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Yasir Shah: The next great match-winning spinner from Pakistan?

This article is about Pakistan's leg-spinner Yasir Shah, his journey till now and challenges in the future.

Yasir in action

There are few sights in the game of cricket that captivates the attention of fans; the straight drive of a top class batsman, a genuine fast bowler steaming in from the boundary line and a leg spinner weaving his magic.

The legacy of leg spin bowling

The first name that comes to our minds as far as leg-spin is concerned is Shane Keith Warne. Arguably the greatest spin bowler of all time, Warne is someone every emerging leg-spinner aspires to be like. His contemporaries Anil Kumble, Mushtaq Ahmed also had successful careers, but thereafter there were very few who made any lasting impressions.

As the game has evolved over the years with T20 cricket and new ODI rules (before they were changed post the World Cup 2015) captains have been reluctant to play leg spinners as they can be expensive if they don’t get it right.

Leg-spin bowling is an art and requires years of practice, that’s why someone like a Yasir Shah, from Pakistan, has been like a breath of fresh air, his control and variety has been phenomenal in the last 12 months.

The early years

Yasir, 29, made his first-class debut in 2001 and it took him 10 years to play his first international match for his country. He played for teams like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, Abbottabad Falcons and Pakistan Customs and Pakistan A.

Owing to his quality performance for the Pakistan-A team, he finally earned a call for the Pakistan national team on September 14, 2011 in an ODI against Zimbabwe at Harare where he claimed two wickets for 51 runs in 10 overs. However, while playing two T20Is against Zimbabwe on the same tour, he failed to claim a single wicket

The lucky break

Yasir had to wait three more years to get a recall to the national side. Saeed Ajmal‘s suspect action ruled him out of the Test series against Australia in UAE in 2014, which led to the inclusion of the 29-year old Yasir Shah.

He made a dream start to his Test career picking up 7 wickets in his first match and followed it with five more wickets in the second Test match. Pakistan won the Test series 2-0. He didn’t stop there, in the following three–match Test series against New Zealand (in UAE) the leggie spun the web around the kiwis and picked up 15 wickets in the series.

He also managed to pick up his first 5-wicket haul in the second Test at Dubai International Stadium; with figures of 5-79. The series was drawn 1-1.

World Cup 2015 & Bangladesh Series

Yasir got a surprise call to the 2015 World Cup squad again at the expense of Saeed Ajmal. He played his only match against India where he was hammered for 60 runs in 8 overs.

Pakistan toured Bangladesh after the World Cup, although Yasir didn’t play the ODI series which the hosts won 3-0, he performed well in the two-match Test series picking up 7 wickets in the second Test match leading Pakistan to a 1-0 series win over the hosts.

He followed up with impressive performances in the ODIs against minnows Zimbabwe in Pakistan, which was first series, played on Pakistan soil post the terror attacks on the touring Sri Lankan team bus in March, 2009.

The defining series – Sri Lanka

Harbhajan Singh is still remembered for his match winning performances against Australia in 2001, Yasir had a similar series against Sri Lanka when he picked up 24 wickets in the three-match Test series.

Pakistan won the series 2-1. He picked up a 5-wicket haul in each of the three-Test matches with a career-best 7-76 at Galle in the first Test match which was also the best spell by an overseas bowler in Sri Lanka.

He became fastest Pakistani bowler to pick up 50 Test wickets and 5th Overall in the history of Test match cricket. He managed this feat in nine Test matches, whereas Waqar Younis, Asif, and Shabbir Ahmed took 10 matches. Rameez Raja and Dean Jones, the commentators there were impressed by the spinner’s temperament.

The road ahead

Is it right for us to hail Yasir Shah as the next Shane Warne or is it too early to judge him? He has had one full year of international cricket now but what is important to note is that he has played most of his Test matches in the sub-continent and his real test lies outside Asia. But from what he has shown so far one can expect him to go from strength to strength and go on and pick heaps of wickets.

Next up for him are the English again in UAE. David Lloyd, Ex-England player, and commentator expects Yasir Shah to trouble English batsmen who are not good players of spin bowling. The English better be prepared to face this spin threat of Pakistan. From the great Abdul Qadir to Mushtaq Ahmed and now Yasir Shah, Pakistan has been lucky to produce some quality leg spin bowlers.

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