Johannesburg: Pakistan's wily off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq on Wednesday warned World Cup rivals that slow bowlers should not be taken lightly since they turn around games with their bag of tricks. "I am very surprised when I hear that spinners have no role to play in One-day cricket because they can do a lot of damage," said Saqlain, regarded as one of the best spinners in the modern game. With champion Australian leg spinner Shane Warne out of the tournament after a failed drug test, it is left to Saqlain, Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan and India's Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh to make an impact in the World Cup.
"It's a huge challenge for spinners to stop the flow of runs besides taking wickets," said the Pakistani who recorded one of his two hat tricks against Zimbabwe in the previous World Cup four years ago. Named Wisden's cricketer of the year in 2000, Saqlain and Muralitharan have taken off spin bowling to new heights, although the Pakistani has been out of the limelight in recent times. "I am not bothered what critics say about my being not in the spinners' race, my task is to take wickets and I am up to it," he said. Saqlain was not asked to play in the first match against Australia, and bowled just four deliveries in the second match against Namibia.
The 26-year-old from Lahore has 285 One-day wickets against Muralitharan's tally of 309, but has a better strike rate of 30.2 as compared to the Sri Lankan's 35.9. "Murali and Warne are world class spinners but God has given me a place in history and I am quite happy about that," Saqlain said. The master crafter earned a huge reputation playing English county cricket with Surrey whom he helped to win the title in 1999, the county's first for 28 years. His mystery ball - one that turns from leg to off with no change in action - also brought him unprecedented fame during the Pakistan tour of Australia.
"Saqlain's extraordinary performances with Surrey and lack of showing for Pakistan indicates he is not settled in the Pakistan team," observed former Test spinner Intikhab Alam, who also played for Surrey in the 1970s. Saqlain has reached the landmarks of 100, 150 and 200 wickets faster than any other bowler in the world. He also has the distinction of claiming the highest number of One-day wickets in a calendar year - 69 in 31 matches. His indepth knowledge of English cricket could prove to be vital as Pakistan's next World Cup encounter is against England at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
Saqlain's career One-day record: Matches: 166, Overs 8,614, maidens 64, runs 6,147, wickets 285, average 21.56, best five for 20. Copyright AFP 2001