An Interview with Mushtaq Ahmed by Abdul Habib 2nd October 2008 Mushy is one of the best legspinners the cricketing world has ever seen, read on to learn more about him and his views. Abdul Habib: Who were your role models when growing up and why did you want to become a leg spinner? Mushtaq Ahmed: My main role models were Imran Khan and obviously Abdul Qadir who was my inspiration to become a leg spinner. When I used to watch Abdul Qadir bowling on the television, I wanted to be like him. That's what heroes do, they make you want to emulate them. My father (who is no longer with us) was my role model in life, he had no idea about cricket but he supported me, gave me confidence and made me believe that I could be the best. He used to say that as long as you are focused and goal driven, you can be the best at whatever you want to do. Abdul Habib: Have you ever been coached by Qadir? Mushtaq Ahmed: We played in the same team for a few years, he was a very nice and humble man. He taught me a lot of things and I learned a lot from just being around him, he's a good man to know. Abdul Habib: In his younger days Shane Warne came to Pakistan to learn from Abdul Qadir, were you around when that was happening? Mushtaq Ahmed: No I wasnt there but I've heard about it. Abdul Habib: Do you have any family members who play cricket? Mushtaq Ahmed: Not really, a few of my brothers have played club cricket but that's it. Abdul Habib: How did you get selected to the Pakistan team? Mushtaq Ahmed: I come from Saiwal which is a small town and I always thank Allah(swt) for my selection to the Pakistan team. I worked my way up through the youth teams, I've played for Pakistan u19s as well. Abdul Habib: How did it feel to be such an important part of the 1992 World Cup team. Mushtaq Ahmed: Imran Khan made us all believe in ourselves and each other, he had a way of pushing thoughts of failure out of your head. We had no time to think about failure because we were so busy thinking about how we could contribute to winning the game. There were some of us that Imran felt were match winners and he told us so, it made us determined to justify his belief in us and we gave him everything we had. A captain's belief is very important, especially for a legspinner because we buy our wickets and so the captain has to use us correctly to get the best out of us. Abdul Habib: What was the feeling in the team when we looked like we were going to get knocked out? Mushtaq Ahmed: It was Ramadhan and we knew that many people were praying for our success, I have a firm belief that when so many people pray for you at such an auspicious time and you try your hardest then maybe Allah will have mercy on you. On top of that Imran kept telling us that our best game was yet to come and that we would perform better in the next game and the next game. It was that belief that carried us through. Abdul Habib: You took 3-41 in the final, can you talk us through your feelings on that day? Mushtaq Ahmed: On the morning of the final I was really excited, I couldn't wait to get to the ground and for the match to get started. Before we left for the ground I prayed to Allah to make us successful, I can't find the words to describe how I felt that day. It was a very special day for me, the team and the fans. Abdul Habib: You didnt play for Pakistan as much as you should have, why do you think that is? Mushtaq Ahmed: When I was dropped from the Pakistan team, there was only one thing that I could do. That was to go back to first class cricket and take enough wickets to bring myself back into contention. So I spent a couple of years playing for National Bank and I was one of the highest wicket taking spinners in Pakistan domestic cricket, then since 2003 I've been playing county cricket and I've consistently been one of the highest wicket takers in each season. With the blessing of Allah(swt) I even took more wickets in county cricket than Murali or Warne, that's all that I could do at my end, the rest was up to the selectors. But I've no regrets because I believe Allah(swt) will always do whats best for me and so I'm happy with that. I also had to face reality, they were grooming Kaneria and so my time was up. Abdul Habib: I personally felt you should have still been playing for Pakistan during that period because u were in the prime of your career and if nothing else your presence would have helped Danish a lot. Mushtaq Ahmed: Well Australia have had no issues with playing McGill and Warne together, Pakistan cricket also need to start thinking about playing the best bowlers for the conditions. In a test match you need to take 20 wickets, to do that you need to play proper bowlers. We've been relying too much on all-rounders which can be dangerous because you always end up chasing huge totals. Abdul Habib: You've played under 12 different Test captains and 11 different ODI captains, who was the best captain you played under? Mushtaq Ahmed: There's no doubt in my mind that it was Imran Khan. Abdul Habib: Everyone says Imran Khan, which other captains were good? Mushtaq Ahmed: After Imran it had to be Wasim Akram, I think he became a better captain after my time under his captaincy. Inzamam was also highly rated, he had good results and the respect of his team. Abdul Habib: You're one of the most popular overseas county cricketers, what do you put your success down to? Mushtaq Ahmed: When you're performing well and at the top of your game, you've got to try and stay humble. When you're doing well you begin to think that your time is very valuable but you shouldn't let it get to your head. It's important to give something back, your time is also important to other people and you should recognise that. If you follow Islam properly, follow the Prophet's example and feed your family from honestly earned money then you'll never go wrong. Abdul Habib: You were part of the notorious 90's squad which had a bit of a reputation, at what point did Islam take on so much importance in your life? Mushtaq Ahmed: It was in 1999 when Saeed Anwar and Zulqarnain (ex-wicketkeeper) spent a lot of time preaching to us and reminding us about our mortality. They told us that the life of this world is only a passing phase and test before we enter the next life for all eternity. They taught us that we should start building for the next life straight away. Abdul Habib: Shane Warne was this generations most famous legspinner but when you were both playing in your early days many earmarked you as the better spinner. Why did Shane Warne stay at the top for so long? Mushtaq Ahmed: He was the best legspinner of his generation, I have a lot of respect for him and for what he's done for the art of legspin. He not only had God gifted talent but he was a very clever bowler as well. Warnie got a lot of respect, backing and confidence from both his team and his board. He was part of a strong team and played alongside some of Australia's all time greats, that helped him stay at the top for a long time. If your team is regularly scoring around 400 to 500 runs every game then there is less pressure when you bowl because you have a big target to bowl at. However if your team is only putting 200 to 250 runs on the board then for a bowler you're always bowling under pressure and it becomes a struggle to contain runs and take wickets! Abdul Habib: You played with Waqar, Zahid and Akhtar. who was the fastest of the three? Mushtaq Ahmed: In Shoaib's time he was the quickest but it's hard to say if he was faster than Waqar because Waqar was lightning fast too, I can't comment on Zahid because I don't have enough experience of his bowling. Between Waqar and Shoaib, if I have to choose then Shoaib was faster but Waqar was smarter at getting people out. Abdul Habib: How big an impact did Bob Woolmer have on the Pakistan team? Mushtaq Ahmed: In his two years with the team he brought a lot of new ideas, new drills and a new way of doing things. He wanted to make us more professional, personally I believe that he was a better man to coach the coaching staff rather than the team. Overall his tenure had a positive effect on the Pakistan team, if I had to sum it up then I'd say he was all about 'ownership' of your own issues. He strongly believed that players should take responsibility for themselves and that they should take an interest in their own progress and development. Abdul Habib: Sounds like a good idea, given the frequent changes of coaching staff every 3 or 4 years it makes sense for players to understand their own training and development programmes so that each new coach doesnt have to relearn each players needs. Mushtaq Ahmed: Yes that's what he was about, he wanted the players under him to have self-belief and become responsible for themselves. Abdul Habib: Just after Woolmer's death there was a picture splashed across the media showing you crying, what was going through your mind at the time. Mushtaq Ahmed: Bob was always good to me, as his assistant I spent a lot of time with him and got to know him quite well. It was a very emotional time for all of us. Abdul Habib: Are you happy with the support the team got from the PCB and did you feel let down over the way the police handled the matter? Mushtaq Ahmed: The communication from the PCB could have been better but it's all in the past now. Abdul Habib: What did your role as assistant coach involve, were you specifically a bowling coach or an assistant coach for the whole team? Mushtaq Ahmed: I wasn't there as a bowling coach but I did assist the bowlers as well as the batsmen and with the fielding. Being an assistant coach means you muck in and help out with a bit of everything. Abdul Habib: How did you feel when you got caught up in the coaching saga? First you were hired, then sacked and the rehired. Mushtaq Ahmed: I was hurt by the way they handled the whole situation, these were my fellow countrymen that were treating me like that. Just think about the fact that people from abroad are offering me a job and they respect me and what I can bring to the coaching role yet my own people treat me the way I was treated during that episode. I believe that as long a someone does his job with honesty and integrity then he should be allowed his dignity and be treated fairly. Abdul Habib: What's your view on DNA? Mushtaq Ahmed: Now that he's retired it would be easy for me to stick the knife in and run him down but to be honest with you he was a good man. He was always trying to do stuff to benefit the players, he never hid a single penny from them. I'm not saying he was perfect, there was clearly a lack of communication there but he had a good heart for the players. I've always said that you start going wrong in your job when you become more worried about saving your job than doing your job. Once the compromising begins you cant get the things done that you want to do and that can lead to your downfall. Abdul Habib: How do you feel Waqar did as bowling coach? Mushtaq Ahmed: I didn't work with Waqar but I know he was a brilliant coach. The evidence is there in black and white from his time with the Pakistan team, the most obvious example is the success he had in reducing no balls and wides. The PCB need to use experienced ex-cricketers like Waqar, they are wasting a great resource that is available to Pakistan cricket. If the PCB started tapping into that knowledge and experience then Pakistani cricket would really be going places. Abdul Habib: The PCB seem to have a problem when it comes to treating their players and employees with the correct dignity and respect. Mushtaq Ahmed: I agree with that but I also believe that dignity and respect work two ways. Guys like Waqar and myself also need to cut down our own egos as well. We need to recognise that we are no longer in the position we were in before and that things have to be different now that we're retired. Once again it all comes down to communication, perhaps the PCB thinks that guys like Waqar and myself wont listen to them and perhaps we ourselves are too arrogant and we think that we shouldn't have to listen to people who arent cricketers because what can those people teach us about cricket? Nothing can function like that, it's impossible to run things without balance and understanding. There has to be give and take, when our time is over we need to realise that it's now time for us to serve Pakistani cricket in the same way that other people served us when we were playing cricket. Becoming a coach is very tough on the ego because you could be taking orders from someone who has only played one test match whilst you yourself have played over 50 but that sort of attitude needs to be placed in the past where it belongs and you should get on with the job you have now. Abdul Habib: We had a very strong Pakistan team in the 2007 World Cup, why do you think we did so badly? Mushtaq Ahmed: There was too much shuffling around during the lead up to the World Cup, we were playing too many youngsters. We forgot the basics which is that you can only groom one player at a time, you should give each youngster a run in the team so that they can have a proper chance to prove themselves. Picking and dropping players on a game by game or even series by series basis doesn't do any good for the development of those players. Also if you drop one senior player then that can put pressure on the other senior players who begin to fear for their own places, they begin to think that if someone like Mohammad Yousuf can get dropped from the ODI team then they can drop me too. Suddenly the whole team is under pressure and everyone is playing for their place and not for the team... Abdul Habib: (interrupts) ...but teams like India and Australia do that all the time. Just recently India have dropped players like Ganguly, Dravid and Laxman from the ODI team but they're still doing well because it creates competition for places and the dropped players become hungry to earn their place back. Mushtaq Ahmed: What youngsters are we talking about? I think Ishant Sharma is the only one who came in and became an instant success. Their young batsmen like Gambhir, Raina and Sharma have been with or around the team for a few years now. They were groomed over a period of time in the dressing room and allowed to play without pressure alongside batsmen like Sachin and Ganguly. I'm not against the introduction of youngsters but you cant just thrust them into the international spotlight and expect them either to sink or to swim. You need to give them time to soak up the atmosphere, knowledge and experience in the dressing room in the company of great players like Younis, Inzi and Yousuf. Let these youngsters play a few games in the company of these experienced batsmen so that they can learn from them out there in the middle where the real test of any player takes place. Abdul Habib: You raise an interesting point because I did an interview with Salman Butt and asked him why his form was improving now when he wasnt that consistent previously. He attributed it to spending a lot of time sitting and talking with Younis and Yousuf. Mushtaq Ahmed: That's what I mean. For example they dropped me in the peak of my career and now that Danish is entering the peak of his career it looks like they may be dropping him too. What's the point of growing and nurturing a tree for fruit and shelter but then just as it's reaching maturity you wander off and start growing another tree. It makes no sense to drop Danish now that he's entering the prime of his career, especially not after spending so much time and energy in developing him. Abdul Habib: How would you rate Lawson as a coach so far? Mushtaq Ahmed: I've never worked with Lawson nor do I know anything about him, so I couldn't tell you anything. As the Prophet has said, we shouldnt give our opinion on someone whom we don't know because it wouldn't be fair or accurate. Abdul Habib: I meant based on his results and the teams performance during his tenure so far. Mushtaq Ahmed: You can't make a judgement like that after just one year, he's a young and unproven coach. He needs more time and stronger backing so that he can do his job the way he wants to do it and only then can you judge his performance. Coming back to the example of the tree, you can't expect the tree to give you shelter and fruit from the moment you plant it. You need to be patient and let it grow and mature before you begin to see the results. Lawson needs good surroundings, he needs a local person around him who can be a good bridge between him and the players. Abdul Habib: What's your impressions of Malik as a captain so far? Who would you have chosen as captain? Mushtaq Ahmed: No, I would always go with a senior player as captain. Abdul Habib: Well they did offer it to Younis and he refused. Mushtaq Ahmed: Initially he did refuse but I've heard that afterwards he'd changed his mind. Anyway they still had Yousuf and Afridi, after Younis they were the best two players to become captain. Abdul Habib: But Afridi isn't seen as a very responsible cricketer, do you think he would make a good captain? Mushtaq Ahmed: In which way is he irresponsible? Abdul Habib: A lot of people feel he's not a team player, especially when it comes to batting. For example if the team needs 30 runs in 50 balls with 2 wickets left, he'll try and hit 30 runs in 10 balls and end up losing the game for himself and the team. Mushtaq Ahmed: 90% of people have no idea what leadership is. Leadership isn't about winning the game for your team, leadership is about being able to influence others and having their confidence in your decisions. It's nice to have a captain who leads from the front but your best player doesnt necessarily make the best captain. Abdul Habib: I know Afridi has been quite successful as a captain at the domestic level but do you really think that Afridi has the leadership quality needed to lead Pakistan? Mushtaq Ahmed: Yes he does. Leadership is all about the ability to make tough decisions and man management, I think Afridi has good skills in those areas. Abdul Habib: Why does Kaneria struggle to take wickets quickly and cheaply? Mushtaq Ahmed: A leg spinner is a mystery bowler, you should never over-expose your leg spinner because if used properly he will get you important breakthroughs and lots of wickets. If you make your race horse run all day then he'll be too tired by the time the race starts, in the same way if you leave a bowler bowling non-stop all day long that bowler will burn out very quickly. Kaneria should bowl shorter spells and be used like a strike bowler, not a stock bowler. If you use any strike bowler like a stock bowler then you will ruin that bowler and they will begin to bowl more conservatively. People expect that Kaneria should walk on to bowl, turn his arm over and take 5 wickets straight away but that's unrealistic. Kaneria is still young and already has 200 test wickets to his name, his wickets per match ratio is very good. I rate him very highly, he still has a lot to give to Pakistan cricket but he needs to be used more intelligently. Abdul Habib: Has Danish ever come to you for advice? Mushtaq Ahmed: Yeah we've worked with each other a lot, whenever he wants my opinion I'm always there for him Abdul Habib: If you were Shahid Afridi's leg spin coach what would you tell him to do? Mushtaq Ahmed: I think he's bowling fine the way he is, I wouldnt teach him anything. Instead I'd reinforce to him what his strengths are, pace and drift. I'd never tell an express bowler to sacrifice his pace to try and get the ball to swing more because pace is his strength and that's what he should be concentrating on. In the same way I'd tell Afridi to stick to his basics, if he can pick 2 or 3 wickets per ODI at a good economy rate then he's doing his job. Afridi has never struggled with his bowling so I wouldn't try to overcoach him. Abdul Habib: The question was aimed more at test cricket. Mushtaq Ahmed: He hasn't had much chance at test level, at best he's an all-rounder and so he can only get you a few wickets at test level. He's an attacking bowler so I'd use him in 8 over spells and bring him on when I need a breakthrough. Abdul Habib: You've just announced your retirement, is that from all forms of cricket? Mushtaq Ahmed: No I'm only retiring from first class county cricket. I still have two years left on my ICL contract, so I'll still be playing with the Lahore Badshahs. Abdul Habib: Will you only play in the ICL from now on? Mushtaq Ahmed: As things stand I'm only contracted to the ICL but you never know what tomorrow will bring, if I receive any other offers in limited overs cricket then I'll give it serious consideration. Abdul Habib: How would you rate the IPL against the ICL? Mushtaq Ahmed: The ICL were the innovators of this type of cricket, they were the ones who put their necks on the line and risked their money in a private T20 Championship. They were the ones who started the trend of paying the players the money they deserve from the profits they generate and even now it's still the ICL who are leading the innovations in this form of cricket. IPL, EPL and the others are just jumping on the ICL bandwagon now that this format has become a proven success. As for IPL vs ICL, I havent played in the IPL but the standard of cricket in the ICL is very tough and it's very competitive. There's only one way to find out which one is better and that is by having an IPL vs ICL set of games, that's the best way to settle the argument. Abdul Habib: Following the success of the lahore Badshahs the ICL organisers were discussing the possibility of a Karachi team in this years edition. Do you have any updates on this and do you know which new Pakistani players have signed up to ICL this year? Mushtaq Ahmed: I have no idea if there will be a Karachi team or whether any new Pakistani players have signed up for the ICL, no-one has told me anything concrete. However there are a lot of rumours doing the rounds, the one I keep hearing is that there will be an English team this season and that lots of English players have already been approached and even signed. But as far as I know it's just rumour and speculation. Abdul Habib: What are you views about the bans on ICL players? Mushtaq Ahmed: Considering how low the salaries are in domestic cricket, I don't think it's fair to stop players from accepting lucrative offers to play for the ICL. Very few players will ever get the chance to play in the IPL so it's grossly unfair for any cricket board to ban players who choose to play in a tournament like the ICL. What right does anyone have to stop a cricketer from plying his trade? It's not like he's committed a crime or done anything immoral. He's just agreed to play cricket for the ICL just like he plays cricket for his club team, his domestic team or his international team. There's no justification for boards like the PCB to totally ban players from all forms of cricket just because they've chosen to play for the ICL. Doesn't the BCCI understand that not every player will be able to play in the IPL and that competition brings out the best in everyone. I think the BCCI should embrace the ICL and capitalise on all the interest in India surrounding the cold war between the IPL and the ICL. Cricket lovers around the world would want to watch the ICL square off against the IPL on the pitch, the BCCI could generate an insane amount of revenue and sell out every stadium if they held an IPL vs ICL tournament. They should seriously look into it, maybe by allowing the ICL champions to play in the Champions Trophy in December and then taking it further from there. Abdul Habib: Have u heard anything about the PPL, what are your views on it? Mushtaq Ahmed: The way I see it, T20 cricket will eventually become like football in the UK or baseball in America. It's fast paced, exciting and over in 3 hours. The ICL and the IPL are just the beginning, soon you'll see a T20 league in every cricketing country. I'm strongly in favour of a PPL because it will increase the marketing and sponsorship potential of cricket in Pakistan. In fact I'm in favour of anything that increases the average domestic cricketers wage and gives international exposure to domestic cricketers. Abdul Habib: Pakistan already have a T20 competition, what changes would you make to it? Mushtaq Ahmed: They shouldn't be shy to bring in big firms and corporations to run the teams, if they do that then they don't need to worry about the funding because it will take care of itself. They also need to bring in overseas players to play for each franchise because that's the one thing that can make or break a potential PPL. Abdul Habib: Now that you've retired from everything but ICL, what are your plans for the future? Are you thinking about coaching, commentary or something non-cricket related? Mushtaq Ahmed: I've already had some interest from certain parties in employing me in a coaching capacity so I think that's (Insha Allah) where my long term future lies. Abdul Habib: Could you expand on that? Mushtaq Ahmed: Well I may be doing something with English spinners in conjunction with the ECB and Sussex have been quite interested in having me do a bit of coaching with them over the summer. There's nothing concrete as of yet. Abdul Habib: Do you have any coaching qualifications yet? Mushtaq Ahmed: No I don't as of yet but I intend to gain them. However it's important to bear in mind that there's no substitute for experience, I've played cricket for 22 years now, against all strengths of opposition, at all levels of the game and in all conceivable conditions. You can't learn that sort of thing from books and in classrooms. Yes it's important to gain the qualifications but what good are they if you have no practical experience of how to spin a ball. A book can't teach you how to judge the right length on different pitches, a book can't teach you how different conditions will affect the ball and your deliveries and a book cant teach you how to read a batsman's intentions or what ball to bowl at what time. Abdul Habib: Do you plan on settling down in England or will you move back to Pakistan after you retire? Mushtaq Ahmed: I still live in Pakistan during the off season and I hope to return there but as with anyone else it will depend on where the work is. Abdul Habib: Have you had any offers from the Pakistan team? Mushtaq Ahmed: No, not as of yet. I'd be interested if an opportunity came along but being a coach with the Pakistan team is a very tough job. When something goes wrong then the finger is always pointed at the coaching team and they are blamed for it but whenever something goes right it's the management who are responsible for it. It's a no win situation. But despite that I have a firm belief that I want to pay my country back for all that it's given me, they looked after me when I was young and made me who I am Abdul Habib: Why arent Pakistan producing any more quality spinners? Mushtaq Ahmed: If you stop investment into anything, then it will die. The PCB needs to invest at the grass roots level, ex-players should play a big part in going to small towns to hold camps and scout for talent. Why am I getting offers to work with spinners in England despite not having any formal coaching qualifications? There are lots of qualified coaches in England that could do the job, why ask me? It's because experience counts for something. The PCB need to learn from that and start to tap into the wealth of experience that they have in Pakistan in the form of all our talented ex-players. Abdul Habib: During your time as assistant coach, did u see any promising legspinners? Mushtaq Ahmed: Mansoor Amjad is a good legspinner as is Azhar Ali, they're both names for the future but when you have a spinner like Danish then you should concentrate on him. Abdul Habib: What about Imran Tahir? Mushtaq Ahmed: His past performance wasn't great but he's a very good bowler now. He's close to 30 which is a great age for a spinner and he's doing very well in county cricket but I think the PCB need to concentrate on Danish. Abdul Habib: Thank you very much for your time and best of luck for the future. Mushtaq Ahmed: Thank you for having me and keep praying for me and for everyone.