Shoaib Bashir outperforms R Ashwin despite fewer tricks, marathon spell | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Novice Shoaib Bashir outperforms Ravichandran Ashwin despite fewer tricks, marathon spell in 4th Test

Feb 24, 2024 06:54 PM IST

Shoaib Bashir picked four wickets during Day 2 of the fourth Test against India

Sometimes, being unidimensional can be a virtue, not having too many tricks up one’s sleeve a blessing. Being metronomic and ‘boring’ need not be the worst thing. Not overthinking can work to one’s advantage. Ask Shoaib Bashir.

England's Shoaib Bashir, right, celebrates the wicket of India's Rajat Patidar during 4th Test(AP)
England's Shoaib Bashir, right, celebrates the wicket of India's Rajat Patidar during 4th Test(AP)

The 20-year-old off-spinner arrived (belatedly) in India with 10 wickets from seven first-class games and a little more than 200 overs, Unsuccessful in breaking into the Surrey and Middlesex sides, he spent time at Minor County Berkshire before finally finding a home at Somerset.

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Alongside Rehan Ahmed and Tom Hartley, Bashir formed one of the least experienced overseas spin attacks to travel to India. England had only Jack Leach to fall back on, but the left-arm spinner picked up a knock on his knee in the first game in Hyderabad, where he only played a bit role. With Leach out of the equation from the second Test, Ben Stokes had the unenviable task of getting his inexperienced bunch (Hartley and Bashir had yet to make their Test debut, Rehan had played one game) to perform above itself.

Hartley responded to his captain’s urgings with a seven-for in the second innings in Hyderabad, bowling the visitors to an unexpected 28-run win on debut. Bashir is threatening an encore in Ranchi in his second Test, his four-for on Saturday leaving England in control of the fourth Test after the second day’s skirmishes.

On the face of it, there’s nothing extraordinarily special about Bashir. He is tall, massively so at six-foot four, but he neither turns the ball a mile nor does he have the variations of, say, an R Ashwin, the latest entrant to the 500-wicket Test club. Bashir’s strengths are his consistency and his ability to procure bounce because of his height. Also, he bowls predominantly from over the wicket to the right-handers, plugging away in the corridor outside off and allowing natural variations to bring both edges into play. When the bounce is uneven, like it was in Ranchi where the crumbling cracks are beginning to make their presence felt, he can be more than a handful, as Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar and Ravindra Jadeja found out.

Bashir had never bowled as many overs in a row as on Saturday – his first spell read a monumental 31-4-83-4, the most consecutive overs bowled in a Test in India for nearly 20 years – but that he never once veered from the plumbline spoke to his remarkable temperament. He plugged away relentlessly, giving India’s batters nothing to work with and refusing to allow them to use their feet. With more than the odd ball keeping low, he was always a shoo-in to get bowleds and leg befores.

Without playing the comparison game, it must be said that at least in Ranchi, Bashir has out-bowled Ashwin (one for 83 in 22 overs), however ridiculous that might sound. The crack offie still has the second innings to stamp his authority, something he hasn’t quite managed this series. Few have a more imposing home record than the engineer from Chennai, yet in the three and a half Tests so far, Ashwin hasn’t been the force he was expected to be. He currently has 12 wickets, at an average of 38.83, a strike-rate of 57.5 and an economy of 4.05. His corresponding numbers in 55 previous home Tests are 20.87, 46.6 and 2.68 respectively.

Ashwin has largely operated from round the stumps, hoping also to use the one that slides through to catch the outside edge of the right-hander, like he did with aplomb in Australia in 2020-21 – among others -- when he dismissed both Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, caught at slip. His marked reluctance to change the angle and go over on a more frequent basis might appear surprising, though Ashwin will point to the success he has hitherto enjoyed with his preferred angle of attack to explode any potential criticism.

Earlier in this series, Ashwin went wicketless in an innings in India (in the first innings in Visakhapatnam) for only the sixth time. He didn’t have a big part to play in Rajkot – he missed almost the entire English first innings after flying home to Chennai owing to a family emergency – and that might explain, somewhat, along with the brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah and the prolificity of Ravindra Jadeja why his wickets column doesn’t boast more impressive numbers. He hasn’t been able to impose pressure either, evidenced by only 11 maidens in the equivalent of 115 overs. None of this is a cause for concern, yet, but he hasn’t been Ashwin-esque over the last four weeks. Is there a sting in the tail over the next fortnight?

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