The art of mastering wrist spin is never an easy one. But, once mastered, there is no stopping that bowler. On top of it, a left-arm wrist-spinner aka chinaman, arises once in a blue moon. After the retirement of Imran Tahir, South Africa were in desperate need of a wrist spinner. Before Tahir’s retirement, Shamsi had already made his debut for South Africa across the three formats and was still on the verge of settling into international cricket, especially in the shortest format. However, he was a consistent performer at franchise level T20s, which kept him in contention regularly.
Prior to the year 2021, Shamsi had almost played every match in the international calendar for South Africa in the shortest format. But, his consistency was a big issue. In between the years 2017 and 2020, Shamsi had bagged 21 wickets at a strike rate of 26 and an average of 33.3 at an economy of 7.8. Among bowlers from Test-playing nations who have bowled 75+ overs till 2020, Shamsi’s bowling average of 33.3 was the third-worst.
But, all of the critics and the questions raised were put to rest in 2021. Shamsi has played 14 matches this season and has bagged 24 wickets at a strike rate of 13.7 and an average of 12.2. No other South African bowler has bagged as many wickets as Shamsi has in a calendar year. A bowler who had bagged 0.8 wickets per innings across four years and 25 innings has now picked up 1.7 wickets per innings in a single year, consisting of 14 innings.
From having the third-worst bowling average for a spinner to the most wickets taken by a left-arm spinner in a calendar year. The journey between two polar ends has been magical for Shamsi. In the year 2021, Shamsi has gone wicket-less only once in 14 innings.
THE RIGHT-HANDER MISERY SOLVED
With a natural advantage of spinning the ball away from the left-handed batsmen, Shamsi was a bully against them. But, against right-handed batsmen, he was getting bullied in his early career. From the start till 2019, Shamsi had bagged 12 wickets in 16 innings. Out of which, eight of them were against left-handers at a strike rate of 15.8. Whereas, against right-handers, he has bagged wickets at a strike rate of 54 and an average of 71.
Since 2020, the tables have turned. In the 23 innings, he has bowled since the aforementioned time, Shamsi has bagged 33 wickets out of which 21 have been against right-handers. The catch is, his bowling strike rate in this period is better against right-handers (14.5) than left-handers (19.1). In this period, no other off-spinner or left arm chinaman has bagged more than 10 wickets against right-handers.
SHAMSI’s RIDE TO THE TOP
At the end of 2019, Shamsi was at 16th in the ICC ranking for bowlers. However, Shamsi made a gradual rise in the T20I rankings in 2020. He broke into the top 10 after bagging two wickets in the first series of the year against England. By the end of February 2020, Shamsi was at number five.
Towards the fag end of the year 2020 Shamsi was among the wickets, especially when England toured South Africa in November. On the back of a three-wicket-haul in the second T20I, Shamsi pipped Adam Zampa to gain the fourth spot for a brief time. Following a wicket-less outing, he was pushed back to number five.
The England series paved the platform for a sensational rise for Shamsi. His first two series of 2021 were against Pakistan, away and at home. He bagged six wickets in the first series (away) and jumped straight to the second spot with 733 rating points. On March 17th, 2021, Shamsi toppled Rashid Khan to gain the number one spot. Since then he has been extending his lead with back-to-back performances.
To go along, Shamsi is known for his idiosyncratic celebration. Have you ever seen a bus driver on the field or a bowler phone-calling through his shoes or pulling out a magic stick or even running with a mask on after bagging a wicket? Who says only Caribbean players’ celebrations are unique? Look at Shamsi, there’s more in him.