Even when the whole boom of wrist-spin in limited-overs cricket reached its peak before the 2019 World Cup, the name of Tabraiz Shamsi didn’t reverberate around as loudly as some of the other practitioners of the beautiful art. The likes of Kuldeep Yadav, Adil Rashid and Yuzvendra Chahal weren’t just more active in the wickets column, they also had more eyeballs to hail and celebrate their exploits.
And that was perhaps for reasons beyond Shamsi’s control as South Africa still had Imran Tahir around, still defeating many a world’s top batsmen with the sharpness of his googlies and sprinting across the outfield after each scalp in all his glory.
From the start of his white-ball career in June 2016 to the winding down of Tahir’s in mid 2019, Tabraiz Shamsi played only 17 of South Africa’s 66 ODIs. And though he played 14 of their 22 T20Is, his position in the setup was clearly that of a back-up behind the more experienced Proteas wrist-spinner.
In that phase, Shamsi had to swallow the bitter pill of reality, recognise that his opportunities will be limited but still strive to make each of those count, knowing he can’t afford to slip below the pecking order and let someone else jump over him in the reckoning. And, no matter how honest an attempt you make as cricketer in such a state to keep the sense of negativity and frustration at bay, it’s tough.
Yet, even in those years, without his numbers raising many eyebrows, Shamsi quietly filled in as an able second fiddle and performed his duties faultlessly. He kept himself relevant, ensuring he is around to maximise the elusive run of games that he had aspired for long.
Amidst big names, Tabraiz Shamsi proves his worth for South Africa
The patience applied in those years and the hardwork put into his craft when he didn’t know when his next game will be is now reaping the rewards for Tabraiz Shamsi, who has swiftly taken the leap to become South Africa’s dependable first-choice white-ball spinner in the post-Tahir era, especially in T20Is.
Since Tahir’s retirement, Shamsi’s 21 T20Is for South Africa have fetched him 25 wickets at an outstanding economy rate of just 6.76 – which is understandably better than his overall record where he has taken 35 wickets from as many games at 7.13 runs per over.
With greater assurity and regularity of his place in the side, Shamsi has taken his game to the next level, showing genuine improvement in his control and consistency and elevating his wicket-taking threat without foregoing an important strength, the speed through the air and off the deck.
Tabraiz Shamsi’s improved avatar has been evident through the ongoing series against West Indies, where despite facing up to some of the world’s most dangerous power-hitters, he has emerged as his team’s top wicket-taker so far (4 scalps at 14 runs per piece) while also being the most disciplined bowler from either side (an economy rate of just 4.67).
Shamsi, currently the world’s highest-ranked T20I bowler – higher than even Rashid Khan – has been key to Proteas coming out triumphant in last two closely contested matches in Grenada, providing them control and wickets through the middle-overs. In a team filled with more popular figures such as Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, it is perhaps Shamsi who has been the most vital cog in his team’s wheels through the series.
And as South Africa eye their maiden T20 World Cup trophy on UAE’s challenging, spin-friendly tracks this year, Shamsi will remain influential and impactful to their cause – a bowler around whom their plans revolve. His solid presence through the middle-overs doesn’t just free up some of the burden off Rabada and Nortje’s shoulders, but also helps enhance fellow spinner George Linde’s effect at the other end.
At a time when other wrist-spinners of the world are fading away or at least finding it hard to retain their threat, Shamsi is excelling and proving to be South Africa’s four-over bank. Maybe now his name can reverberate around as loudly as theirs were.