“Fitness test cleared & all set to wear green. Thanks for the trust of selectors & coaches. I will keep giving my best for Pak.” #NeverGiveUp
Yasir Shah had tweeted after being named in Pakistan's Test squad to take on Sri Lanka. Only a week ago, he had expressed his gratitude to Pakistan cricket for naming him as the ‘Test Player of the Year’ for his outstanding exploits over the past few months.
In reality, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) had little choice but to bestow Yasir with the coveted award. The scintillating leg-spinner had made a roaring return to Test cricket in 2016 after being banned for close to three months on doping charges. Since then, he has barely put a foot wrong, picking up 87 wickets in 16 Tests including nine five-wicket hauls and two ten-wicket hauls.
Of the nine five-fors, five have come in the last five Test matches he has played in, making him the first spinner in nearly 140 years to claim five consecutive five-wicket hauls. Only Sydney Barnes, Charlie Turner and Alec Bedser have taken more five-wicket hauls in succession (six each).
A few days back, he had become the fastest spinner to bag 150 Test wickets, breaking the record of former Australian spinner, Clarrie Grimmett, when he grabbed the wicket of Lahiru Thirimanne in the first Test in Abu Dhabi. Overall, Shah stands a joint second, alongside fellow Pakistani, Waqar Younis, as the quickest to the landmark.
Shah is a late bloomer. Unlike Pakistan's history with young spinners – Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and Danish Kaneria to name a few – Shah is more in the club of Saeed Ajmal, who was also a late entrant to Test cricket. But the leg-spinner took little time settling into the nuances of Test cricket. Being a descendant of the Pakhtuns, Shah is by birth a fighter and his skills have only improved over the past few years.
His bag of tricks includes all four mandatory deliveries in any leg-spinner’s repertoire – the leg-break, googly, top spinner and a slider. At a young age itself, he learned to be a patient, persistent spinner and would bowl for hours in matches, clocking long spells as well as taking a bucket full of wickets. These habits, alongside the multiple variations, have made him a huge force to reckon with in Tests.
While he is every bit an attacking spinner, Shah has the patience to test the batsmen’s defences with drab lines and then grab the right opportunity to unleash a powerful antidote. Every bit of his tremendous potential has come to the fore in the last five Test matches he has figured in. Starting with a Man of the Match performance in Kingston against the West Indies, when he ran through the Windies top order to bowl them out for 152, Shah has been phenomenal in Test cricket.
At Bridgetown, in the second Test of the same series, Shah once again struck jackpot in the second innings, returning with figures of 7 for 94 in 40 busy overs. His spell though proved to be in vain as Pakistan went on to lose the Test match. At Roseau, a week after, the spinner once again unleashed a Man of the Match performance to deny a defiant Roston Chase in the final innings of the Test. While the Windies nearly nailed a chase of 304 with Chase remaining unbeaten on 101, Shah ensured that Pakistan would cross the final hurdle this time around with a splendid 5 for 90 in 37 tireless overs.
He completed his fourth successive Test five-for when he ripped Sri Lanka apart in the second innings of the Abu Dhabi Test last week with a spell of 5 for 51. The batsmen, though, could not do justice to Shah as they folded for 114 in a chase of 136 even as the leggie remained unbeaten on 6 off 29 balls, trying to salvage a broken inning.
At Dubai on Saturday, Shah completed his fifth consecutive five-wicket haul when he toiled for 56 overs on a flat, baked batting wicket. While none of the other bowlers bowled more than 33 overs, Shah bowled 56, and picked up six wickets.
No spinner in the history of Test match cricket has ever had such a profound love for five-wicket hauls. Shah has 13 five-fors in 28 Tests at a rate of nearly 50 percent, all the while maintaining a pretty good average and strike rate. In UAE, the wrist spinner is a beast. He has 77 wickets in 12 Tests in Pakistan's adopted home, including five 5-wicket hauls.
The alarming rate at which he has notched up big hauls in Test cricket puts him in the same bracket as some of the most adored bowlers in Test cricket history. At 31, he has a pretty long career ahead of him, where breaking more records seem a genuine possibility. However, it is his love affair with five-fors that is keenly being followed at the moment and a record-breaking sixth one could well be in line when they next play Test cricket, most likely against England in UAE in 2018. That's an easy one, isn't it?