South Africa needed to defend 117 runs from 11 overs in the recent first T20I against Sri Lanka. Charith Asalanka and Dinesh Chandimal were looking to gain some momentum after adding some quick runs when Tabraiz Shamsi was introduced into the attack. First ball, Asalanka dances down the track and lofts it over the circle - just short of long-off. Second ball, Chandimal comes forward and sends it over deep mid-wicket for a six. Third ball, single at mid-wicket. Fourth ball, Asalanka cuts - Kagiso Rabada at short third-man fumbles. Fifth ball, Chandimal lofts over the circle - again falls short of the fielder at long-on. Sixth ball turns sharply, Asalanka edges but it bounces off keeper Quinton de Kock’s gloves. Second over, first ball, Asalanka sweeps on the leg-side, straight to deep square-leg. Breakthrough!
Any eagle-eyed talent recruiter watching would jump in the seat and take notice before diving into the technical nitty-grittys. Here is a spinner in the form of his life, pulling the trigger consistently without fussing about missed opportunities. The same unflappable approach has fetched the 31-year old chance to play regularly for South Africa and feature in the IPL after a gap of five years.
“Some people get 20 opportunities, others might only get one or two. You have to make sure you're preparing and working hard, so that when your opportunity does come you grab it with both hands and live your dream,” he said in a recent interview with ESPNCricinfo.
While not unplayable, Shamsi has all the right tools for the shortest format. There are not many flashy sets of variations in his armory as he often sticks to the googly and leg-spin. He consistently hits the good length area which he has done with 74% of his 576 T20 deliveries since 2020. When there is no proper bounce, he is focused on the stumps. When there is no turn, he compensates it with flight. Reading the conditions right has helped him pick up 28 T20I wickets across 12 different venues this year.
Having the world’s No.1 T20I bowler is a psychological boost for Rajasthan Royals, but Shamsi’s recruitment could also provide a solution to their biggest woes. While their pace department have been among the best in the league, Royals’ spinners are bottom of the pile having claimed just three wickets in seven matches. They average an abysmal 101 runs per wicket and an economy of 10.4. In the absence of injured Shreyas Gopal, they have used only two spinners - Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia - who have suffered without the assistance of a wicket-taking spinner.
As a bowling unit, Royals have suffered the most in the middle overs. They have conceded 41 boundaries and 29 sixes, one every 5.4 deliveries, the worst in the tournament.
Shamsi has been exceptional in this phase, claiming 32 T20 wickets at an economy of just 6.1 and dot-ball percentage of 39 this year. He is even better at building on that platform, with his dot-ball percentage increasing to 46 in the death overs. He might not have to do the heavy lifting there as Royals will entrust Mustafizur Rahman and his pace partners with the end credits.
Shamsi’s arrival will not solve Royals’ issues in Powerplay where they have conceded less but struggled with early breakthroughs. In the recent past, the left-armer has barely bowled with fielding restrictions on as he usually invites lofted shots and slog sweeps with a catcher near the fence. If Royals opt for spin in the opening overs, they will need someone else to complement Shamsi’s abilities in the middle overs.
Working in tandem with the likes of Shreyas Gopal, Riyan Parag, Mayank Markande or K.C. Cariappa is going to be a new challenge for the South African who hasn’t played in the UAE until now. On the flip side, he will have four other spinners to exchange notes from and better his understanding of spin in the sub-continent.
Shamsi, a fellow of Mark Boucher’s “peaking at the right time” squad, reading and digesting conditions for the World T20 will add to his motivation when IPL resumes.