Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Mushtaq and Mushtaq Show

Watching Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq bowl in tandem for Sussex against Kent in the second semi-final of the Twenty20 Cup yesterday evoked a feeling of what might have been had the selection policy in Pakistan cricket been a bit more, er, logical.

Sure the Mushtaqs ended up on the losing side, but during the period of eight overs when they bowled through their quota, there was only one team playing cricket in the middle. Ahmed started with an expensive over and Saqlain ended with one, but the six overs that separated these two were just plain outstanding. Not a single boundary was scored (remember this is Twenty20, not good old test cricket), why, not a single genuine stroke was played. It was a miracle that the Mushtaqs grabbed only one wicket each. May be the Kent batsmen were not good enough to get out to them.

You may argue that Robert Key is no Kevin Pietersen. He most certainly is not, but don’t forget that Key is an English international of recent vintage, has played 15 test matches and has a test double hundred against his name. You may argue that Martin van Jaarsveld is no Graeme Smith. He most certainly is not, but don’t forget that Martin played for South Africa not too long ago. And you can’t argue against the fact that this was Cup semi-final night and that the game was played in right earnest.

Apart from their bowling actions and the fact that one turns the ball into the right hander (as his stock delivery) and the other turns it away from the right hander, the similarities between Ahmed and Saqlain yesterday were amazing. Bushy salt-and-pepper beards proclaiming their religious fervour, supreme confidence in every step, impish smiles after forcing the batsman into a false stroke (which was about 36 times in six overs, give or take the odd defensive shot) and, coincidentally, absolutely identical figures – 4-0-21-1. (To complete a day of spinning coincidences, that other magician Mutthiah Muralitharan had delivered exactly the same returns for Lancashire against Gloucestershire in the first semi-final, also in a losing cause.)

The other noticeable aspect of this passage of play was the way the Kent players approached the Mushtaqs. They had just two shots for them – the sweep and the reverse-sweep. Sure Graham Gooch did the orthodox one famously in the World Cup semi-final in 1987, but so did Mike Gatting, infamously, with the unorthodox one in the final of the same Cup. Surely the MCC coaching manual allows more shots to the turning ball?

On a different note, it is quite heartening that a team can bowl six absolutely unplayable overs in a Twenty20 game and still lose the match. That’s 30 per cent of the innings and 15 per cent of the game. It suggests that the Twenty20 is not such a slam bang game after all – there can be quiet passages of play in a winning cause as well. Ah, the possibilities are tantalising. Thanks – Mushtaq and Mushtaq.

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