Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali working with Saqlain Mushtaq in the Mohali nets © AFP
Saqlain Mushtaq has called on the ECB to appoint a full-time spin bowling coach to work with the England team and said he would “love to” fill the role.
While Saqlain, the former Pakistan offspinner, is hardly impartial in such matters – he is currently fulfilling such a job on a brief consultancy basis – he makes a strong case both with his words and his record.
Having joined up with the squad after the two Tests in Bangladesh, he has presided over a sharp improvement in the performance of Adil Rashid, in particular, and argues that the importance of spin bowling is undervalued compared to other disciplines.
“It is very important to have a full-time spin coach,” Saqlain, who leaves the tour after the third Test in Mohali, said. “If you look at the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket and the highest wicket-taker in one-day cricket, they are spinners.
“And it is not just in the subcontinent, but when you go abroad on the fourth and fifth day of the Test match the spinners are the main bowlers. The whole team relies on them so spin is a main thing and you have to have a full-time coach for the spin … not just for the main team but on the county circuit as well. I believe that.
“It is not just to look after the spinners; it is to help the batsmen as well as to how the spinners think about the batsmen.”
While the ECB does already employ various bowling coaches – former England offspinner Peter Such is the lead spin bowling coach – it has become common practice for the England team to be accompanied only by a fast-bowling coach when on tour. Mushtaq Ahmed, the former Pakistan legspinner, was also engaged on a part-time consultancy basis in the past but, recently, it has been an oddly overlooked area in an England set-up which boasts experts across many other fields.
“It’s not just me saying this,” Saqlain said, evoking recent comments by Graeme Swann. “But I think a few weeks age Swanny mentioned it. Lots of experts mention it.”
It seems the ECB is listening. Andrew Strauss suggested last week that the ECB is open to the idea of engaging a spin-bowling coach on a more permanent basis – though perhaps not full-time – and that Saqlain was effectively in something of a trial period.
He can only have impressed. Despite having had little time to work with the England spinners – “Before the series you can’t really open the technical side of things,” he said – he has clearly built a strong rapport with them and inspired confidence. Rashid is the highest wicket-taker in the series with 13 – Shane Warne never took more than 14 in India – while Moeen Ali currently has a better strike rate (67) than R Ashwin (70.5).
“To know the players is the most important thing for me,” Saqlain said. “The first couple of days I started to build relationships. It is based on trust, truth, honesty and respect. This is my philosophy on working. The boys are passionate about cricket and they are very hard working guys, especially Moeen, Rash and Zafar Ansari. They are very keen to learn and are hard-working chaps.
“There wasn’t too much technical stuff to begin with but we did work on tactical things and a lot of mental things. The preparation that goes into knowing the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and to know what is our strength. These are the basics.
“I’m enjoying it. Every session, every conversation during the breaks. I’m loving the support staff and everyone. It is like a family. It is a relaxed atmosphere, but a professional one. I would love to keep going and be involved in the future.
“I believe that things are going well and we’re on the same page. I’m trying to bring them, myself and the captain on the same page. Things are going nicely.”
It seems the admiration is mutual. He describes Rashid as a legspinner “with everything” who “can achieve the highest level” within the game and Moeen as a bowler on the way to being one of the “top three offspinners in the world”.
“Adil is a very skilful guy and he’s got a lot of variations,” Saqlain said. “We’re trying to make things simple and then it is easier to deliver and easier to control. We’re making it simple from a thinking and technical point of view. I’m saying to him to concentrate on his strengths whatever his strengths are. And he’s working on that.
“Moeen is a proper offspinner. The way he bowls, the energy, the shape of the ball, the control, everything. We shouldn’t be thinking that he is not a proper offspinner. He is an allrounder and I would say he is equally good at batting and bowling.
“He is young and he hasn’t bowled as much and had the mileage before. He’s improving and the more he works hard and the more he plays the longer version, the more mileage he will get. You can rate him in the top three offspinners in the world.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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