Shoaib Bashir spins into Indian orbit | Cricket - Hindustan Times
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Shoaib Bashir spins into Indian orbit

By, Ranchi
Feb 25, 2024 06:09 AM IST

The England off-spinner's four wickets rattled India in the Ranchi Test. His swift rise to Test centre stage is as absorbing as his marathon spell on Saturday

It’s perfectly reasonable if Shoaib Bashir has caught you by surprise. He wasn’t England’s main spinner when their Test squad was announced, had never bowled in a Test before, and stood on a cumulative first-class experience of just seven matches. He hadn’t even got a Surrey contract because Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty preceded him and Tommy Ealham and Yusuf Majid were his contemporaries.

England's Shoaib Bashir celebrates the wicket of India's Shubman Gill.(PTI)
England's Shoaib Bashir celebrates the wicket of India's Shubman Gill.(PTI)

So, Bashir took the minor counties route to land up in Somerset, home to Jack Leach.

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There, a gripping spell against Alastair Cook while playing Essex is said to be one of the turning points of Bashir’s incredibly brief but highly curious career. From Somerset, straight to the pre-tour England camp in the UAE, and now, here.

In the intervening days happened a lot of meticulous planning, strategising, and possibly some smart pre-empting. With leggie Rehan Ahmed as the second spinner, England were first set on getting a reserve second slow left-arm bowler and Liam Dawson fit the bill. But when he expressed his desire to stick to county cricket because Leach would always be first choice, England moved on.

The good thing about finding an off-spinner was England always had a template to adhere to, courtesy Graeme Swann’s distinguished tour of India in 2012. Enter the 20-year-old Bashir. Height? Check. High release? Check. Long fingers for better grip? Check. With four wickets to show — one of them was the prized scalp of Rohit Sharma — debut came to Bashir rather quietly at Visakhapatnam.

But his lines were notable, as was the will to bowl long spells.

Cut to Ranchi, and we have a full blown account of Bashir, taking four top order wickets in a 31-over uninterrupted spell that was broken only to change ends in the fading light on Day 2 of the fourth Test to squeeze out one more over.

“He's been excellent since he's come into the squad,” said Joe Root later. “The way he bowls is a great little insight into his character and personality. He is quite cheeky and great fun to be around. There's clearly a huge amount of skill in what he does, as he proved with the way he bowled for not just small spells but a long period of time.”

Even if the statistical landmark of a five-wicket haul eludes Bashir from here, it can’t be denied he was everywhere England needed him to be, untiringly wheeling away overs without attracting undue attention. “It's great to see him operate the way he is doing,” said Root. “It's nice for Stokesy to be able to put so much trust in a young guy that's played so little Test cricket. You can see he wants it, he's desperate to do his part and fulfil his role within the team and it was great to see him get rewards for that as well."

Low economies tend to be taken for granted in the subcontinent but in a series where batters have been consciously aggressive against spin, Bashir’s run rate of 2.62 per over tells you to what degree he was able to restrain India. And as is the case with this age of talented but temperamental batters, plugging runs almost always leads to a breakthrough.

Four balls bowled to Shubman Gill, each of them of different trajectory and meriting a different approach, and all of them dots.

So, when Bashir lured him with a tossed up delivery, Gill couldn’t resist getting his front foot out, but not enough. Rajat Patidar endured a similar six-ball lull – that produced just a single — from Tom Hartley and Bashir before hanging back and missing a skidder that hit him plumb in front. Jadeja again, having defended three balls on the trot, looked surefooted in lunging forward but Bashir got the ball to bounce more using his height.

Yashasvi Jaiswal’s dismissal was probably unplanned, but that’s how the best things in life often happen. These are not Pujara and Kohli but still accomplished players of spin who have come through the grind of a lot of domestic and international domestic cricket. And the fact that Bashir hurried each of them into erring from a position of relative comfort despite scant domestic experience is a measure of how skilful and authoritative he can be on his day.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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