ball, I had the grip for the doosra but no control. It used to come out with topspin. My shoulder muscles were very weak at that time. It took me until Under-19s to develop the muscles, the feelings, and the control with that grip.

Adam Hollioake was the Surrey captain. He used to stand at silly point for me, talking to the batsman, talking to me. He actually gave me the pattern: "If a new batsman comes in, you have to bowl the doosra. First ball." So I did that for two or three seasons and would get the batsman out first ball two or three times out of ten. Then later, he captained England against Pakistan in Sharjah. Adam came in to bat. I looked at him and said, "Hey skipper, doosra". He gave me a smile. He used to tell me that if he ever faced me he'd never ever go across the line. Anyway, I gave him the doosra first ball, he missed it trying to play through the on side, but unfortunately Moin Khan missed the stumping. Both of us started laughing. "Skipper, I told you I was going to bowl you the doosra," I said.

As soon as you set your fields, the batsman knows what sort of plans you have.

"I would have played for England if I'd been picked. It's an honour for me. This is my country now, and I have to think like that. My kids are here, I'm settled here"

I always said I will die twice: first, when I leave cricket; second, when I die.

When I retired I was at my peak and felt I had all this cricket left in me. That's why I became a coach. And I want to be a success at that as well, and give back to cricket. When the players I work with play, I feel the same sort of feelings and excitement. Physically I'm outside, but spiritually I'm inside.

When we lost to England in Karachi [2001], it was sunset prayer time in all the mosques. I was also fasting at that time. I'd been bowling the whole day and had no energy in my body. I was saying to Moin bhai: "We need to stop this Test match. I'm hungry and the sun has set. I need to break my fast, man. Forget about the Test match."

Danish Kaneria wasn't bowling well so they called me and said I had to come out to play Bangladesh. That's the thing with the PCB: they don't think about the bigger picture. They don't trust anyone. I went there, told them I wasn't fit, but they said: "No, no, no, you will play. We need you." I had an injection and played.

Where I grew up, there weren't any facilities where we could go and play. The parks were a long way away. Our house had a flat roof, so we used to play there after school with a table tennis ball. That's where I learned the doosra.

When I was picked for Pakistan, I was very excited, very nervous. There was a tingling feeling in the whole body. For the first hour or so, I wasn't feeling normal. I was somewhere else, you know.

The captaincy changed a lot early in my career [11 times in his first 18 Tests]. You need a good relationship with the captain. You need to know what sort of captain he is, how much he believes in you, is he defensive or attacking?

"Surrey captain Adam Hollioake gave me the pattern: 'If a new batsman comes in, you have to bowl the doosra. First ball'" © PA Photos

The bomb in Karachi was just a few minutes before we left the team hotel. Me and my wife were having breakfast. It was very scary. The whole building was shaking, all the windows were breaking. They told us not to go into the rooms, so we stayed by the pool for a few hours. New Zealand just flew straight home. We saw a few hands and legs on the road, and my wife was very shocked, crying a lot, and she asked to go straight back to Lahore. She didn't want to stay in Pakistan, and since then I have made my base in the UK. It was a terrible experience, but we were lucky that we were not on the road.

After the Chennai Test, I grew up very quickly. That series gave me special memories that I won't forget for the rest of my life. After the game, the Indian people stayed to applaud us. It showed that sport can bring people together.

At the 1999 World Cup we'd been travelling with our wives and family, enjoying the tournament, but before the semi-final the management said that wives are not allowed. I said to Sana: "I'm not going to send you home. I'm feeling comfortable. You're going to stay here." So I gave her a list of the hotels. She would check in before me, and I kept her in my room. Whenever the manager and coach came knocking, I told her to go and hide in the cupboard. [Mohammad] Yousuf and Azhar Mahmood came in one day and after a few minutes starting laughing. They told me that they knew she was in the room and that she could come out from the cupboard.

We lost to West Indies in Antigua by one wicket, but I definitely got Courtney Walsh out bat-pad. Later the umpire said sorry. They are human beings, they make mistakes. What can you do? But it was a great Test match. Wasim Akram wasn't feeling 100%, but he bowled a great spell, and that really taught me a lot about fighting for the team.

"Winning the Asian Test Championship in 1999 was a big thing, especially beating India on the way"

When I think about the top bowlers in the world, I just think they have been really lucky, really blessed. Yes, they were special, but they were lucky. They had good systems, good opportunities, good health.

I would have played for England if I'd been picked. Why not? It's an honour for me. This is my country now and I have to think like that. My kids are here, I'm settled here. Part of the religion says that wherever you're living, you have to be loyal and you have to be honest with that country.

The day we lost the World Cup final - I was with Surrey then, living in Clapham North - me and my wife went back to the flat. There was nothing in the fridge, so my wife said I had to go to the shop. I said: "Sana, I can't. We lost the game today and all the Asian people will be grumpy with me." She said: "No, this is England. Don't worry." So we went to Tooting. I was at the butcher's and three ladies started having a go at me.

There was a guy who played one Test for Pakistan: Ashfaq Ahmed. He came before Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Akram. He was a really good bowler: tall, strong. After a training camp, he fell off his motorbike and broke his bowling arm. After 12 months he came back, took a lot of wickets and got back into the Pakistan squad again. But he couldn't afford to buy a car, so while he was going to camp again, he had another accident and broke his bowling arm again. He was finished with cricket - even club cricket. Anyway, after a few years I was playing for Surrey and was going from The Oval to Tooting. I stopped at Balham station for a kebab roll, and that guy, Ashfaq Ahmed, was there, making kebabs. I said, "What are you doing here?" He told me he was studying and working part-time, making kebab rolls. I just started crying and crying, thinking how unlucky he was.

Toughest bowling conditions? Places where it's cold and windy - Wellington, Hobart, Manchester - are difficult. Wherever you go, if you're playing against a good team, they are always tough conditions.

It didn't matter whether the opposition spinner was taking a lot of wickets. I didn't feel extra pressure. I always used to concentrate on myself, back myself. If I'm feeling good, if I'm feeling happy, if I'm feeling in control, then that's all that matters.

Saqlain and Mohammad Yousuf added 248 for the seventh wicket in Christchurch in 2001

Saqlain and Mohammad Yousuf added 248 for the seventh wicket in Christchurch in 2001 © Getty Images

Me and Yousuf were playing cards before the Christchurch Test [2001], joking around, taking the mickey and then we got into a bit of an argument. I said: "Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you." Next day, Yousuf was batting when I went in. I said: "Yousuf, have you forgiven me? This is a Test match, we have to clear this up." But he didn't want to talk to me. So I said, "Okay, I'm not going to stand next to you." One of the New Zealand bowlers bowled one in my area and I hit it for a one-bounce four. The dressing room was like: "What are you doing? You need to stay there and support Yousuf." I said to Yousuf: "If you're not going to talk to me, I'm going to smack every ball." He said: "Do whatever you want." This happened every time I hit a four: same reaction from dressing room, same reaction from Yousuf. At the end of the day, I was on 20-odd and Yousuf was on about 70. I got back to the hotel and Yousuf had written a note: "Saqi bhai, sorry, I was just joking with you, but tomorrow is a very important day. If you stay I can make a hundred and get the bonus."

My favourite type of dismissal was caught at slip. Maybe the best one for Pakistan was Damien Martyn at Trent Bridge. I used to visualise it. And when it happened it gave you extra joy.

Some bowlers, their way is to be attacking, to bowl all the variations. Same with batsmen: KP's strength, Viv Richards' strength, is to attack the bowling. That is their personality. So I never say anyone should bowl this ball or that ball. Do whatever feels right as long as you are controlling the batsman.

Winning the Asian Test Championship in 1999 was a big thing, especially beating India on the way.

During the Christchurch Test, my wife said: "If you love me, you'll have to make fifty." So, I got to 50, then up to 70, going really slow. My wife sent another message out: "If you really, really love me, you have to make hundred." It was a lot of pressure. I was going to break the record for slowest Test hundred. I was 98 at the end of the next day. Next day, I was on 99 for about 40 minutes, but thanks to Nathan Astle for a ball on the leg side and I got the hundred.

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