A veteran of 196 international appearances in which he took 346 wickets, former Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed's vast experience in his field is in great demand and has seen him undertake a variety of coaching assignments including the Head Coach of the prestigious National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Mushtaq spoke about his impressions of the T10 League in Abu Dhabi, the importance to Pakistan cricket of leg-spinners Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah, his interest in re-joining the PCB as a spin-bowling consultant and how the changes in the domestic system in Pakistan can benefit cricket in the country.
By Amir Husain (25th November, 2019)
PakPassion.net: What are your impressions of the T10 League in Abu Dhabi?
Mushtaq Ahmed: It’s a very important tournament for young and inexperienced players as well as those who have already played this format before. The reason for that is that in this format of the game, there is very little time to think and you need to act very quickly, so as a player you do not have time to wonder about the consequences which can restrict your stroke-play and it encourages cricketers to think on their feet. In my view, this game can play a huge role in building a strong temperament for youngsters and that can help them in Tests and ODIs as well.
PakPassion.net: Are you concerned about the current form of Shadab Khan?
Mushtaq Ahmed: Shadab Khan’s form is a matter of concern for all well-wishers of Pakistan cricket and that should be the case as he has been a top-performer for Pakistan in the past. He has been taking wickets in the middle of the innings which is a crucial phase in any game but then he fell ill before the 2019 World Cup, and I feel he did not give himself enough time to recuperate and made himself available once again too early for national duties. Even at that time, I had stated that he should have not hurried himself back into international cricket as his fitness level wasn’t that good, which in turn affected his bowling as well. Ups and downs come in every player’s life but what the need of the hour as far as Shadab is concerned is for the team management to give him mental support and confidence. I recall from my playing days that when I used to get hit around in games, Imran Khan used to tell me to not worry and that I had the capability to win the next game by myself. So, a bowler sometimes just needs confidence from his captain and that is enough to do the job. I believe that we are all guilty of creating doubts in bowlers' minds just because a few games don’t go according to our expectations. Also, sometimes, a break from cricket is necessary to allow a player to recharge his batteries by being away from the game. So, I would say that I am concerned about Shadab Khan at the moment but I am not worried about his long term future.
PakPassion.net: Can Yasir Shah regain the form that made him Pakistan's match-winner?
Mushtaq Ahmed: Based on my experience of about 2 years that I spent with Yasir, I am of the firm opinion that he needs a mentor who can understand his mindset and guide him too. I would say that in general, a match winner like Yasir always needs some people around him who have a clear idea of his strengths and weaknesses. Looking back at my own career, I can tell you that when Shahid Afridi came into the side, I felt that I had to prove myself every time I came on to bowl as I felt that he would take my position. This is why it's important that the team management needs to make it clear to Yasir that he is a permanent team member in Tests and that no one can take his place, which is only logical as he has taken more than 200 wickets and he took those wickets at such a quick rate that in my view, Pakistan’s number one ranking in Tests was by and large due to his performances. Since Yasir Shah doesn’t play ODIs or T20Is, we just see him in Tests and the moment he doesn’t do well in even one game, we are willing to write him off and overlook all his previous records to criticise him which I feel is totally unfair.
PakPassion.net: How do you rate Zafar Gohar as a future Pakistan prospect?
Mushtaq Ahmed: Zafar Gohar is very experienced in my view, so he should be preferred for selection in the Pakistan A team and in various camps that the PCB organises. He is a talented left-arm spinner who can bat as well and is a decent fielder as well and a great prospect. Similar to Zafar, we have had the emergence of Mohammad Asghar in the past who then seemed to step away from the limelight. We need a process in place to monitor performances in First-Class cricket of such up and coming bowlers so that they are not lost in the system after showing so much potential.
PakPassion.net: Are you encouraged by the emergence of quality spinners around the world?
Mushtaq Ahmed: To me cricket of today is centred around spinners as they are an important part of any side and it appears that a lot of good spinners are around as well. For example, even in a tournament like the T10 League, I have discovered three mystery spinners already – two are leg-spinners and one is a Chinaman bowler. The reason for the importance of spinners is that they are an attacking option and get you wickets and this is how teams win matches. In today’s game, if 60 runs are required in 15 balls then that’s considered doable but the introduction of a good spinner at that point in the game, who can bowl with variation creates doubts in the minds of batsmen and suddenly makes the target not that gettable anymore. Personally speaking, watching Chinaman and mystery bowlers gives me a lot of encouragement as I feel that whilst spinners may not be able to bowl bouncers, they have the ability to win matches for their sides which in the final analysis is more important.
PakPassion.net: Is there a lack of quality leg-spinners in Pakistan at this time?
Mushtaq Ahmed: Absolutely not. Let me remind you that Pakistan is blessed with two excellent leg-spinners in the shape of Yasir Shah and Shadab Khan. We are lucky that we have one specialist leg-spinner for Tests and another for the limited-overs game. During my tenure as Head Coach for the NCA, there were plenty of up and coming leg-spinners at the U14, U16 and U19 levels. What we need to do now is to monitor all these young leg-spinners very carefully. A while ago, we had the likes of Ibtisam Sheikh emerge as an excellent prospect but we seemed to let him go. We need to nurture and take care of such talents in order for that talent to grow, not unlike a gardener tends to young saplings in his care and turns them into trees so that they provide benefit forever. I feel though that too many promising spinners are being lost in our system.
PakPassion.net: Did you apply for the recently advertised role for a Spin-Bowling Consultant at the PCB?
Mushtaq Ahmed: I have responded to PCB’s advertisement for the vacant position of a spin-bowling consultant which isn’t a full-time job. I am now waiting for a response and a call for an interview and will look to fulfil all requirements for this position and am looking forward to serving my country once again, and to work with youngsters for the betterment of Pakistan cricket.
PakPassion.net: Are you convinced that the recently introduced changes in Pakistan's domestic system will bear fruit?
Mushtaq Ahmed: The new setup in domestic cricket as introduced by the PCB will need a little time for it to show its true benefits. We need to wait and be patient as all such changes require a period of settling down before a judgement can be made on their utility. My feeling is that this new setup will provide opportunities to play quality cricket for young players but there are a few considerations that PCB will need to keep an eye on. To get the true benefit of these changes, the pitches where the first-class and 2nd XI games are played need to be of a very good quality. If we look at the Australian system which the PCB have chosen to emulate, there is distinct behaviour of each of the pitches so the Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide pitches are all different in behaviour and of a high standard as well. Players playing in domestic cricket on such good quality and different pitches get a good grounding and become excellent cricketers. In addition to the pitches, the PCB needs to pay attention to umpiring standards as well and if they pay attention to all these issues, the system will find us excellent new cricketers in the near future.