As the 2007 county season approaches, we will be compiling a list of six men to watch; not necessarily the finest players, but those with particularly significant and interesting seasons ahead.
Saqlain Mushtaq (Sussex)
Saqlain has had an extraordinary career. He is often acclaimed as the first off-spinner to master the doosra; he has also claimed 496 wickets, and was the fastest ever bowler to reach 100 ODI wickets.
In county cricket, his subtle variations and the desperate unease shown by English batsmen playing spin meant he was undeniably the key man in Surrey’s three County Championship wins of 1999-2002. His brilliance was such that he took 124 first-class wickets from just 19 games during ’99 and 2000 – at an average of 13.
But he over-bowled during his heyday, making him susceptible to injuries and reducing his mystique. Batsmen slowly grew accustomed to his bowling, and began picking his variations more readily. Accordingly, his effectiveness diminished; in ’03, he took 41 wickets for Surrey at 33 and, in his last Test, in March 2004, Sehwag and co plundered him for 204 runs.
He has been a sadly peripheral figure since, after an injury-ruined three years. But he is just 30 – and many spinners have peaked at a later age. Saqlain only needs to look at his compatriot Mushtaq Ahmed for evidence of how cricketing careers can be rejuvenated. If Sussex can reinvigorate Saqlain as they have Mushtaq, the sight of the two Pakistanis whirling away in tandem this campaign will be quite something.