Pakistan's spin master reveals how he would have gone about tackling one of the best batsmen in cricket.
On the fifty-eighth day of 2016, with a paltry 83 to defend, Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir decimated the Indian openers at Mirpur’s Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in the Asia Cup contest. His telling spell of 3-8 in 2.4 overs instilled a ray of hope in the cricket-mad fans on this side of the border that a match could be made of it.
However, the presence of one man at the crease kept their celebrations in check despite the four pacers attacking him on an awkward pitch.
Their heart beats raced when the ball struck his pads or flew past the unguarded gully region off his bat’s leading-edge. They knew the significance of his wicket and realised well that he was the main hurdle in Pakistan’s triumph.
He struggled a bit early on but soon found his feet to score a brilliant 49, taking the game away from Shahid Afridi’s men.
Twenty days later, the arch-rivals met again, this time at a bigger stage in Kolkata for the World T20 group-match, and unsurprisingly he took centre stage again with a fabulous 55 not out off 37 balls to steer India home and keep their chances alive in the tournament.
He was none other than Virat Kohli, arguably the best batsman in the world today.
Taking the mantle from the great Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli — with his sheer brilliance and repertoire of strokes — is always such a handful for the opposition. In such a scenario one is compelled to think whether the 28-year old has any chinks in his armour, or would he have fared as well against the former Pakistani bowling legends?
Wasim Akram is the first name that comes to mind. In left-arm pacer’s own admission, he would have found it extremely challenging to bowl against the right-hander.
But Pakistan’s rich cricket history is full of such brilliant players who carved their names in history with their magnificent bowling and batting.
The next name that comes to mind is Abdul Qadir’s who baffled the best batsmen of his era with his innovation and range of deliveries, not to mention his unqiue bowling action. The mere thought of Qadir racing in to bowl to Kohli is so captivating.
I recently got the chance to pose the very question to Qadir himself over the phone on a bright Sunday morning, and the bowler was certainly upto it with his fabulous reply.
“There is no batsman who can claim to excel against a leg-spinner on a conducive pitch. A leg-spinner has loads of varieties at his disposal and that makes him handy, not only on the spinning wickets but also on the placid ones,” said the spin wizard.
Qadir made no secret of his admiration for Kohli and termed him as “unarguably the best batsman in the present time.”
But to support his earlier argument he recalled how the batsman under discussion, in spite of his impeccable form, got dismissed by a leggie, “I was watching Virat go strong at 20-odd when Samuel Badree [it was in fact Anthony Martin] of the West Indies bowled him on the off-stump channel and induced a drive to get him stumped,” said Qadir while recalling a series between the two sides in 2011.
However, Qadir, who could unleash six different varieties in an over, would not have bowled any of those to Kohli, rather he would have “kept him guessing for a googly.”
“You don’t get clever against the big batsmen. I would have bowled him leg-spin and make him anticipate my next move. I would deceive Kohli with my run-up and would bowl him from the edge of the crease, from the centre, and closer to the stumps to keep him guessing.”
Cricket is, of course, a lot about the mind battles and Qadir was a master when it came to mind games.
The legendary leg-spinner is a keen observer of this generation’s best batsman and feels Kohli’s “penchant for targeting the on-side field against the spin” would have provided him with ample options to dismiss him. For him it is easier to bowl to the Indian batter because “he doesn’t whack you out of the ground like [Chris] Gayle or [Andre] Russel.”
The aggressive mentality is still there and watching the bowlers bowl to Kohli with defensive tactics makes the warrior sad.
Had Qadir bowled to Kohli, he would have “attacked him.”
“The ball spun in the last [World T20] matches, if I was bowling on those wickets, I would’ve taken a slip and a silly and bowled with attacking tactics.”
To Qadir, bowling at the off-stump line is of great significance, as it purchases lateral movement off the surface for a leggie.
To trap Kohli, the legendary spinner would have done the same. “I would have bowled leg-spin on the off-stump channel, with a lower trajectory and would make him wait for the googly, throughout the first over. I would bowl him at the line that would have made it impossible for him to cut or drive.
“He likes to go on the on-side against the spin that would have induced an edge off his bat that was likely to land in the slips or silly point or any other fielder on the leg.”
But what if Kohli hadn’t meddled with Qadir’s stock delivery? “In the next over, when he had relaxed and stopped anticipating the googly, I would have bowled my faster-googly, which came from my finger.”
Qadir and Kohli are the sorts who write their own scripts. They act rather than react. They simply refuse to be dictated.
Whether Qadir had dismissed Kohli with his strategy and spin is for the experts to say. Nonetheless it would have been fascinating to watch the two greats lock horns.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2016