Richard Edwards tracks down the North-east links of the smiling leggie who bamboozled England
Yasir Shah showed his mettle in the second Test – but it wasn’t too long ago he was making a name for himself in a region renowned for its steel works.
The smiling leg-spinner certainly enjoyed himself in Dubai, ultimately spinning his side to a head-earned win over Alastair Cook’s side and building on his burgeoning reputation with match figures of 8-180.
That took his tally of Test wickets to 69, a figure achieved in just over a year since he made his debut against Australia in Dubai in October 2014.
Clearly, the good folk of Middlesbrough werewilling Adil Rashid’s long vigil to ultimately bring England salvation on Monday but Shah is certainly not short of supporters on Teesside after a memorable spell with the North Yorkshire and South Durham Premier League outfit in 2010.
The leggie, then 24, had arrived in the North-east as a virtual unknown outside his native Pakistan, within a matter of months, though, the leg-spinner was the talk of the town.
“We were looking for a spinner and it came about thanks to a guy who had been a professional in our league for years and years, a guy called Umar Rashid,” Middlesbrough captain, James Lowe, told The Cricket Paper.
“He’s now coaching back in Pakistan but he recommended him to one of our lads. It all happened pretty quickly after that. Yasir had never been over here before and it was obviously a bit of a shock to him at first – the temperatures at the start of the season in particular!
“He was a top lad, though, an absolutely great guy. He was exactly like you see him on the field now – he was always smiling, just like he was in Dubai.”
Shah has clearly had a lot to grin about since taking seven wickets against the Aussies on his bow for the national team.
It is a measure of the esteem in which he is now held that Shane Warne was so determined to spend some time bowling with him in Sharjah this week, as England and Pakistan prepare for the final Test of the three-match series.
That prospect could not have been further from Shah’s mind when he arrived in Middlesbrough five summers ago – but some of the batsman he bamboozled would undoubtedly have drawn some comparisons between the pair.
“He was too good at times,” said Lowe. “It took him a while to get used to the conditions up here as you can imagine. But he just got stronger and stronger as the season went on. He played on a real mixture of surfaces but the pitches certainly weren’t what he was used to back home.
“His action was exactly the same as it is now and right from the word go he was picking up wickets. At the start he was maybe a little bit inconsistent but by the end he was almost bowling too well, almost turning it too much.
“Players were just playing and missing over and over again. He was probably too good for a lot of the batsmen he came up against.”
His season’s haul of 45 wickets – achieved at a cost of just over 19 – is testimony to the impact he had for the Acklam Park-based side in a season which saw them win the league.
By the time they wrapped up the title, however, Shah was in Sri Lanka playing a one-day tournament for Pakistan’s A side.
He would find himself picked for the full side a short while later but the presence of Saeed Ajmal – probably the most dangerous spin bowler in the world game at the time – restricted his opportunities at Test level.
Ironically, it was the issues with Ajmal’s action that ultimately led to Shah being handed a chance for a Pakistan side desperate to replace the menace of their No.1 spinner. It is a chance he has grabbed with both hands.
“His record at the moment is amazing,” said Lowe. “Obviously he was pretty highly regarded but you couldn’t have said watching him then that he would go on to achieve everything that he has.
“What he has done in the last year or so has just been incredible. It’s great for the club as well. He’s remembered very fondly by everyone here and he still keeps in touch with a couple of the boys.
“One of our friends has just been out to Dubai to watch the Test and met up with him during the game. He came back and said that he hasn’t changed, he’s still the same bloke he was when he was playing league cricket with us. It’s great to see a guy who was so popular go on to become such a good player in Test cricket.”
Shah goes into the final Test in Sharjah as the second ranked bowler in the world after a dream year for Pakistan. He was clearly a huge miss for his country in the opening match in Abu Dhabi – when only bad light denied England what would have been just their third away success against the hosts.
In Dubai, though, he proved a consistent thorn in England’s side. His first innings dismissal of Alastair Cook on the second afternoon, when the England skipper looked well set, ultimately proved crucial as a flimsy batting line-up folded in abject fashion the following morning.
He also claimed Cook’s scalp in the second innings before knocking over Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler on the final morning. He then dealt the final blow to England’s survival hopes by having Adil Rashid caught at short cover as the light closed in.
Perhaps as crucial was the influence he appeared to have on Zulfiqar Babar, who excelled in tandem with Shah as Pakistan closed in on victory. His 1-183 in the first innings in Abu Dhabi was a distant memory by the time he had claimed 3-53 in a winning cause.
Bowling on a turning wicket in the steaming heat of Dubai could not have been further removed from Shah’s experience of risking frostbite in the North-east spring chill of April back in 2010.
But the lessons he learned have clearly been put to good use.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday October 30, 2015