Why the England Test series is the biggest one of Yasir Shah's career
86 wickets in the first 13 Tests of your career are remarkable numbers for any bowler, let alone one that practices arguably the toughest art in cricket, leg spin. Yasir Shah’s impressive initial numbers put him on course to reach the pantheon of greats that include the likes of Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly.
Yet, if early comparisons seem a bit premature, it wasn’t his fault. After all, you can only beat what is in front of you and if you are given Australian batsmen who resemble a fish out of water against the turning ball and pitches that turn square from the outset, it isn’t exactly his fault.
Then again, his first innings outside Asia has shown that the leggie has made plenty of progress from being an “average bowler” who didn’t turn the ball big to someone who is breaking records for fun and on the verge of making history. The transformation has been remarkable especially in an era devoid of world-class spinners.
Better late than never
Yasir Shah’s progress in the international arena where he holds the record for the most wickets after 13 Tests are simply phenomenal. But the path that brought him there was treacherous and not always filled with success.
After all, when you make your first-class debut in February 2002, you expect to play international cricket in a few years at most. But unlike many players, the leggie had to wait nine years to play international cricket.
However, it was a false dawn as he made his ODI debut and two T20Is in September 2011 but was forgotten soon after. It looked as though he might one of those unlucky spinners who never a chance to shine in the international arena despite an impressive first-class record.
As fate would have it though, when crisis came knocking on Pakistan’s doors Yasir Shah got his chance. When Saeed Ajmal was banned for chucking in September 2014, the leggie was given the opportunity to make his Test debut at the age of 28, 12 years after his first-class debut.
Tributes start to pour in
12 wickets in his debut series as Australia were whitewashed 2-0 had quickly earned him admirers aplenty. With the legbreak as his weapon of choice, he earned the admiration of none other than the greatest leggie of them all, Shane Warne who proclaimed that he would finish with more than 200 Test scalps.
I'm liking my man Yasir Shah's energy & shape on the ball, also his over spinner & patience !! He's going to take 200 + test wickets— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) November 2, 2014
First it was Shane Warne, then it was Anil Kumble, two of the greatest leg spinners to have ever played the game were impressed with what they were watching.
And just like that a star was born. It didn’t take him long to start fulfilling Warne’s prediction as he became the fastest Pakistani bowler to take 50 Test wickets, achieving it in just nine matches. And with 86 scalps in 13 Tests, he is on course to beat the world record of being the fastest to take 100 wickets, which is currently held by England’s George Lohmann who got there in 16 Tests.
Real test lies ahead
The true test of any bowler is his ability to perform when conditions are not conducive to bowling. For a fast bowler, it is in the sub-continent and for a spinner, everywhere outside the subcontinent (and I’m leniently including the UAE as part of the sub-continent as Pakistan have made it their home).
In this regard, despite all of Yasir Shah’s achievements, the 30-year-old is yet to be truly tested. The hard grind of a day two pitch in England is markedly different from the dust bowls dished out in Asia where the ball that doesn’t turn does the batsman in more often than not as the presence of the turning ball, even on day one, isn’t uncommon.
But if his performance in the first Test at Lord’s against England is anything to go by, he has shown that he isn’t just a flash in the pan. As a leg spinner, the 30-year-old has the ability to run through the tail or befuddle even a set batsman with a wily variation.
Whether he will go on to become one of the finest spinners of his era or one of the all-time greats is a question only time can answer. For now though, let us all sit back and enjoy one of the greatest sights in cricket, that of an artist (leg spinner) going about creating a masterpiece and leaving batsmen in the dust, in the process.