Pakistan leg-spinner Yasir Shah’s dismissal of England left-hander Gary Ballance has gone viral. During the first Test at Lord’s, which Pakistan won by 75 runs on Sunday, one of Shah’s deliveries spun square off Balance’s off-stump and got his leg-stump.
Former Australia leggie, Shane Warne, produced a similar delivery in the Ashes series back in 2005 at Birmingham, to knock off Andrew Strauss’s timber. Warne, though, bowled the ball of the century---as it has since been called---against England’s Mike Gatting during the 1993 Ashes at Manchester, clipping his off-stump, having pitched way outside leg-stump.
The comparisons began immediately. The Pakistan leggie also climbed to the top of ICC’s Test ranking after his 10-wicket haul (10/141) at Lord’s, becoming the first leg-spinner in 11 years to achieve the feat after Warne was No 1 in 2005.
Shah might have replicated a delivery similar to that of Warne’s, but the two are different bowlers. Warne was the classical leg-spinner with a beautiful wrist position at the release point coupled with variations in his deliveries. He played with the mind of a batsman and forced them to commit mistakes. Shah might not have the best of wrist positions at release, might fall short in the number of variations, but the Pakistani leg-spinner has an attacking acumen. Just like Warne.
Though Shah played 12 out of his 13 Tests in the sub-continent, the rank-turners were of great help. Picking wickets outside the sub-continent was the real test and Shah passed with distinction in his first attempt. He adapted to the situation and changed his approach. Having played a majority of his Tests in the UAE, Shah realised the importance of being accurate and deceiving on slow pitches. The slips and the attacking fielders were his focus as he would invite the batsmen into the drive. An odd googly or a ripper added to the element of surprise.
Against Australia in 2014 at Dubai, Shah’s mode of dismissals were either going for the wicket, or catches. David Warner, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke failed to read his variations. Against England in 2015, Shah picked up eight wickets in the 2nd Test and six of them were catches. One of his bunnies was Adil Rashid, who twice got out driving at cover. Warne would tempt batsmen by setting attacking fields and then fall in his trap.
Coming back to 2016, Shah showed maturity in English conditions. He realised it had to be accuracy, variation and a fearless approach to pick wickets. Though, the ball turned less, Shah focused on hitting the pads. Four out of the ten dismissals were LBWs at Lord’s.
The English batsmen are tentative against spin and showed a confused approach. James Vince, Gary Balance and Moeen Ali were trapped on deliveries that were pushed through the air. Jonny Bairstow was set up, urging him to play the square-cut from a three-quarter area. A googly ended his stay, going for the cut again.
England No 3 Joe Root was deceived in flight. Root misjudged the flight and edged a fuller delivery to slip. Later, when the roughs were created, Shah went back to plan A and the close-in fielders came into play. Balance’s second innings dismissal was a result of sharp turn from the roughs. The pitch became slower and Bairstow lost his timber to a short pitched delivery, which slowed further after pitching.
With an addition of a ten-wicket haul, Shah’s Test wicket-count rose to 86 in 13 matches. The England summer is expected to be dry and the pitches will see turn. If that happened, Shah could be the reason behind Pakistan’s successful campaign. The current English side lacks experience of playing in the sub-continent and Shah could pose a big problem. He might even become the fastest bowler to 100 Test wickets, considering he is still three Tests short of England’s Graham Lohmann, who achieved the feat in 16 Tests.