Saqlain Mushtaq was born in Lahore on December 29, 1976. he is the son of a government clerk. His father never played cricket but his two elder brothers did. The nine-year-old Saqlain was sometimes allowed to bowl in the nets at his brothers’ club. He never got a chance to play at school, but by 13 was an all-rounder in the Zariff Memorial Club Second XI. It was always off spin for Saqlain. “I never wanted to be a quick bowler. I was very skinny and never had too much strength in the body. I just played for enjoyment never thinking I would be a pro. My brothers and the club coach Ahmed Hassan thought I had a future. No-one ever told me though. It was only discussed with my brothers. The big step which turned my life was when I was 14 and went to the MAO (Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental) College. I got a new coach there, Mumtaz Akhtar Butt. I played for the college for three years and we won the championship for three years.”
However he ascribes the secret of his wrong’un, better known as the ‘Doosra’, to the yard and street cricket he played as a teenager, at his home in Lahore, with relatives and neighbourhood boys. “We would get up at 4.30am, go to the mosque and then play a test match. We drew lines in chalk on the walls for wickets. We would bet soft drinks or a dinner on the result. I used a tennis ball bound with electric tape. Then it goes a bit quicker, swings and dips. You can make it go both ways.”
Saqlain made his first-class debut in 1994/95 at the age of 17. He took 52 wickets in his first season and was picked to represent Pakistan A in a one-day tournament in Dhaka. Full international recognition came quickly in September 1995 after Saqlain got seven wickets for the PCB Patron’s XI against the touring Sri Lankans. His Test debut came three days later, at Peshawar, where he took four wickets in that game and five in the next. By the end of 1999, his total had reached 107 in 24 Tests and 210 in 111 one-day internationals; he was the quickest bowler in history to reach 100, 150, 200 and 250 one-day international wickets.
Wasim Akram believes he is one of the greatest off spinner he has seen. “He is as aggressive as a fast bowler, not afraid of getting hit and has this total belief in himself.
Saqlain joined Surrey in 1997 a step which he considers to have been wholly beneficial. “Before that I had never really bowled much. In England you play every day, sometimes 10 days continuous. I’ve learned so much from different weather, pitches, conditions, different players, stances and techniques.” Last summer he played seven games after the World Cup, taking 58 wickets at an extraordinary 11.37. A knee injury in that August prevented him playing the final games, but Surrey were already assured of the title by then.
During the World Cup of 1999, Saqlain claimed 17 wickets, including a hat-trick against Zimbabwe, but time has not lessened the pain he felt when Pakistan lost the final to Australia. “I left the team hotel and went back to my London flat and cried. For two days I didn’t speak to anyone apart from my wife. She helped me pull through.” Helping Surrey to the County Championship helped the healing process.
The injuries only worsened and by 2002 he was regularly taking painkillers by the bucket load before stepping out onto the field. The ligament at the back of his left knee had ripped so he began putting the load onto his right leg, until the same occurred on his right knee.
Many operations later he was given a chance to prove himself in 2005 by PCB, but unfortunately Sehwag was in full form and he was in excruciating pain. He bowled with all his heart but the injuries proved to be to much. He is now retired from international cricket, with his achievements in abundance and his records still intact.