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India v England 2024

Social media beneficiary Shoaib Bashir succeeds the old-fashioned way

Shoaib Bashir embraces Ben Stokes after the wicket of Yashasvi Jaiswal
Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 5 minute read

After Shoaib Bashir took four wickets on the second day at Ranchi, Yas Rana charts the remarkable rise of the young off-spinner and puts his performance into context.

The first time I saw him was on Twitter,” said Ben Stokes when asked where he first set eyes on Shoaib Bashir’s off-breaks. 

“I think the County Championship [account] put a little clip together of him bowling against Sir Alastair. I’m in a WhatsApp group with Keysy and Baz. I actually did forward the clip on and said, ‘have a look at this, this could be something we could work with on our India tour’ and it just progressed from there. He got selected on the Lions tour and obviously the coaches on that tour fed back everything to us.”

Is it possible that without that clip we wouldn’t be here today? The video in question was from Shoaib Bashir’s first-class debut against Essex in June 2023. His figures in that first innings? 35 overs, one for 128 – not exactly what you’d expect to be packaged up at the end of the day. 

Of course it’s feasible that without that clip one of the new ECB gizmos that meticulously tracks the characteristics of every ball bowled in the County Championship would have registered Shoaib Bashir’s unusually alluring raw traits sooner rather than later. He may well have found his way onto the Lions trip that preceded England’s squad selection for the ongoing India tour. But equally, that clip hastened England’s interest in a player who a year previously was plugging away for Berkshire in what used to be the minor county set-up, so much so that within a day of his county debut Bashir, with just one professional wicket to his name, was already in the England captain’s thinking ahead of the toughest tour going. 

And it is for that reason that England should be grateful for the work of Bradley Adams, a member of the County Championship digital team. Adams, an off-spinner in recreational cricket himself, liked the look of young Bashir while on shift on the Championship accounts. After exchanging messages with a colleague, Adams, using WSC, an AI tool that the ECB uses to help clip up specific highlight packages, compiled every ball Bashir bowled to Cook that day producing a post that turned heads around the country. Whatever the underlying metrics might say about Bashir, Adams’ worked confirmed that the Somerset youngster passed the eye test. 

It’s a testament to the ECB’s investment in the digital coverage of the county game. Not only is every game now streamed, almost always soundtracked by informed commentary teams, the official County Championship page puts out analytical packages that would not look out of place on major broadcast coverage of international cricket. 

“Hearing that [the video making its way into the Key-Stokes-McCullum group chat]  it made its way to the top of the game was quite cool,” said ECB digital content editor Stuart Clarke. “Hopefully, we get a finder’s fee for it, I’m not holding my breath. It’s a real testament to the people working on the account.”

Bashir threatened but received minimal award on that day in Chelmsford in June but eight months later his spell against India in Ranchi won’t need a cannily assembled Reel to display its worth. Former England captain Alastair Cook described the performance of England’s young spin duo – Tom Hartley also claimed two wickets on day two –  as, “the best I’ve seen England spinners bowl for a long time.”

It was Bashir who broke the back of the India innings, accounting for four of their top six. Using his height to great effect in laying seeds of doubt in the batters’ minds, he was able to generate enough turn and bounce to trouble both right-handers and left-handers. Shubman Gill and Rajat Patidar both succumbed to sharp-turning off-breaks, while Ravindra Jadeja gloved one that spat off a length before the dangerous Yashasvi Jaiswal was done by one that skidded on through. Spin is often described as an almost constant attribute that belongs to the pitch which does a disservice to the bowlers who extract more action off the surface. Bashir produced more turn off the pitch than any other finger spinner in action so far. He has outbowled the great Ravichandran Ashwin so far this Test match. 

There have been periods in this Test, such as the evening session on day one or the first half of day two, where the pitch has largely displayed consistent bounce. It is to Bashir’s credit that in his Herculean 31-over spell that he offered threat through different phases of the day and was capable of keeping India quiet before conditions turned in his favour.

It will be tempting to wonder what comes next after a performance like this. A 20-year-old English spinner keeping his country’s series hopes alive with an epic first innings performance – it is hard not to let the mind race over what happens next. 

But today’s performance deserves celebration in its own right. It was a first innings outing that an English spinner dreams of producing at some point in their career; Bashir has done it before he’s even claimed his first professional five-wicket haul. It is remarkable that despite the system, England’s incredibly inexperienced spinners have kept their side in the contest this late in the series. Eight months ago, Ben Stokes would likely never have heard of Shoaib Bashir. Now Bashir is potentially just two days away from helping Stokes lead England into a series decider that could go some way in determining his legacy as a captain. And, in some small way, he has some mindless scrolling on his smartphone to thank for it.

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