Mushtaq Ahmed

A leg spinner comparable to Warne

Mushtaq was a chubby leg spinner who could produce a full range of leg-spin variations. He was a match-winner who was considered to be not far behind his contemporary Shane Warne. He got less bounce than Warne and couldn’t get the in-drift that Warne got but in every other respect was the equal of Warne. During his time with Sussex, he was the leading wicket-taker in the County Championship for five successive seasons,  helping the county win the competition not just in 2003 but also in 2006 and 2007. Persistent knee trouble forced Mushtaq to retire from first-class cricket at the end of the 2008 campaign and he then moved into coaching for England.

Chris Adams and Mushy on the ‘Longest Day’ 2007

Test debut against Australia

Mushtaq Ahmed was born on 28 June 1970 in Sahiwal in the Punjab and made his first-class debut at the age of sixteen for Multan, getting four wickets in a match against Sukkur. He achieved his first five wicket haul the following season playing for the Punjab Chief Minister’s XI against the touring England team. He then took part in the 1988 Under-19 World Cup where he was the joint top wicket-taker, taking 19 wickets at 16.21. The next year Mushtaq took his first ten wicket haul of his career in a match against Peshawar. He finished the season with 52 wickets at 22.84. He continued to play for the under-19s and was called up to the national team in March 1989, playing in a One-Day match against Sri Lanka. He kept his place in the side and made his Test debut in January 1990 against Australia at the Adelaide Oval. He only took one wicket in that match – the wicket of Mark Taylor – but a year later in Peshawar he took 14 wickets in a match. Mushtaq went on to become one of the top international  players of the 90s and in his county spell with Sussex added the piece of magic needed to help Sussex win the first championship ever in their long history.

Goodwin, Adams and Mushtaq covet Sussex’s first championship victory 2003

A world cup medal

Mushtaq played a key role in Pakistan’s winning of the  1992 World Cup – his taking of Graham Hick’s wicket was one of the memorable moments of the tournament. He was joint second wicket-taker having taken 16 wickets in the tournament but he struggled to make an impression in Test cricket only taking ten or more wickets on one occasion against England in 1992, but his form began to improve after 1995 when he had ten five-wicket match hauls, the first being in 1995 against Australia.

During the mid-90s when he was dominating so many batsmen Mushtaq entered county cricket appearing for Somerset between 1993 and 1998. He was regarded as one of their best overseas players. He was named as one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year in 1997 being described as a member of “a glittering triumvirate of wrist-spinners who adorn the game.’’ Mushtaq played 62 first-class matches for Somerset, taking 289 wickets. He became embroiled in a match-fixing scandal in the late 1990s and was eventually fined £3,500. Mushtaq lost his place in the Pakistan team, and in 2001 played for Northop Hall in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition.

Arrival at Hove for the 2003 season

The following year he joined Surrey, but he did not impress and so in 2003 Sussex moved to take him on. He arrived at Hove in April 2003 and stayed for six very successful years in which he became the mainstay of the side and the bowler everyone looked to, to get crucial wickets when they were needed.

When he arrived at Hove, Sussex was a club that had never won the championship. The club had been second in 1902, 1903, on three occasions in the 1930s, and then again in 1953 – it seemed that Sussex was destined to be the always the bridesmaid and never the bride. Mushtaq had not played much county cricket for four years but the Sussex captain felt him to be still a world class bowler and put a call in to the Surrey coach Keith Mendicott who described ‘Mushy’ as a fabulous bowler with plenty of energy and with great skills, and was good in the dressing room. For Adams, Mushy could be that magical player who could turn a sound team with lots of good, honest, hard-working cricketers, with very few egos, and where everyone knew their job’’ into a complete team.  Mushtaq and his agent spoke to Sussex coach, Peter Moores, and within ten minutes a deal was done. As Mushtaq said “I was bowling well, I was fit, I wasn’t cheating myself in the off season, but I wasn’t getting a chance with Pakistan. So I was very, very motivated.”

Mushtaq Ahmed celebrates taking his 100th wicket of the season in the game against Leicestershire in 2003

He provided the magic

Mushtaq walked into a dressing room that contained the likes of Murray Goodwin, an outstanding batsman in the peak of his form, with strong support from Chris Adams, Tony Cottey and Richard Montgomerie. Just about to break into the team were Matt Prior and Tim Ambrose and spearheading the attack was one of the top bowling partnerships of county cricket at the time, James Kirtley and Jason Lewry. There was not a good start though as three matches were lost out of the first five played and Kevin Pieterson had smashed 166 to dent the bowlers’ confidence. However, after that slow start Sussex picked up momentum, winning seven of the next nine games with a determination that made them difficult to beat.

The 2003 championship

Typical of this attitude was in the game against Lancashire at Hove in mid-August when Mushtaq took the wicket of the Lancashire captain, Warren Hegg, with just one over left, to win the vital points. With two games left Mushtaq was on 99 wickets and in a determined mood. In the next game against Lancashire at Old Trafford, Sussex were well beaten by Lancashire, their main rivals. Lancashire declared at 450 for 6, and then bowled Sussex out for 251 and asked them to follow on. The tam capitulated in the second innings for just 180 as Sussex lost by an innings and 19 runs. The team went into their last game against Leicestershire hoping the bubble had not burst. Mushtaq picked up his 100th wicket of the season as Leicestershire were bowled out for 179 with Mushtaq taking the wicket of Hodge to claim 100 wickets for the season. Sussex then posted a massive 614 for 4 with Murray Goodwin plundering 335 not out in just 390 balls. He was to hit the boundary with a cover drive which gave Sussex 300 runs and three batting points, enough to win the championship, prompting celebrations on the pitch, a crowd invasion  and a temporary halt to proceedings. The Leicester  captain graciously allowed a mid-match lap of honour to take place. Goodwin went on to make a career-best 335 not out.

Mushtaq had bowled 836.3 overs and taken 103 wickets, 43 more than anyone else in the first division. In his first five years with Sussex, 2003-2007, Mushtaq bowled the most overs in the country in four of those years. His success led to his recall for Pakistan in two Tests against South Africa in which he took two wickets after which he was dropped and never played for his country again.

A problem with slow starts

The effort required to win that debut championship inevitably took its toll and there was a lull in form over the next two years with the side finishing fifth and third, mainly from slow starts in both campaigns. In 2006 Mark Robinson  replaced Peter Moores who moved to a job with the ECB and he set about dealing with the problem of the slow starts. With Rana Naved-ul-Hasan added to the attack and Luke Wright and Michael Yardy now established members of the side, Sussex made a good start to the 2006 campaign winning five of the first six matches and going on to repeat their performance of 2003. Mushtaq again broke the 100 wicket barrier taking 102 wickets at 19.91 and this time was 41 wickets in front of his nearest rival.

Chris Adams raises the county Championship trophy at Hove Cricket County Championship 2003

Two more titles

The title was secured at Trent Bridge with Mushtaq taking nine wickets for 48 in the second innings and with Sussex making 560 for 5 declared, with Yardy making 119 and Goodwin 99. Over the season Goodwin had made 1649 runs at an average of 63.42. in addition to the championship, Sussex defeated rivals Lancashire in the C&G Trophy in a low scoring match. The following year, 2007, the championship went to the wire and Lancashire who had chased Sussex all season still had a chance to win if they could beat Surrey in the last match. Sussex did what they needed to do and beat Worcestershire well. They made 532 in the first innings and then bowled Worcestershire out twice to win by an innings and 14 runs early on the last day. Mushtaq made a vital contribution to Sussex’s continuing success by taking 13 wickets. In Lancashire’s match against Surrey, they were set to get 489 in four sessions, a target which was difficult to get, but had they achieved it, might have been enough to take the title to Old Trafford. Sussex had to wait  to see whether their victory at Hove against Worcestershire had been enough. In the event Lancashire failed by just 15 runs in one of the most exciting finales to a championship in years.

In 2008 Mushtaq played just six games as two knee operations restricted his running and he decided to retire. He had secured his place as a Sussex great with 4768 wickets in 85 matches fort class matches at 25.34 Of his legacy Peter Moores said, “When Mushtaq first signed for us, he said he wanted to become the best overseas player in Sussex history, which was a big statement when you think of some of the names that had been at the club. By the end, I think you have to say he achieved it.” Following retirement Mushtaq took up a coaching role with the England team and was instrumental in bringing on Graeme Swann. On leaving England Mushtaq became a bowling consultant for Pakistan until 2016 when he became head coach of Pakistan’s National Cricket Academy. In 2018 he became the assistant coach of the West Indies and the following year was honoured for his contribution to cricket with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Sport at The Asian Awards.

Sussex Record

First class  cricket:

Batting/fielding 85M      111 In   19no     1697runs            90hs      Ave 18.44              19 ct

Bowling               3747.3Ov            650Ma  12114Runs         478W    Best P9-48              Ave 25.34

List A cricket

Batting/fielding  72          35          11          241        19*        10.04     5ct

Bowling               571.1     24          2477      78          5-25      31.75

Twenty 20 cricket

Batting/fielding  29          10          2            55          20*        6.87       3ct

Bowling               98.3       1            580        42          5-11      13.80