In the long and glorious tradition of Pakistani spin kings, Danish Kaneria tops the record books as the greatest of them all.
The country’s most successful Test twirler, with 261 wickets, he was until recently considered the best wrist-spinner remaining in international cricket, following the retirement of Shane Warne, Stuart MacGill and Anil Kumble. Among his admirers was Richie Benaud, who said Kaneria’s googly was among the best-disguised he had seen.
But the sad unravelling of a flourishing career reached a nadir today, after Kaneria was named as a master cricket “corrupter” in Britain’s most famous criminal court.
He will continue to fight to clear his name, and has protested his innocence since he was first linked to the county cricket spot-fixing scandal. But any future the 31-year-old has in the game seems to be over.
Court battles are likely to continue for years to come, but it appears that today’s turn of events in London mean that the leg spinner’s Test career, which began in England more than a decade ago, will end there too, under a cloud of suspicion.
Kaneria became only the second Hindu to play for Pakistan when he made his debut in 2000 against England in Faisalabad. At 6 ft 1, his height afforded him unusual purchase and bounce for a leggie, and he averaged an impressive four wickets a Test in his 61 caps, at a shade under 35, with a career best of 7-77 against Bangladesh in 2002.
Kaneria’s best years came once he was regular, post 2004, with successes against Australia and India. However his ability to turn an innings, and put in match-winning spells, waned in recent years after he started being used to blunt an opposition with more defensive, run-limiting tactics.
Critics point out that he lacked the presence and sheer force of spirit that former greats Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed imposed on the game. Supporters, however, counter that Kaneria would have had even more Test victims had he not bowled for the majority of his career with Kamran Akmal behind the stumps.
He was also the man who kept out of the team England’s current tormenter in chief, Saeed Ajmal.
Kaneria began his county cricket career at Essex in 2005 and made an immediate impression, taking 32 wickets in seven championship matches. Two years later, when he returned after a spell of international duty, he took 107 wickets in all forms of the game.
Known by his nickname “Nani Danny”, he was also a very popular figure on the circuit. In the fall out of the scandal, Kaneria has been unable to get a contract in England, however.
He is still playing regular domestic cricket in Pakistan, and taking handfuls of wickets, and has fought his case in Pakistan courts, pleading to be cleared for international duty.
But after the latest twist in this sorry saga, it appears that the fate of the Pakistani, whose Test career began and ended in England, may reside with the ECB. Until then, the way his name is remembered in the game hangs in the balance.
* Read coverage of the trial on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets @Cricketer_RDJ