A Spin of the Ball

Since 1993, and That Ball, we who love cricket have been living in a world conjured into being by Shane Warne. But let us not forget that legspin was not merely a dying art but practically a dead one, discarded as a thing of the past, like late cuts, until Abdul Qadir came along. Single-handedly, Abdul Qadir saved legspin bowling, or so it seemed.

Year in, year out, I dedicated myself to watching every ball of every Test Match in every summer that it was physically possible to watch. And here were Pakistan in 1982, and this guy bounding up to the wicket and delivering balls that zinged and zoomed.

(Yes, I am aware he toured England in 1978, but that was an injury-racked tour on which he made no impression).

He was brilliant, but best of all he opened the door and let the light in again. Suddenly, leg spinners were everywhere. No-one who could equal him, but a constant stream of them, trying to stretch their fingers and flex their wrists, and I was learning a whole new vocabulary, like googlies and topspinners and flippers. I even tried to learn the art myself, in addition to my modest off-spinners, but I couldn’t get anywhere near it.

Shane Warne appeared after Qadir’s career was more or less over, and thoroughly eclipsed him in the public eye, though Graham Gooch rated Qadir the better bowler. We may have been living in the world Warne built since 1993, but without Qadir to lay the foundations, and recover legspin, the art may have become obsolete beyond recovery.

And now Qadir has died, aged 63 – I never knew that he was only almost exactly two months older than me – and I am sentimentally recalling a genius whose best bowling figures in Test Cricket, 9 for 56, is the seventh best performance of all time and the best ever against England, and wishing I could once again sit astonished at someone doing things with a cricket ball that I never imagined were possible.

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