Sajid Khan Wants Pakistan Super League Teams To Select Pakistani Off-Spinners
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the side coached by Abdul Razzaq, has had an exceptional season in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy 2020/21. Heading into the final stages of the tournament, the team is firmly top of the points table, having lost just one match – that too, their very first of the season. Since then, the side has been undefeated in their last eight matches.
Key to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s success is off-spinner Sajid Khan, who has snared 56 wickets so far this season at an average of under 25. In the process, the 27-year-old became the first off-spinner to get to the 50-wicket mark in one season of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy since Atif Maqbool back in 2012. While it may be surprising for some, this is the reality. Off-spinners have struggled to succeed in Pakistan cricket in recent times.
Speaking to Grassroots Cricket, Sajid Khan feels that for off-spinners to make a comeback in Pakistan cricket going forward, the role of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) is crucial. “Unfortunately, PSL franchises haven’t given many chances to local off-spinners,” he says.
There is an element of truth to this. The only off-spinner to gain some level of success in the PSL has been Sunil Narine, who picked up 20 wickets in his 17 appearances. In terms of local off-spinners, the numbers make for miserable reading. Mohammad Hafeez is top of the list with just ten wickets. Moreover, the veteran is very much a part-time bowling option at this stage of his career. Hence, no Pakistani offies have played a major role since Saeed Ajmal.
One of the biggest charms of the PSL is how local Pakistani cricketers get to share the dressing room with established stars from all over the world. Sajid Khan clearly recognizes the importance of this factor. “There are many off-spinners, including me, who haven’t been given opportunities to share dressing rooms with international cricketers in PSL.”
However, it must also be said that off-spinners don’t receive many chances in local tournaments either. In the 2020 edition of the National T20 Cup, it was the part-time off-spin of Iftikhar Ahmed that earned him three wickets. No other offie managed to pick up more scalps in the tournament.
Since the ICC’s clampdown on illegal actions, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of off-spinners worldwide. Specialist off-spinners are fast going out of fashion in the shortest format, replaced by all-rounders or off-spinners with a ‘mystery’ aspect to their bowling. This much is evident when one looks at the numbers. In the last five years, the highest wicket-taking off-spinner in T20 cricket is Afghan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, with 178 dismissals, followed by ‘mystery’ off-spinner Narine, with 174 victims.
The off-spinner from Peshawar is acutely aware of this problem. “There aren’t many off-spinners coming through because many off-spinners try to bowl the doosra. Then, they develop a problem with their actions. I am trying to continue performing with a clean action.”
Hence, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa offie feels that it is increasingly crucial for off-break bowlers to utilize classical actions. “I try to bowl with a clean action and get wickets with my variations like Nathon Lyon, Graeme Swann, and Saqlain Mushtaq,” he says.
When it comes to the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, the new domestic cricket system has dramatically changed fortunes for spinners. In seasons gone by, it would be seamers topping the list of wicket-takers at the end of the tournament. However, it’s now slow left-armer Nauman Ali and Sajid who are battling for the top spot.
With batsmen spending lots of time at the wicket, Sajid feels that the key to success is patience, saying that he patiently sticks to plans. “Patience is the key for every type of spinner; with patience, he can get wickets on every type of wicket.”
There might yet be light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the future of Pakistan off-spinners. The likes of Arham Nawab and Aaliyan Mehmood have impressed in domestic Under-19 tournaments this season, with young all-rounder Mubasir Khan in the mix as well. Furthermore, another young name, Qasim Akram, recently picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in First Class cricket.
Alongside Sajid Khan and 25-year-old Sindh off-spinner Ashiq Ali, these might be some of the off-break bowlers who roll back the years for Pakistan cricket fans as they continue their hunt for replacements for the likes of Saqlain Mushtaq and Saeed Ajmal. For now, though, it will have to be a waiting game – for the likes of Sajid Khan as well as Pakistan cricket connoisseurs.