A glorious chapter in county cricket and the most successful era in Sussex's history was brought to an end yesterday when Mushtaq Ahmed, the Pakistan leg-spinner, announced his retirement from first-class cricket. The decision, enforced by a persistent knee injury, finishes the career of the most influential cricketer in the modern day county game.
When Sussex signed him for the 2003 season not even the club expected him to have such an impact. His initial deal was on a modest basic salary with huge bonuses for taking wickets. The contract worked. Mushtaq claimed five 10-wicket hauls to become the first bowler in five years to take 100 county championship wickets in a season, and Sussex's 164-year wait for the county championship ended.
It would by grossly unfair on the other members of Chris Adams's side to say that Sussex were a one-man team, but in the two following seasons, summers where Mushtaq had less success, the county finished in third and fifth place. But he was back to his best in 2006 and 2007 taking 192 wickets at an average of 22.6 to win Sussex two more county titles.
It is a mystery why such a fine bowler failed to have similar success in Test cricket. Mushtaq had his moments in a 52 Test career, taking 185 wickets for Pakistan at an average of 32.97, but one felt he was capable of more.
The 38 year-old had a beautiful high action, that made it very difficult for batsman to tell the difference between the leg break and the googly. I faced him once at Taunton when he was playing for Somerset and I have never felt more humiliated on a cricket field. For five balls I groped forward like a drunken teenager and failed to make contact with the ball. Nobody was happier than I when the final delivery of the over bowled me.
Mushtaq had guile, control and the ability to sharply spin the ball both ways. He may have looked a little rotund but he was certainly fit, bowling almost 21,000 county championship balls between 2003 and 2007. He was not an angry confrontational cricketer; he loved the game and largely played it with a smile on his face.
"This is a very hard decision for me to make," said Mushtaq. "My love, my feelings and my heart will always be with Sussex. I feel I could possibly play one more season but, out of respect, I would only do that if I felt 100 per cent. I am going to miss playing for the club greatly. I am truly honoured to have spent six wonderful years here."
Adams captained Mushtaq throughout his time with Sussex and he is fully aware of his contribution. "Mushtaq's legacy at the club is that he leaves us statistically, romantically and emotionally the best player to ever pull on a Sussex shirt," said Adams.
"In view of the impact he's made, it's difficult to think of another cricketer who has achieved or done more for one county. His legacy extends beyond the playing arena, as I'm sure all that have been graced with his presence will agree. He is simply a great man."
Spin king: Mushtaq's career highs
Born: 28 June 1970, Sahiwal, Pakistan
Height: 5ft 4in
Bowling style: Legbreak googly
First Class Teams: Multan, Somerset, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Surrey, Sussex
First Class Record:
Wickets: Leading wicket taker in the county championship for the last five seasons
2003: First bowler in five years to take 100 wickets in the English season, helping Sussex to the first Championship title in their history, a feat he and they repeated in 2006 and 2007.
1997: Named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year
Pakistan Test Record:
Test Debut: Against Australia in Adelaide, January 1990