Saqlain Mushtaq understands this country’s conundrum of producing spin bowlers as well as anyone.
He was England’s spin consultant between 2016 and early 2019, and then drafted in specially for the triumphant World Cup campaign last summer.
On the field, Mushtaq was a world-leading off-spinner and the fastest to 250 ODI wickets but crucially, spent eight successive seasons in county cricket at Surrey and two seasons playing club cricket.
Saqlain Mushtaq says England struggle to produce spinners due to a reliance on fast bowlers
Mushtaq was a star spinner for Pakistan and spent eight seasons in county cricket at Surrey
Ahead of Pakistan’s three Tests against England, the 43-year-old gives an insight into why this country struggles to produce an influx of spinners.
‘One reason is the weather, and number two is everybody relies on fast bowling,’ he tells Sportsmail.
‘Youngsters look up to their heroes like James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson is the biggest mega star in the country, everybody looks up to him. And then Ben Stokes is a super-duper hero in the country, and he is a fast bowler as well.
‘So there is no spinner who is seen as a hero. There are a few good spinners in the pipeline, but the weather and utilisation of spinners in county cricket and club cricket isn’t there.
He has worked with England as spin consultant in two spells and understands their difficulties
He said England’s ‘heroes’ are fast bowlers like James Anderson (left) and Stuart Broad (centre)
‘The captains and coaches all heavily rely on the fast bowlers. In England, for the number of overs bowled by fast bowlers and spinners, the percentage for spinners is very low.
‘But they have a few promising spinners in the country like Dom Bess, Jack Leach, Amar Virdi – they are in the pipeline.’
On the back of his success with the England set-up, Mushtaq landed his latest role as Pakistan’s head of international player development in their high performance centre in May.
The position sees Mushtaq work from a centre in Lahore to help develop Pakistan’s next generation of cricketers, or as he says, ‘producing world class players who can dominate the world’.
He has urged his Pakistan team to target England’s ‘fragile’ batting order in their first Test
With the first Test against England starting at Old Trafford on Wednesday, the former Surrey player has a clear assessment for how Pakistan can triumph in this series – target the ‘fragile’ batting order.
‘England are very tough opponents at home,’ he says. ‘They played very well against Australia last summer.
‘They have bit of an issue with the batting, no one is consistently performing in the top order. They are a little fragile in the middle as well, but they are outstanding at home.
‘For Pakistan to beat England, they need to play outstanding cricket in all formats – batting, bowling and obviously in the field as well. It won’t be easy, but it won’t be difficult too.’
Mushtaq is confident in the bowling attack – chiefly, in Shaheen Afridi. The 20-year-old shone in last year’s World Cup with figures of 6 for 35 against Bangladesh, the best figures for a Pakistan bowler in World Cup history.
And Mushtaq tips Afridi and leg-spinner Yasir Shah as the potential stars to look out for in favourable English conditions.
Mushtaq believes Pakistan are ‘very talented’ and backed them to play ‘special’ cricket
‘Pakistan are a very talented side. When they come to England, they play some special cricket,’ he says. ‘In Test cricket, the last time they were in England they drew the series 1-1.
‘And with the weather conditions, they’re playing in August and September so the weather should be beautiful and dry. The conditions should suit Pakistan.
‘These youngsters in the bowling department are very skilful. Shaheen Shah Afridi is very promising and very lethal. On his day, he can single handily do it himself.
‘We have Yasir Shah – it was incredible the way he performed in England in the last tour. He ruled the world, fastest to 200 wickets in Test history. He is a wicket-taking bowler and can change a game in a day.
He warned England to watch out for bowler Naseem Shah who can ‘change a game in day’
Mushtaq says he is ‘the luckiest person on the planet’ after some memorable career highlights
‘The bowling unit is quite impressive. England need to be thinking differently on how to go about it with these players.’
The series is the first time Mushtaq is against this country since the World Cup glory last summer.
His role does not involve directly coaching the Pakistan first team and won’t therefore be coming over here, but he made memories last year that will stay with him forever.
He added: ‘I believe I am the luckiest person on the planet. When I was a cricketer, it was my dream to win the World Cup as a player. Unfortunately, we lost the 1999 World Cup final against Australia.
He missed out on the World Cup with Pakistan in 1999 but was part of England’s coaching group ahead of their 2019 triumph
‘When I had my coaching stint with England and was working closely with the spinners and the other boys as well, when I saw the philosophy, the cricket culture, the ambitions of all the players, I thought this is the time England will win the World Cup.
‘When we won, I felt it, we all felt it probably a year-and-a-half before the tournament that this is the World Cup we are able to win as England were dominating one day cricket for that long.
‘We had a couple of hiccups during that journey but in the end when we won the World Cup, no feeling in the world can describe it.’