Saqlain - Changing Lanes?

Published: Monday, July 16, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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"Come on Saqi boy.. Saqi boy! Come on Saqi .. " You would remember this cry behind the wickets, when Moin Khan the former captain and wicketkeeper of the Pakistani Cricket team, used to encourage that crafty off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq. And when the hapless batsman would walk back to the pavilion, theyd exult gleefully like two boys who finally managed to beat up the neighbourhood goon!!

Wicketkeeper and bowler combines in the world of cricket are endearing. The Saqlain and Moin team, was one such duo, that was treated with respect the world over. The combine has been effective thirteen times in Test matches and in the shorter version of the game they have dismissed batsmen 47 times. So quick mathematics will tell you that they were successful!

But the issue here is not to relive moments of the Saqlain magic with Moin Khan, but is more a focus, on what happened to the charismatic offie over the past three years. Fans would remember that in 2004, he was dropped after the second Test against India in Multan, when a certain Virender Sehwag belted a triple century, and Saqlain Mushtaq finished with figures of 204/1! Not flattering to say the least. Ever since then, its been an uphill journey for the Lahore-born 30-year-old spinner. It's taken much longer than he expected and a lot of water has flown under the bridge ever since. Two major surgeries on his knees in 2004, meant that he would be out of contention and not be able to play cricket at all for that period.

It is during trying times, that one realizes, which people truly care and those who could not care less. One resorts to other areas like religion, new countries to reside in and more. 'Saqi' ( as he is fondly referred to) saw that the Pakistani Cricket board, were certainly not his well wishers, as they did little to help him in his time of crisis. In his time away from Cricket, he spent time devoting himself to Islam, to redeem himself from his earlier, over indulgent ways. With County Cricket he had the zone where he could live his passion. And over the years he ended up playing for Surrey in as many as eight seasons before the knee injuries struck. But he received a special honour, as a stand in the oval ( surrey's home ground) is named after this great spinner, as he was instrumental in Surrey winning three County Championship titles between 1999 and 2002!

Later he represented Ireland in the C&G trophy, as one of the two foreign players in the team. The other one was his team mate Shahid Afridi. But most recently he signed a two-year contract with the Sussex county, and more importantly, now holds a British passport. The British passport came about as he is married to a British born Pakistani woman, and their children are British citizens. With this new development, Saqlain Mushtaq is now eligible to play for England in 2008.

Time catches up with a cricketer, and Saqlain is no exception. At the age of 30 a whole new world has opened up for him. He has the option of playing for his adopted country, but he knows that he has been away from playing the game for a long time now. To get back match fitness, he has to play more and only time will tell, as to whether he will be totally fit to don new colours in his cricketing career.

For now he knows, that he is slowly but surely getting back to doing what he does best. Bowling that 'doosra'. IN modern day cricket, Saqlain Mushtaq is the father of the 'doosra' - which is quite simply, the ball that goes the other way. India's Harbhajan Singh and Sri Lanka's maestro, Muttiah Muralitharan have used this as a stock ball.

These are exciting times for the off spinner, who is now a British passport holder. Will the fire of patriotism be ignited, and will he play for Pakistan again, or will he play a new role and spin in tandem with Monty Panesar for England? The answers will appear, we as cricket lovers shall be entertained. The legend of Saqlain Mushtaq will live on!


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