The biggest inventions and discoveries are a direct result of man’s curiosity. Add persistence and skill to the mix and voila! A Eureka moment is born.
Often talking to inventors about their invention is like talking to a mother about her new-born baby. They are possessive, proud and overly protective.
We, at BCCI.TV, spoke to one an inventor. We got Saqlain Mushtaq to talk about the doosra. And to our delight, he spoke about his patent delivery in a manner that was more erudite than motherly.
The legendary Pakistani off-spinner explained the tricks of his most famous trade with a deep insight and dwelt into the technicalities of the delivery that brought him and Pakistan many a jubilant moments on the cricket field.
How and when did you develop the doosra?
Sport was in my family – my grandfather played kabaddi, my father played hockey and my brother was into cricket. The place where I was born didn’t have any parks or grounds to play on and the streets were too narrow. So, as a kid I played cricket with my brother on the terrace of our house. The surface was extremely flat and I used to play with table tennis ball. I watched the likes of Imran Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz and Abdul Qadir and listened to the radio commentary intently. The names of great batsmen, fast bowlers and spinners went into my ears and when I heard of their exploits I told myself, ‘even I want to do something special’. My family was very spiritual and religious. They asked me to pray to god, and I did, whenever I could. I knew how to bowl leg-spin, off-spin, flipper, arm-ball, etc. But I was in search for something new. I was determined to have something that nobody had. I kept trying different things and that’s how the doosra was developed. It began with the table tennis ball, then tennis ball and cricket ball.
What is the key to bowling the doosra without any change in the action?
My grip was so good that all I had to do was change the pressure I put with a particular finger. When I pressed the index and middle fingers on the ball, it was off-spin and for doosra the pressure was applied by the index and ring fingers. There were other things like locking the wrist and the use of shoulder. The use of glute and calf muscles and the foot position had to be right too. For an off-spinner there are various methods – first is to roll the finger over the ball, second is to roll and then hit the wrist and then to roll the finger, hit the wrist as well as the shoulder. For doosra, you don’t roll the fingers on the ball; just press against it, lock the wrist and apply your shoulder. All these subtle conscious changes in using different parts of the body in different ways is the key in ensuring there is no visible change in the action.
How difficult is it? Not many have been able to do it.
It needs a lot of practice and the right kind of practice. You need to train your mind in such a way that you are aware of the smallest movement of every muscle in your body. They key is to concentrate on exactly the muscle you want to move. In the gym the trainer always says that when you’re working on your biceps, look at them so you know you are concentrating on those muscles. I tell the same to the kids who come to my academy – be conscious of all the parts of your body you are using and how you are using them.
Spinners have to have a very good understanding with the wicketkeeper. How big a role did Moin Khan play in your success as a spinner?
If a bowler doesn’t have good understanding with the keeper and captain, he will miss out on a lot. When their minds are synced with yours, they will know exactly when you are thinking and planning to do next, and will help you with subtle changes in the field that are key for you to trap the batsman. However, I am of a strong belief that if the keeper and batsman watch the ball perfectly from the hand of the bowler, they can easily make out what ball is about to be bowled. Sometimes the batsman takes his eyes off the ball for a moment or blinks at the crucial time. As bowlers, we play on the mind of the batsman; we try to create doubt and fear in his mind because they act as the dark clouds that keep us from seeing the moon. When the batsman is in doubt about something or is scared of the bowler, he will not watch the ball properly. That’s when we strike. It’s all about how you watch the ball. All the great batsmen watch the ball in a completely different way. When I bowled at one of them, I knew he knows exactly what I was going to bowl. But then I told myself, ‘he is a batsman and he will make a mistake at some point’. With that belief I continued to back myself.
Did you both use any sign or code word to let him know the next ball is the doosra?
We used to divide responsibilities. I would tell Moin bhai, ‘keep an eye on his (the batsman’s) feet and tell me whether he is moving away sideways, taking a long stride forward or goes deep into the crease’. Depending on that I would change my line and length. There is a story behind how the doosra became so famous. Sometimes, I used to bowl the delivery at the wrong time and wrong place. So, Moin bhai used to tell me, ‘sometimes, when I signal you to not bowl it, don’t, and when bowl when I ask you to, because with my experience I can tell what the batsman is thinking and that might help you’. There are so many wickets that I got because of him. So, he often screamed, ‘doosra abhi karna hai (bowl the other one now)’ or ‘doosra abhi nahi karna hai (don’t bowl the other one)’. The commentators picked it up from the stump mic and that’s how it got its name.
Did you use the doosra more as a wicket taking ball or to set the batsman up for the following ball?
It depended on the situation, pitch and the batsman. Sometimes I used it as a wicket-taking ball and at others I would bowl one doosra and then bowl a series of off-spinners, making the batsman wait for the other one. In the nets I ensured that I practiced the doosra like a stock ball, an attacking option and as a surprise weapon. The same went for the off-spinner and the arm-ball. At times, you go in with the plan of bowling off-spin but the batsman is playing in a different way and you have to change your strategy at the last moment. You never know in what way you have to use which delivery and so I was prepared to use every ball in every situation.
Can you name three batsman who picked it the best?
It won’t be fair to pick only three batsmen and leave the others out who played it equally well. So, I’ll mention 2-3 names from each country.
From India, Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Azharuddin played it the best. I always felt that they knew everything that I was trying to do and bowl at them. From Sri Lanka it was Aravinda de Silva and Ranatunga. I didn’t play much against Sangakkara and Mahela but I got the impression that they too played it well. From West Indies, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper were good. Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Gilchrist and Darren Lehmann were the Aussies who picked it well. Jacques Kallis was really good and so was England’s Graeme Ford. During the domestic matches in Pakistan, Inzamam, Salim Malik, Mohammad Yusuf and Younis Khan were good.
Is there any wicket in particular you took with the doosra that you cherish or remember vividly?
The doosra has brought me many wickets but the importance of the wicket in the context of the game is what makes it special. In that regards, I will never forget Sachin’s wicket in the 1999 Chennai Test. There were a lot of emotions attached to that scalp and it practically changed the game in our favour. I will cherish that wicket till my last breath. Then there is Damien Martin’s wicket in a Natwest ODI at Trent Bridge in 2001-02. The ball spun like a leg-spinner and he was caught at first slip. I got Gilchrist in the same match when he was in a murderous mood.
What is your opinion on the 15 degree rule?
If the ICC has deemed someone’s action clean, there should not be any further questions raised about him. There was under-arm bowling, eight-ball over and various other rules that have now been changed. The game keeps evolving and rules are changed accordingly. So, if someone is playing within the boundaries of the current rules, he is fine.
After you, have you seen any bowler who has perfect the art of bowling doosra without a change in action?
Muralitharan was very good at it and so was Harbhajan Singh. Shoaib Malik bowled it too in the beginning. Currently I think Saeed Ajmal is the best at bowling the doosra.
What is your take on R Ashwin?
I first watched him really closely during this year’s World Twenty20 when I was a coach with West Indies. Before that, there was this Asia Cup match between India and Pakistan where Shahid Afridi hit him for two sixes in the last over and won the game. People crucified Ashwin for that over but it was pure luck. Afridi was lucky and he won a lottery in that he didn’t even time one of them properly and still got six runs for it. Also, all the pressure was on Ashwin. Afridi had nothing to lose; he had come in with a do or die mindset. Ashwin copped the negativities despite no fault of his. And after that, the way he came back and bowled in the World Twenty20, showed the strength of his character. Yes, to be able to spin the ball is an important skill. But according to me it is only 10-15 percent of the bowler’s worth. The real game comes from within the person, his mind and heart. And the way he bowled right through that tournament, Ashwin showed he is the real deal. I think he is a wonderful bowler.