Craftsman of the Old School

January 12, 2016 | By

Of all the one-Test players among Pakistanis, Azmat Rana (1979-80), Shakil Ahmed Sr. (1998-99) and Zulqarnain Haider (2010), are perhaps three of the unluckiest ones. Since 1952-53, when Pakistan entered the Test arena, the one-Test club has grown to 39 players, each one of them with their own sorry tale of vows. To his credit Shakil, who now lives in Slough, Berkshire, UK, took the blow quite well. Though few regrets, he kept up his enthusiasm for the game  At present, couple of months short of his 50th birthday, he is lean and strong enough to enjoy long bowling spells of slow-left arm, with considerable success, in league cricket. The ruthless grounding he went through in his club days made him fitness-conscious and his present regime of gym work and swimming, is set to keep him in the game for good many years.

A quiet and unassuming, Shakil is a far cry from his Pothvari – speaking colleague, Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar. A down-to-earth character, who lets his performance, to do the talking. Shakil could be forgiven for sounding bitter at being sidelined despite success on his only Test match. Instead, Shakil simply remains very proud to have represented his country at the highest level. Still very much an active professional player, As a wily old pro he has featured in a number of title winning clubs with icing on the cake being his hand in Cornwall’s maiden Minor County Championship title, in his 25 years of league cricket in England.

Shakil also has an ECB Level II Coaching Certificate and is imparting his knowledge and experience of the game to the upcoming youngsters. He is one of three qualified coaches alongside Nheem Amin and Graham Roberts, working at The Counties Cricket Academy, established in 2001.The Academy presently has 120 boys registered in its books, in four different age groups. Pretty impressive cricket CV.

It so happened that in the 1990s, slow left-arm spinners all over the world, were shifted on to the back burner, ahead of wrist spinners (Shane Warne, Mushtaq Ahmed and Anil Kumble) and the off-breaks (Saqlain Mushtaq, Harbhajan Singh, Muttiah Muralitharan), took over in all the formats on the international scene. Shakil who had progressed steadily at domestic level, though no fault of his own, found the wind of change against him, as successive Pakistan captains – Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram, to name three – opted to have an attacking wicket-taking spinner in both Tests and ODIs. All of a sudden, the idea of a slow-left arm spinner, wheeling down overs after overs, with ‘keeping it tight’ as the foremost intention, became, an outdated mode of attack.

In Pakistan, following the departure of Iqbal Qasim, the most successful slow-left arm spinner, with 171 wickets in 50 Tests between 1977-88, his four immediate successors, Nadeem Ghauri, Masood Anwaar, Nadeem Khan and Mohammad Hussain, shared just six Test caps between them. As it turned out, the next in line, Shakil Ahmed too, met with similar fate for he was ignored after a solitary international appearance.

Although his match haul (4-139 off 54.1 overs) stands out, compared to that of Nadeem Ghauri (0 for 20 off 8), Masood Anwaar (3 for 102 off 26.5) Nadeem Khan (2 for 230 off 72) and Mohammad Hussain (3 for 87 off 30), Shakil was dumped unfairly for good, completely overlooked for the home series against Zimbabwe and the historic tour of India. Surprisingly, Nadeem Khan, older brother of wicket-keeper and stand-in captain, Moin Khan, was thought to be a better choice for India, having previously been picked for the 1992-93 tour of West Indies. Shakil, sadly was not destined to fly out with the national side, depriving him the opportunity for an extended run at international level.

Shakil’s recalls his short experience at international level, ‘Renowned Test player and Chief Selector, Haseeb Ahsan, working as a TV pundit,  praised my confidence, following my initial spell. Aamir Sohail, desperate for wickets, could not afford to give me long spells. Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar’s recent success in UAE are prime examples of a slow spinner reaping rewards from captain’s trust in helpful conditions. Unfortunately I did not get that as the Karachi wicket on which I played my only Test, seemed more suitable for an ODI. Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill, also took 4 wickets although he had been a match-winner in the 1st Test on Pindi Cricket Stadium. Moreover, I bowled 50 odd overs whereas off-spinner Arshad Khan delivered no less than 97 overs. I wish I was given a fair chance to show my worth. Well that’s luck.’

It is also to be noted that in the 1990s, Pakistan’s two front-line batsmen, Aamir Sohail and Asif Mujtaba, added bit of a variety in the attack, with their slow-left-arm though only on part-time basis. Perhaps there is a slow shift in that thinking for in the last couple of years, particularly with Misbah-ul-Haq at the helm of affairs, both Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar, seems to have ‘in’ them to have played and succeeded for Pakistan in all three international formats, i.e. Test, ODIs and T20. Shakil and his contemporaries, did not have the same conducive environment, enjoyed by Rehman and Babar.


In the second half of the 1980s, Pakistan selectors at last acknowledged the fact that talent hunting programmes could not be restricted to just Karachi and Lahore. Such thinking would pay great dividends and by the end of the decade Pakistan cricket had been strengthened by the richly talented trio of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar Younis, all hailing from Multan district. The running affairs of Rawalpindi District Cricket Association (RDCA) were headed first by Salim Asghar Mian and followed briefly by Majid Khan. The players generally, acknowledge the energy and dedication of Professor Ishtiaq Hussain, who taught Economics at Asghar Mall College, that at last opened the international doors for ‘Pindi’ boys as Nadeem Abbasi, Irfan Bhatti, Mohammad Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Wasim, Shakil Ahmed Sr., Naved Qureshi, Asif Mahmood, Yasir Arafat and Sohail Tanvir, have followed each other into the national side. What a difference the patronage, management and the building of Pindi Cricket Stadium in 1991 made, to make the most of the raw talent for the game of cricket in the region.

Interesting times for Pakistan cricket in terms of binding players from different ethnic and cultural background. Having players from a variety of background is one thing though and creating harmony and achieving results is one hell of a management challenge in Pakistan cricket.

Shakil adds, ‘We in Rawalpindi had to be outstanding to be selected ahead of Karachi and Lahore. Still when you are doing well you have hope. At the time of my selection for Pakistan, there was certainly a tough competition amongst slow left-arm spinners.  Looking back it is beyond me how Naeem Akhtar never played for Pakistan for he with a bit of a push and encouragement could have developed into a high-class all-rounder. He once claimed 10 for 28 in 21.3 overs, playing for Rawalpindi B against Peshawar. Besides, there were also Naseer Ahmed, Mujahid Hameed and Shahid Javed were quality players. Above all it pains me to see my close friend, Yasir Arafat, one of the best bowler of T20 format in the world, completely ignored by Pakistan selectors.’


Born in Kuwait City, Kuwait on 12th February, 1966, Shakil arrived in Pakistan when aged four. His father Mohammad Sadiq, father of five, served a British Oil Company for 27 years in the Middle East. Although local club cricket was of adequate level, in order to get noticed, the obvious journey was to head towards Rawalpindi, a thirty-mile journey from Gujar Khan, Shakil’s ancestral town.

‘This 30-mile journey up north was a test of character in the true sense. Quite rough. There were never enough seats for hundreds of people, who would either sit on top of the bus or hang on to the metal ladders on two sides and the back. We did not have any option but to travel like that. Often I would be clinging on to the bus with one hand and the second one holding a kit bag. I was determined to do well and would join the early-hour workers travelling to Rawalpindi, in all weather,  for good six years. ’

Elder brothers, Basharat and Jamil, took Shakil along and introduced the young sibling to the exciting world of club cricket. ‘I was so thrilled to play even just as a reserve fielder in these club matches. My first opportunity arrived when I was asked to replace an injured player at a short-notice.’ Shakil started off with left arm medium-pace before being advised to switch to slow bowling whilst with Gujar Khan Star CC, that boasted of a great patron in Raja Asghar Saeed, who has both captained and managed the club for well over 35 years. Shakil’s cricket skills continued to get honed both at MC (Municipal Committee) Muslim High School in Gujar Khan and Asghar Mall, College, Rawalpindi.

The summer camp of 1984 in Rawalpindi that was supervised by former Test star Maqsood Ahmed was an eye-opener for me. That is when I realised how important fitness was to be if one wanted success in cricket. I had the words of Imran Khan in my mind that whoever survived,  the two-month cricket camp in the peak of the Pakistan summer, must have a desire to play top-level cricket. I wanted to prove it to my family and friends that my passion had no limits. Very early in my career I developed as a cover-point specialist. Even after three decades in the game, I stand in the same position with, ‘over my dead body’ attitude. I take pride in my fielding skills which has made me more valuable to the teams that I have played. ’

‘I gained further boost my helping Rawalpindi to win in the Inter-Board Championship by beating Bahawalpur (1985-86) and Karachi (1986-87). It was followed by inclusion in the Rawalpindi team for the tour of Holland & England in 1987. Professor Ishtiaq Sahib, President of RDCA (Rawalpindi District Cricket Association), was always pushing for U-19 boys, particularly myself and Rehman. He made sure we were the first name in the touring party. I was also picked in the Reliance World Cup warm-up matches against Netherlands and England’


In talking to Shakil, one got a picture of the Rawalpindi cricket scene in the 1980s, that was rapidly expanding both in quantity quality and competitiveness. A cricketing nursery, now competitive enough to groom and nurture the young talent of Pothawar belt, for the national colours. Besides Rawalpindi, it was the rich promise of capital Islamabad, Gujar Khan, Gujrat, Jehlum and other surrounding towns and villages that would converge and stand side-by-side the northern half of Punjab, in order to claim its rightful status in Pakistan cricket. Shakil adds, ‘By 1985-86 season, I felt I was a regular in the Rawalpindi team. The standard of club cricket was high. Regular tournament, especially in the summer holidays,  resulted in tough competition. I also recall U-19 summer camps that would kick off in the month of June. I played games for Gujar Khan Star CC, Gul CC & Abbasi CC before enjoying a long stint with KRL. My future plan includes a Cricket Academy in my ancestral town of Gujar Khan.’


Aged 19 and standing at 5ft.11 inches, Shakeel’s initial taste of first-class brought him a respectable match haul of six wickets for 72 runs for Zone D against Karachi –the eventual winners of the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy –  at Karachi Gymkhana in 1985-86. Zone D, made up of players from Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Dera Ghazi Khan and Hazara, employed no less than twenty-six players in its 11-match campaign. It was pretty stiff competition as there were no less than four slow left-arm spinners. Shakil has vivid memories of that encounter, ‘For reasons, known to our captain, I was called upon to bowl the 53rd over of the innings with first innings restricted to 85 overs. I beat Zafar Ahmed with my first ball and then dismissed him on the 8th, caught at silly point by Mohammad Arif Sr. Over the years I fancied my chances against the curly-haired Karachi batsmen. Iqbal Qasim, who was in the opposition, had few encouraging words for me.’ That was the young spinner’s only game of the season.

In only his tenth first-class appearance, Shakil enjoyed a match haul of 11-159 for Rawalpindi against PIA at LCCA Ground, in the 1986-87 PACO Cup. In 1991-92 he claimed 10-69 against Peshawar in the Quaid-i-Trophy match at KRL Ground, a venue which was to prove his most productive with 101 first-class victims at a miserly average of 19.23. An injury and lack of opportunities hindered his progress and it was not until the 1995-96 winter that Shakil showed enough consistency to earn a regular slot in Rawalpindi side. In fact Shakil capturing 183 first-class wickets @ 24.01, outside Rawalpindi, backs his claim of being the best traveller in his team.


Outside first-class cricket, a limited overs tournament, Wills Cup, was the most prestigious tournament in Pakistan. The 1987 Wills Cup had a special significance to it for it was seen as a warm-up tournament before the staging of Reliance World Cup that was jointly being held by India and Pakistan. Shakeel’s first limited-overs game at this level, brought back memories, ‘I had just returned from England in September when Rawalpindi faced a strong Habib Bank side at Pindi Club Ground in front of a crowd of 10-12,000. I was the team’s best bowler in giving away 41 runs for the wicket of Salim Malik. I wish I had a slip for the great Javed Miandad, for he edged his second ball. It was a great experience to come up against Pakistan players. In the 1989 edition of Wills Cup, Rawalpindi lost to Habib Bank by a solitary run, whilst chasing 154.


As an effective limited-overs bowler, Shakil often took the sting out of the opposition by bowling a tight spell in the middle of the innings. Representing Rawalpindi, he ended up runners-up on four occasions in the Pakistan domestic cricket: against Karachi Whites in the 1990-91 Wills Gold Flake League (Quaid-i-Azam Trophy), against Multan in the 1991-92 Wills Gold Flake League (Quaid-i-Azam Trophy), against Habib Bank in the 1993-94 Wills Cup and against PIA in the 1995-96 Wills Kings Cup.

An interesting anecdote is a must in the spinners’ profile, ‘In the 1987 Reliance World Cup the England team was based in Rawalpindi when I got a call-up from my local cricket association to come along and join a practice session. Later I found out that England batsmen, in view of their preparation for the semi-final against India in Bombay, were due to face Ravi Shastri and Maninder Singh. I was more than pleased to help England with extra time spent against slow-left arm spin. Graham Gooch, in particular, made the most of that practice session at Pindi Club Ground, for he singled out the two Indian spinners by making them ineffective through excessive use of sweep, for which he had concentrated on whilst in the nets against me and other local spinners. Two decades later I met Graham and he was kind enough to recall and acknowledge the contribution I made in his preparation.


Statistically speaking, 1997-98 would remain his best season with the ball that netted him 50 wickets @ 22.26. In Rawalpindi’s solitary success in the 1997-98 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, Shakil was at the forefront whilst claiming 6-72 against Multan to earn his side a narrow 16-run win at Montgomery Cricket Club Ground, Sahiwal.  Shakil also had the honour of being in the eleven that represented Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) for the first time at first-class level in the Wills Patron’s Trophy Championship – Grade I in October 1997 against ADBP at KRL Ground, Rawalpindi. They finished fourth, above PIA, among the eight teams with Shakil claiming a career-best 7-91 against Allied Bank at KRL Ground, Rawalpindi. At the same venue, which had become his happy hunting ground, he was entrusted with the new ball against National Bank and bagged nine wickets in a drawn game. He was a touch disappointed with match figures of 2 for 190 against the touring West Indies at KRL for Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan’s XI.


The 1998-99 winter, kicked off on a pleasing note for Shakil, with a harvest of wickets in the Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. His match haul of 8 wickets for 57 runs at KRL Ground against Sargodha, was all the more satisfying for the Rawalpindi line-up included three international pace bowlers: Waqar Younis (guest appearance), Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Akram. Shakil was called by the selectors whilst in the middle of a match where he had taken 5 for 29 for Rawalpindi against Islamabad at Marghzar Cricket Ground, Islamabad. He was among reserves for the 2nd Test at Peshawar, famous for Mark Taylor’s 334 not out and 92 against a depleted Pakistan attack that conceded 888 runs for just nine wickets. If things went well the next step for Shakil would be to find his name in the playing eleven.



The selection of Arshad Khan, Shakil Ahmed, Shahid Afridi came about, with both Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed, sidelined with injuries. It was a must-win Test for the home side, who had opted for three front-line spinners to tame the touring Australian side. Shakil was part of the XI that had the added strain of performing well as Australia only required a draw at National Stadium, Karachi to clinch its first Test series in Pakistan since 1959-60. As the first player from Gujar Khan to appear in first-class cricket, Shakil now became the first one to represent Pakistan as well. A momentous moment.

Looking back, one could not imagine it to be a very co-ordial Pakistan dressing room as match-fixing investigation had gripped the affairs of cricket. Considerable amount of uncertainty existed with most of the big names of Pakistan players being dragged into the controversy. The tense relationship between present captain Aamir Sohail and his predecessor Wasim Akram had added, shall we say, a bit more ‘spice’ to the team unity. It was all very exciting from Shakil’s point of view, who was riding high following his ten-wicket haul against the tourists, whilst playing for Rawalpindi at KRL Ground. ‘It was a great moment for me. I got Ricky Ponting twice and gained lot of confidence by bowling against the Australian stroke player. I also dismissed Justin Langer, Mark Slater and Mark Waugh. Their footwork was amazing and when they attacked me, it created more opportunities for me.’ . Shakil’s 7 for 71 in the second innings represented some of the best spells of his 17-year first-class career.

On a slow-turner Shakil was wicket-less in the first innings as Shahid Afridi, the second debutante, outshone everyone, with five wickets. Shakil recalls, ‘I was not given long spells by Aamir Sohail and was out of luck with near misses.. The presence of  Shoaib Akhtar was so important for he constantly encouraged me.’ Shakil then claimed 4 for 91 in Australia’s second innings of 390 all out. Among his victims were the Waugh brothers, Mark (117) and Steve (28).Contrary to their natural instinct, the tourists made little effort to up the tempo in order to win.  Pakistan spin attack found it hard going and the home batsmen did well to hang on for a fighting draw.  A 1-0 Test series win for the Australians, who due to security fears, have not toured Pakistan since.

Following a satisfying debut, Shakil could look forward to the forthcoming home series against Zimbabwe but more importantly the tour of India, Pakistan’s first Test tour of the neighbouring rivals, since 1986-87. Sadly Shakeel’s impressive haul against the touring Australians seem to count for nothing as he was seen merely as a stop-gap replacement for first-choice spinners.

He adds ‘I had started to prepare mentally as how would tackle Sachin Tendulkar. It was a huge disappointment not to be picked.’ To make matters worse, the eagerly-anticipated Indian tour included three spinners, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed including Nadeem Khan. The last named, brother of wicket-keeper Moin Khan, got the nod despite less success than Shakil in the ongoing season.  Thus Shakil, few weeks short of his 33rd birthday was scrapped for good and the Test against Australia at N.S.Karachi, turned out to be a brief international exposure. To take four wickets against the number one Test side in the world counted for very little as change of management looked elsewhere. The selectors’ cold stance played a part in Shakil quitting the first-class scene in 2002-03.

Shakil ‘s career-best figures of 7 for 69 (11 for 133 in the match) against Karachi Whites at N.S.Karachi in Quaid-i-Azam Trophy, was easily the highlight of 1993-94. His match haul though failed to stop Karachi side that was indebted to debutante Aaley Haider (93not out) for its three-wicket triumph. It was against the same opponent that Shakil would enjoy a memorable match in the 1996-97 Quaid-i-Azam Trophy. As a competent tail-end batsman, Shakeel’s only first-class fifty could not have arrived at more appropriate moment. He took guard with Rawalpindi’s first innings wobbling at 118 for 7. It was his 66 – one of only two fifty-plus scores in a low-scoring contest – that helped his side to finish with a respectable 251 all out at Asghar Ali Shah Stadium, Karachi. The match was won by Rawalpindi by 120 runs as Shakil completed his 200 first-class wickets on his way to match figures of six for 73.

After reaching a high point of his career in the winter of 1998-99, Shakil gradually seem to slip into oblivion. He played his last first-class game in 2002-03, ironically against Rawalpindi for his department Khan Research Lab. thus finishing his career with 365 wickets @ 22.91. A sizeable chunk of that, 293, makes him one of the most successful slow bowlers of Rawalpindi, who in previous decades had nurtured slow bowlers of the calibre of Miran Bakhsh, Javed Akhtar, Mohammad Nazir Jr., Mohammad Sabir, Raja Afaq and Mohammad Riaz.

Shakil has a huge experience of league cricket in various parts of England, primarily in Yorkshire, Cornwall and Buckinghamshire. His inclusion in the 1987 Rawalpindi touring side gave him first sight of English cricket. Once the tour was over he appeared in couple of games for Halifax CC in Yorkshire. In 1990 the club signed him as an overseas professional. In 1996 he claimed 122 league victims for King Cross CC in Halifax – a record in the Central Yorkshire League.

Starting in 1999, Shakil played three successive seasons as a professional for St. Buryan CC in Cornwall. Anita George, the club President, was the only female secretary at the county level for she was also secretary of Cornwall County CC. The kind hospitality welcoming atmosphere created by Anita and husband Peter helped Shakil settle down to perform splendidly, in three of his most enjoyable summers, in England.

In 2004 Shakil moved to Slough but was advised by Bill Chamberlain, a local cricket coach to try his luck in the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. Bill, who sadly passed away in 2013, had himself represented Bedfordshire in the Minor County Championship, in the years, 1956-66. It turned out to be a wise move as Shakeel’s best run in England has been whilst representing Beaconsfield CC and Dinton CC at Buckinghamshire in the Home Counties Premier League, for almost a decade. In the 2015 summer, Shakil, despite not at his best with a painful shoulder, assisted Cookham Dean CC to win the 1st Division of the Thames Valley League and promotion in the Premier League for 2016.

The highlight of his career in UK is surely the match-winning haul of 10 wickets in the 2012 final of the Minor County Championship, Shakil, referred to as Shak Attack in the local media, recalls his effort,‘ I took 7 for 36 in the 2nd innings to help Cornwall beat Buckinghamshire by 150 runs. At the conclusion of the match, my team-mates lifted me on their shoulders and then chanted ‘Old is Gold’. Never before in the history of the Minor County Championship, Cornwall, had ever taken the title. I was happy to be invited,  for the next two summers as well. My haul of 78 wickets in 13 league matches for Cornwall was very satisfying.’

Eric Willcock, a former Cornwall players (1967-87) with Gillette Cup (1970-80) and NatWest Trophy (1986) appearances and an association dating back to fifty years, found it hard to hold back his tears, ‘It was an incredible match and we all got emotional for Cornwall had never lifted the Championship. Shak was superb on a Boscawen Park, Truro pitch that favoured spin. He has previously played on and off in Cornwall for St. Just CC and Redruth CC and was well known and well liked by players. In 2012 by signing hi,  Cornwall secured the title which had eluded them for 115 years. It was a memorable day in the club’s history’.

Happily married, Shakil lives in Slough,with daughters, Farrah Ahmed and Sara Ahmed and son, Ibrahim Ahmed, who has shown enough promise, to get picked in the Berkshire U-11 competition.

Salim Parvez

Salim Parvez is an author at ScoreLine and has written numerous articles published at

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