Mushtaq slips under the radar
For a man renowned for his vociferous appealing, Mushtaq Ahmed made a noticeably low-key entrance into the England coaching set-up this week.
With the eyes and ears of the cricketing world pointing towards Kevin Pietersen, Peter Moores and Andrew Strauss in the wake of the momentous changes at the top of the English game, Mushtaq arrived at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough amid precious little fanfare.
His appointment was announced in October, but it was not until this week that he formally began his role as ECB spin bowling coach.
The recruitment of one of the finest leg-spinners of his generation deserved greater recognition than it received.
It was, after all, a significant coup for the ECB after an 18-month search for a specialist spin coach, the role vacated by current performance director David Parsons.
Thoughtful, well spoken and unfailingly polite he may be, but Mushtaq inflicted more than his fair share of misery on England during a 14-year Pakistan career that saw him play 52 Tests and 144 one-day internationals.
Those not old enough to remember Mushtaq’s decisive haul of 3-41 in the 1992 World Cup final, the 17 wickets he grabbed in the 1996 Test series in England – including match figures of 8-156 at the Oval – provide a more recent reminder of his mercurial talent.
Mushtaq has served as Pakistan's assistant coach, but switching sides to coach the team he once tormented matters not a jot to the 38-year-old.
“It’s not really that strange working for England,” he told ecb.co.uk. “Cricket is my passion and whoever gives you an opportunity you have to take it.
“England called me and I’m excited to be involved with them. They want my services and if you’ve got a passion for something, that’s the most important thing, not who you’re doing it for.
“I’ve spent a lot of years in England, with Somerset and Sussex, so it’s important for me to spend time over here. I like being here - it’s a second home to me.”
Will Mushtaq’s feelings change when England tour Pakistan early next year? The man himself is adamant they won’t.
“In a sense I don’t think it will feel that strange when England go to Pakistan,” he added. “It’s just a game of cricket.
“I played all my cricket for Pakistan and there will always be room for your country.
“I love Pakistan, but I also love to serve my profession. I’m a professional and professional people have to do their own job.”
Mushtaq is employed by England on a part-time basis this year, travelling with the Test squad to the West Indies next week, then joining the Lions in New Zealand before returning for three months in the summer and again at the end of the season.
He will combine his England duties with a temporary coaching role at Sussex, the county he served with such distinction during his career as an overseas player.
Indeed, though his international statistics are insufficient to warrant greatness - 185 Test wickets at an average of almost 33 - it is his impact on county cricket for which Mushtaq will be best remembered by the English public.
He is widely recognised as the key figure behind Sussex’s dominance of the domestic scene in recent years, famously taking 103 wickets as they lifted the trophy for the first time in their history in 2003, and helping them to the title in 2006 and 2007.
With 598 victims in six years with the Hove-based county, it was difficult not to argue with then captain Chris Adams when he described Mushtaq as “statistically, romantically and emotionally the best player to ever pull on a Sussex shirt” when he retired last summer.
“Sussex is an another opportunity for me to come back to my second home,” Mushtaq said of his return to Hove, which was also announced last week.
“I know the guys there and I know the club. It’s good to work with people you know and I’m really looking forward to going back.
“I will be number two to coach Mark Robinson and hopefully, with the blessing of Allah, I can help Sussex as well as England.”
Mushtaq’s appointment owed much to Moores’ connections at Sussex. He masterminded their memorable maiden championship triumph in 2003, and - in his role as England coach - featured prominently in discussions to recruit Mushtaq to the national set-up.
That Mushtaq arrived just days after Moores left his job is one of the ironies of modern sport.