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Pakistan's doosra

Published Jan 30, 2012 12:41pm

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I must, humbly, admit that I was never a big fan of Abdur Rehman. Having grown up emulating the likes of Mushtaq Ahmed or been transfixed by the beauty of Saqlain Mushtaq’s doosras and Shane Warne’s flippers, Rehman just didn’t seem to make the cut. Maybe the sight of Sunil Joshi getting spanked over his head for massive sixes at the hands of Inzamam, or Aamir Sohail (with his indomitable chest-hair) making his way from between the stumps and the umpire to deliver the ball, contributed to the bias but it’s safe to say that left-arm spin never caught my fancy.

Watching Rehman from the stands in St Lucia in 2010, in the most painfully demoralising World Twenty20 semi-final didn’t change my perception either. And while he performed well against South Africa in the 2007 home series; routinely held up his end of the bargain in the T20s, he still appeared to be just another run-of-the-mill bowler who was riding the high tide of a few successful domestic stints, soon to disappear into oblivion.

That didn’t happen, of course, as the old chap kept chipping in with one or two wickets in every game and made a permanent position for himself in the limited-overs squad. Pakistan preferred to play the trio of Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez in most games but the addition of Rehman meant that the side almost always fared better. As the team began employing the ‘choke’ policy (which started in Younis Khan’s reign as captain) to good effect, Rehman proved crucial to the plan with his regular economy rate of under four runs per over.

Rehman’s stock ball, however, remained the golee – a flattish, skiddy, straight delivery; fired in at the fourth stump line; hard to get away but equally hard to get a wicket with, unless the batsmen loses his patience. In fact, the golee became so effective that there came a time when the conservative captain-coach partnership of Afridi and Waqar Younis started to prefer Rehman over Ajmal in the playing eleven. A tactical blunder in my opinion, the policy remained in place until the loss at the hands of New Zealand in the 2011 World Cup, and served as one of the major reasons behind my prejudice against Rehman. Here was the management preferring their biggest wicket-taking option over a run-blocker when, Ajmal should have included in the team on merit and logic.

While Rehman had become a key component of the ODI side, his Test credentials remained unproven until Pakistan’s series against the West Indies. No longer the bowler of old, confined by the limitations of his limited-overs game, Rehman’s bowling had gained a freshness and creativity missing even in the reasonably successful Test tour of New Zealand.

Maybe it was the confidence he had gained from becoming a permanent fixture in the Test side or the seemingly ‘weak’ opposition, but the ball was not just being fired in as usual. There was tempting flight on display as well as appreciative bounce, but more importantly, there was grip and turn. No longer was Rehman just bowling to dry out the runs and sneak in a wicket, but one could see him plotting the batsman’s demise as he drew them out and pushed them back with changes in pace and flight worthy of a true spinner.

The Carribean calypso was not just a flash in the pan as the veteran proved his worth once again in the solitary Test win against Sri Lanka, after having been dropped in the first Test in favour of three seamers. It was a tricky call, probably based on the traditional Pakistani obsession with pace and seemed like a noticeable deviance from the unassuming organisation that had become the hallmark Misbah-ul-Haq’s captaincy.

It is this organisation and planning – relying on a strong spin attack to strengthen a squad, which, barring Saeed Ajmal and Umar Akmal lacks any outstanding talent – is key to Pakistan cricket’s success in the last year and a half.

The traditionally ‘unpredictable’ Pakistan are no more an amalgamation of a few rapscallions – sparkling one day and fizzling out the other – but are a well thought-out puzzle that draws together to present an exhibition well worth the admission fee. Every piece of this puzzle has its part to play, and none in terms of importance are greater or smaller.

Abdur Rehman, as the second spinner, is one such piece. Like everyone else, he has found an indisputable niche in this team and has performed his duties to perfection. Almost in every innings, when a partnership starts brewing up and Ajmal’s patience starts to waver, Misbah turns to his second spinner for answers and Rehman obliges, almost always. The Sialkot Stallion is not just the team’s designated partnership-breaker; he also has an uncanny ability of dismissing the opposition’s star batsman. From Kumar Sangakarra to Kevin Pitersen, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shakib Al-Hasan and Jonathan Trott – all have fallen victim the left-armer. Rehman’s ability to get the scalp of well-settled batsmen is an enviable trait and one which has proved invaluable to Misbah, who is also among the rare breed of captains harbouring three quality spinners in the side since as successful spin partnerships remain a rarity in modern-day cricket.

Spinners work differently than fast bowlers. While fast bowlers generally remain unaffected by the nature of their partner’s style of bowling, hunting in pairs like a couple of hounds gaining strength from each blow inflicted by the other, a spinner’s effectiveness relies on the partner’s bowling style. Two similar-styled fast bowlers (Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie) can prove effective despite their similarities, but spinners of the same breed rarely perform at their peak when bowling together.

For Ajmal’s virtuosity to have its maximum glorifying effect, a hard working Rehman on the other end is essential. The last hour of the second Pakistan-England Test aside, the most compelling period of the match was the post-tea session on day two when England were threatening to run away with the game. Ajmal had proved ineffective and Misbah had persisted with Hafeez on the other end, disregarding the services of the ever-dependable Rehman.

When the old-gun was finally given a chance, the match turned on its head. Runs that had started to flow pre-tea were blocked out, Trott was bowled off an unplayable turner, and Ajmal at the other end returned to his destructive best. A cat and mouse game ensued, building breakneck amounts of pressure that despite the vastly different style of bowling was reminiscent of the two Ws toying with the opposition batsmen. The unrelenting Ajmal-Rehman partnership, just like in the final session of the Test, proved too much for the English top order as Pakistan clawed their way back into the game.

Rehman, with his inconspicuous nature, will never be the star attraction. His bowling will rarely outshine the artistry being dished out at the other end by Ajmal. Then again, he was never designed for it. Realising this ‘shortcoming’ and not looking for more could prove to be his biggest asset. It is time the man in the shadows was given his due share, for it is in his experienced hands that Pakistan may have found a left-arm spinner they can finally cherish.

Shoaib Naveed

 

 

A cricket nut since Aqib Javed’s bucket hairstyle and Wasim bhai’s poetic action took his fancy, the writer, fit only for a slogger is pretending to be a top-order bat. He blogs here.



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (19) Closed



Nadir Jan 30, 2012 07:26pm
No doubt his bowling magic turned this loosing game to a surprise win but we hope that he maintains this level of performance in future as well. Though generally we do not notice people with their rough appearnce but at the end who performs is a Hero....
Rehan Jan 30, 2012 07:32pm
Excellent article about Rehman. He is a fine left arm spinner who can turn the ball at a relatively higher pace. He is calculated, disciplined and rarely dishes out a free- bee. No doubt the rise of Saeed Ajmal owes a lot to Rehmans unrelenting and asphyxating grip from the other end. This Pakistan unit looks disciplined , fit and is playing some hard cricket. Youngsters like Umar Akmal, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz must be given chances regularly as well. Glory to Pakistan Cricket which keeps bouncing back tirelessly.
FMajeed Jan 30, 2012 08:04pm
Dear Shoib: Your Articlles, writing Style and Selection is excellent. Although I am a Canadian with English as my first Language, I have read your articles to the bottom as You need to study it to understand it. Please be simple only simple writers are liked all over the world
Shahid Jan 30, 2012 10:49pm
Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie were not similar style bowlers
WARDA Jan 30, 2012 11:16pm
Yeah no doubt rehman and saeed's last innings performance take pakistan to the peak of history but we are not suppose to forget munch of team spirit can be seen throughout the match which forced england to surrender
Shamim Jan 31, 2012 03:18am
we are still winning on turning pitches..its the same as england winning at their home..like they did last time when we went there..or like australia whitewashed us...we need to start winning abroad...
Salman N Malik Jan 31, 2012 03:51am
No doubt, he has a big hand to play in Pakistan and Ajmal's success. It was easy to see, relentless pressure applied both ends on Day 4, England looked utterly unable to score anywhere...never seen England collapse to spinners like that except with Qadir in 1987.
Farhat Jan 31, 2012 03:52am
All I can say is God protect him from Mach Fixers.Rehman you have done very well and God bless you.
Belal Jan 31, 2012 10:24am
Excellent article! I think it sums up this current team we have. A well oiled machine, where each component is so crucial, but very few outstanding.
shehryar Jan 31, 2012 12:26pm
For a one-time cricketing enthusiast and player, this was a wonderful re-awakening. Not only has the team rekindled my passion for the sport, this article has given me a very thorough insight to an anchor player and his Captain's skill and strategy. A very well-written article, barring the few typos which DAWN's proof-readers seem to have missed.
Mianz Jan 31, 2012 01:19pm
Excellent article, Dear Author is thr any possibility that Aamir came back in Our team?? because according to my point of view we are still lacking in pacer attack. what you says ??
zak Jan 31, 2012 01:28pm
Should it not be ' pakistan's Teesra'. Pakistan invented the 'Dossra' as well. Lets take credit for it in the media as Pak owned.
obaid Jan 31, 2012 05:48pm
Pakistan could have beaten india in WC semi final had he played-too late now
athar Jan 31, 2012 07:17pm
hi. i would say we have lots of amir in our country, dont worry about that. what i think it would be better if he never back into the team. since its a lesson for others
athar Jan 31, 2012 07:22pm
well. i think . it was just his day only.
Imran Bajwa Jan 31, 2012 08:00pm
Nice article I would say. Well Abdur Rehman, no doubt a good bowler but being ajmal his contemporary, he can only be selected in tests and that too in sub'continent's turning wickets. With the trio of ajmal, hafeez and afridi he rarely gets a chance in onedayers with shoaib malik giving them extra support... So one can call a badluck of such a world class bowler. Besides, his saturday's bowling was excellent. Pakistan is turning into a winning combination. Pace department anyhow still a point to ponder. We need sheet anchor seamers to assist Gul when it would be Australia as our opponent.
vinay Feb 01, 2012 03:28pm
AR looks a genuine bowler copmpared to Ajmal..sense of total purity in his action..simply no sense of suspiciousness like Murali & Ajmal..Whatever success Murali & Ajmal achieves..they themselves will feel that world did not proved their action by heart..and they know it.. why?
Arshmier Feb 02, 2012 04:58pm
@vinay...Generally Indians have good social behavior..but every now and then I see plenty of Indians whining and sulking..Mr. Vinay, do you know there is a Cricket Governing Body called International Cricket Counsel which has conducted comprehensive tests on Ajmal..and have certified him the eligibility to play International Cricket...so Ajmal bowls all deliveries with certified legal action...case closed...can we start enjoying his bowling now??
Omair Ali Feb 04, 2012 08:06pm
He is exactly what we was looking for, thanks AR.