How Pakistan changed the face of cricket

May 23, 2021

Just like reverse swing and doosra, reverse sweep is also a Pakistani invention, albeit a slightly older one. It was first introduced to the cricket world by Mushtaq Mohammad

Between Kerry Packer’s revolutionary changes in the 1970s and the introduction of T20 and its leagues this millennium, many of the game’s most significant developments originated from Pakistan, but sadly the country has never been fully acknowledged or appreciated for its immense contribution to changing the face of cricket.The Doosra

For the uninitiated, the doosra is a term for an off-spinner’s delivery that instead of turning from off to leg like an orthodox off-break, turns the other way. Saqlain Mushtaq is normally credited with introducing this delivery to the game. Its name literally means ‘the other one’ in Urdu and the way it was adopted into accepted cricket terminology has an interesting story behind it. Moin Khan was Pakistan’s wicket-keeper when Saqlain first started using this new delivery in international matches. From behind the stumps Moin would often instruct Saqlain when to bowl it, using an Urdu term so that batsmen from the opposing team would not understand. The famous cricketer and commentator Tony Greig picked up Moin’s instructions from a stump microphone and linked it to the mystery ball. He confirmed it from Saqlain himself during a post match interview and the name thus acquired official status.

Though Saqlain is commonly accepted as the inventor of the doosra, there is some evidence that it may have been around for longer than we think. The 1955 Wisden, when covering Pakistan’s tour of England in the previous year, mentions the ‘deceptive action’ of the team’s off spinner Zulfiqar and how he could bowl a leg break with little discernible change in his delivery style. Was this the first doosra?

Then, there are stories about the flamboyant Prince Aslam, dating back to the 1950’s. He was the son of the Nawab of Manavader and from his mother’s side a descendant of the ruling family of Mangrol. He was also an extravagantly gifted left arm spin bowler, who had mastered both finger spin and wrist spin. He could bowl orthodox left arm spin, wrist spin, including googlies, and according to many established contemporaries, the left-arm version of the doosra as well. In their book ‘White on Green’ Peter Obourne and Richard Heller state that Mushtaq Mohammad, Nasimul Ghani and Wasim Bari all recall Prince Aslam bowling the doosra. Could he have been the earliest exponent of this delivery and a left handed one at that? The question is open to speculation.

There is no doubt, however, that it was introduced to the modern game by Saqlain in the 1990s and he flummoxed the world’s best batsmen with it. Subsequently, doubts have been cast about legitimacy of the doosra with bowlers like Saeed Ajmal, Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbajan Singh and others being banned from bowling this delivery for varying periods. Saqlain’s action, however, has never been questioned and there is irrefutable evidence that he could bowl this variant delivery with a totally legitimate arm action. As he himself has repeatedly stated and shown, it is definitely do-able but requires strong muscles, a particular grip, rhythm and follow through.

Reverse Swing

A ground breaking contribution made by Pakistan to the bowlers’ armamentarium is reverse swing. Sarfaraz Nawaz is credited with discovering reverse swing, though some suggest that he may have learnt it from Salim Mir who was his new ball partner at Mozang Link Cricket Club in Lahore.

Conventional swing depends on the direction of the seam and the shine on the ball. The ball moves in the direction that the seam is pointed in and away from the shinier side. In Pakistan the dry atmosphere and grassless wickets ensured that the new ball soon lost its shine and with it the ability to swing. Fast bowlers traditionally toiled in these conditions without reward.

Reverse swing changed all that. Sarfaraz learnt that when a roughed up old ball was polished on one side it would swing towards the shiny side which is opposite to the behavior of a new ball. Years later, he passed on the secret to Imran, who in turn taught Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. The Pakistani pacemen learnt how to handle the old ball, leaving one side rough and keeping the other side smooth by polishing it and applying sweat and saliva to it. The difference in the weight and condition of the two sides of the ball generated exaggerated and late sideways movement, in a direction that was opposite to that of conventional swing. Its effect was accentuated by the sheer pace of these three speedsters and their ability to consistently bowl a yorker length, giving the ball even more time to swing. They left a trail of destruction in their wake, amazing batsmen and experts alike with this lethal skill. A forty over old ball suddenly swinging prodigiously at 90 miles an hour was a new and exciting sight to watch, enthralling spectators and striking fear in the hearts of even the best batsmen playing the game. The art of fast bowling had been changed forever.

The gurus of the game could not understand what was happening and began to accuse Pakistan of ball tampering. The great coach Bob Woolmer, in his posthumously published tome, “Art and Science of Science of Cricket” suggests that these accusations appeared to have racist overtones. He may have been right. It is indeed ironical that when first introduced by Pakistani pacemen this great innovation of reverse swing was maligned as being devious and underhand, however, once other teams had also acquired this skill, it was trumpeted and extolled as a prime ability. Today reverse swing is an essential component of any quality fast bowler’s arsenal.

Reverse Sweep

The reverse sweep is also a Pakistani invention, albeit a slightly older one. Mushtaq Mohammad was playing a club match in England in 1964 for Rothman’s Cavaliers, at the suburban London borough of Uxbridge. Fred Titmus, the great England off-spinner was playing for the opposing team and bowling a tight length and line, making it difficult for Mushtaq to score. Mushy spotted a gap at third man and made up his mind to hit the ball there, deploying a reverse sweep to do so. This type of shot had never been seen before and Titmus complained to the umpire who admonished him saying, “You’ve got a ball in your hand and he’s got a bat. He can do what he wants with it.” And thus the reverse sweep was born and legalized.

Mushtaq passed on this technique to his brother, the great Hanif Mohammad, who first used it in his superlative innings of 187 against England at Lords in 1967. Mushtaq himself played this shot with regularity, and though purists scoffed at it, other batsmen began to deploy it as well, making it a well-accepted feature of the game.

It’s not an easy shot to master and requires a lot of wrist power, control and timing to execute, but it allows the batsman to circumvent field settings and use gaps in the backward point and third man areas to score runs. Impudent and unconventional, it has, with time, become an important technique for all leading batsmen to learn.

Among its leading practitioners have been Mushtaq himself, Javed Miandad and Andy Flower of Zimbabwe. In recent years the reverse sweep has progressed a stage further with the arrival of its modified version, the switch hit, in which the batsman also changes his hand position on the bat to play this reverse stroke.

Neutral Umpires

The quality of umpiring has long been a contentious issue. More first-class cricket was played in England than perhaps in any other country and because of this vast exposure English umpires were traditionally considered to be the best, though visiting teams often disagreed with this belief.

Pakistan had often been at the receiving end when umpiring quality was discussed, and many Pakistani victories on home soil were tagged with the stigma of local umpiring support by pundits in the international press. In Pakistan the feeling was just the opposite. The team felt let down by the standard of umpiring they experienced on many of their tours and thought that the negative image of their local umpires was unjustified.

In 1974 Pakistan had concluded a very successful tour of England, becoming only the second visiting team in history, after Bradman’s all conquering side of 1948, to go through an English season without defeat. However, all three test matches were drawn and Pakistan felt skeptical about the large number of umpiring decisions that had gone against them. Much to everyone’s surprise, the president of the Pakistan cricket board, Abdul Hafeez Kardar raised this issue at the annual meeting of the ICC in London. Kardar asked for neutral umpires but his request fell on deaf ears.

More than a decade later, in 1986, the Pakistan captain Imran Khan took the bold step of inviting two Indian umpires to officiate in Pakistan’s test matches against the West Indies. Imran felt that this was the best way to ensure fairness and to put an end to questions and allegations about home umpiring. History was made on 7th November 1986, when VK Ramaswamy and Piloo Reporter stood in a test between Pakistan and West Indies at Lahore. Following up on this, in 1989, Imran invited two English umpires, John Hampshire and John Holder, to stand in Pakistan’s home series against India.

Pakistan’s lead was taken up by the ICC who appointed one neutral umpire per test on an experimental basis in 1992 and made it official two years later. Finally, in 2002, the ICC progressed to ensuring that both field umpires in test matches would be neutral. Another Pakistani idea and innovation had been incorporated into the game.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.

How Pakistan changed the face of cricket