Always the bridesmaid, until 2003
When Mustaq 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 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 the captain, Chris Adams (Grizzly), 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.
Not a good start
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. 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 team 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.
A mid-match lap of honour
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.
It seemed as if Mustaq was the player needed to complete the perfect team. He 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.
2006 – The double
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. 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. Along the way, 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. On what was surely the longest day of the season, 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.
Retirement for ‘Mushy’
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 478 wickets for 12,114 runs in five years at a rate of 25.34 per wicket. 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.