Yasir Shah | Is the record-breaker spinning his way to glory?

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Yasir Shah | Is the record-breaker spinning his way to glory?

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Arun S Kaimal

07/18/2016

Six years after his worst day at the Lord’s, Mohammad Amir ran in and cleaned up England’s Jake Ball to give Pakistan a victory at the venue for the first time since 1996. If Mohammad Amir’s fairy-tale comeback was not enough, Misbah-ul-Haq’s century and the push-ups also made it to the headlines.

But, when Pakistan players walked off the field at the Lord’s on Sunday to roaring applause, there was one diminutive player at the back who was the architect behind everything Pakistan had achieved on the day. With 10 wickets in the match, Yasir Shah scripted Pakistan’s win and achieved something even the legendary Shane Warne did not manage – a name on the Lord’s Honours Board.

A day after the win, the 30-year-old also became the No.1 in ICC Test bowler’s rankings, a first for a leg-spinner since Shane Warne’s reign at the top in 2005. If that was not enough, he is on course to hit the 100-wicket mark in a world record time. In just 13 Tests, the Swabi-born player has 86 wickets – the most by any bowler after 13 Tests in the history of cricket. Today he is the talk of the cricketing world, however, when he made his debut in 2011 nobody would have anticipated this rise from the 30-year-old.

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Yasir, a conventional leg-spinner with the ability to turn the ball both ways, made his debut during Pakistan’s tour of Zimbabwe back in 2011 and after one ODI outing and two T20 appearances, Yasir was dropped to the bench once the big guns returned. He remained a reserve to Saeed Ajmal and waited in the wilderness for almost three years to make another appearance for his national team.

But, eventually, his chance arrived. Six months before the 2015 World Cup, the International Cricket Council suspended Saeed Ajmal, World No.1 in ODI at that time, after his action was found illegal. With their main spinner out of the equation, Pakistan turned to Yasir to spin them to victory against the Aussies in their ‘home grounds’ of United Arab Emirates.

Along with left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir spun a web around the Aussie batsmen and helped Pakistan clinch the series 2-0. He followed the seven wickets in the debut match with five more in the second to end the series as the second-highest wicket taker and there was no looking back from that moment.

New Zealand arrived next in UAE, and they met a similar fate. Yasir continued his wicket-taking run and added 15 more wickets to his kitty. It did not stop there and, in fact, got better. Even sub-continent rivals failed to pick his leg-spinners and surrendered their wickets. He picked 10 wickets against Bangladesh in the two-Test series and followed it up with brilliant outings against Sri Lanka, where he picked up 24 wickets in three matches. His rise was phenomenal and in the process, he also became the fastest Pakistani cricketer to fifty Test wickets.

When it was all looking hunky-dory, another suspension struck Pakistan cricket. Chlorthalidone, a diuretic drug used to treat hypertension, was found in the blood sample of Yasir during the matches against England in UAE. The ICC provisionally suspended the leg-spinner in December last year before handing him a three-month ban in February this year. He missed the Asia Cup T20, World T20, and the Pakistan Premier League because of the ban, and landed in the United Kingdom hoping to recreate the magic.

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When everyone was taking about the comeback of Amir, Yasir quietly made his return to the International arena and bamboozled the English batsmen on a pitch that did not offer much spin. Under the tutelage of Mushtaq Ahmed, who was the last leg-spinner to make it to the Lord’s Honours Board till Yasir’s display, the 30-year-old kept it simple in the middle and patiently waited for his prey to fall into the trap. Although his bowling action is similar to that of Shane Warne, Yasir Shah is more Anil Kumble-esque. He bowls wicket-to-wicket and waits for the batsman to make the mistake, rather than bowling giant turners like Warne used to. Yasir is also not depended on googlies like Mushtaq Ahmed and this is what bamboozled the English batsmen, who have not seen a world class wrist-spinner since Shane Warne retired.

In his first Test outside Asia, Yasir made it clear to the world that he did not need a turning track to take wickets. Now, the next record standing in front of the diminutive leggie is the 100-wicket mark. If he can continue the performance he showed against England in the first Test, by the end of the series a 123-year-old history will be rewritten.

But, is he a better spinner than current bowlers like Ravichandran Ashwin and Nathan Lyon or the greats like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Anil Kumble, who played cricket in the new millennium?

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Yasir Shah is clearly miles above everyone else in the wicket-takers list after 13 Test matches, but he has only played one Test outside the subcontinental conditions, unlike someone like Shane Warne, who played 11 matches in not-so spin-friendly conditions. The conditions surely have played a part in Yasir’s mind-boggling numbers, but no one can deny him a place at the top of the rankings after the heroics at Lord’s. Ashwin, who has a similar number as Yasir, played two mores Tests outside the subcontinental conditions than the Pakistan leg-spinner and that clearly slowed him down in the race.

Yasir is 30 years old, but he is not a finished product. He is only one Test old in the unfamiliar conditions in England. To write his name in the history books among the greats like Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, and Anil Kumble, the performance he showed against England should become a constant phenomenon. With many more tours to non-spin friendly conditions in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand all waiting, Yasir Shah’s true test has just begun.

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