Will Swanton, in The Australian, 19 October 2021, with this title “Cricket: The World No. 1 T20 bowler you’ve probably never heard of”
Australia faces the World No. 1 T20 bowler in its crucial opening match of the World Cup. His name is Tabraiz Shamsi. Doesn’t ring a bell? Sounds more like a fancy bottle of red? A nice little shiraz to have with dinner? No wonder. He’s played only one white-ball game in Australia, three years ago, bowling two overs of left-arm lollipops on the Gold Coast.
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The South African’s return that night at Carrara was 2-0-12-1. Hardly a memorable haul. The glorious ridiculousness of T20 meant he was man-of-the-match and given a ticker-tape parade along the Gold Coast Highway for those seven minutes of painstaking toil. He hardly looked a world-beater, bludging the late wicket of Alex Carey, but the uppity 31-year-old has gone on to forge a decent career and supposedly become the most deadly and deceptive T20 bowler on the planet.
The rankings seem daft, though. Check ’em out. They’re topped by a whole lot of leather-flingers you’ve never heard of – but most definitely like the look of. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather face anyone in the top 10 ahead of World No. 84 Pat Cummins, even if all these perky and pesky slow bowlers have the annoying habit of finishing with 2-0-12-1 in a winning side.
Shamsi is a bustling left-arm wrist spinner who stands in the way of Australia getting off to a flyer at the World Cup on Saturday night. His highlights reel includes umpteen skidding LBW verdicts and a willingness to carry on like a pork chop when umpiring decisions don’t go his way. Mystery balls from a rather mysterious figure. His left hand delivers the ball while his right hand is waving all over the place, trying to distract you.
Every man and his dog plays the BBL in Australia, but Shamsi hasn’t been sighted in that, either. He played one Test in Australia, five years ago, at Adelaide, finishing with an unflattering 43.5-8-150-2.
What do we know of him? Left-arm wrist spinners are invariably a bit kooky and Shamsi’s no exception. He wanted to be a magician in his late teens because he suspected he was no damn good at cricket. Fair enough. Who in their right mind would expect to make a living by taking 2-0-12-1 every time they play?
But then T20 turned up and put a roof over the heads of dozens of blokes like him. Aggressive yet metronomic wrist spinners – plenty of whom don’t really spin it at all. They make more dosh per hour than lawyers.
Former West Indies legspinner Samuel Badree went 4-1-16-2 with the new ball in the 2016 World Cup final. He’s one of the past players being wheeled out by the ICC to write about the tournament.
“When it comes to the best spinner at the ICC T20 World Cup, it‘s hard to look past Tabraiz Shamsi,” Badree wrote on Monday. “The South African is ranked No. 1 for a reason and as a left-armer, he poses a significant challenge for batters.
“Left-arm wrist spinners are rare in international cricket – he’s very consistent, can turn the ball both ways and has tremendous control. I saw him recently in the Caribbean when South Africa played the West Indies and he was able to spin webs around the West Indian batters.”
Shamsi took seven wickets in the five-match series against the Windies. The Proteas won 3-2. He had an economy rate of four runs per over, all of which was enough for him to be player of the series and receive the keys to Antigua.
“I see him playing a major role for his team with the ball – he has the ability to bowl in different phases of the game, too, which is important,” Badree wrote. “His captain, Temba Bavuma, will be able to call on him to deliver at any time in the innings and that’s worth its weight in gold.”
Badree added: “Most of the teams have quality spinners in their ranks – at least two of them, because of the conditions teams predict that they will face. They can all win games single-handedly.
“Spin is always important and has an integral role in T20 cricket – we’ve seen that in previous editions of the T20 World Cup. It’s being played in the UAE and Oman, where we have traditionally come to expect slow conditions. I foresee spinners having a big impact.”
Eight of the top 10 T20 bowlers are spinners. Australia’s Ashton Agar makes the list with his left-arm orthodox, just ahead of Adam Zampa’s right-arm leggies.
Going by the rankings and recent form, Australia is up the chute at the World Cup. Only captain Aaron Finch (third) is on the batting list. Glenn Maxwell (sixth) and Mitchell Marsh (seventh) feature among the all-rounders.
But the rankings aren’t worth the cost of the Wi-Fi needed to compile them. Diamond Dave Warner comes in at 69 among the batters. Don’t know about you, but I’d rather bowl to top-tenner Hazratullah Zazai than Warner.
Perhaps the only thing more gloriously ridiculous than T20 cricket itself is the T20 world player rankings. Notwithstanding the merits of a quick 2-0-12-1.