He was disgracefully banned from cricket for his actions at this ground almost six years ago. Six years later, he cleans up the last English batsman to seal Pakistan’s first win at Lords in 20 years – his name is Mohammad Amir. His captain, the man who stabilized this Pakistan team and turned it into world beaters, already has a hundred to his name in this match – his name is Misbah-ul-Haq.
But this day, this victory doesn’t belong to either of those two names, it belongs to a man unknown to much of the world until two years ago, a man who has his name on an honor’s board where Shane Warne doesn’t – his name is Yasir Shah and this is his story.
Yasir Shah made his first-class debut in 2002, and it took him nine years to be selected for international cricket. The start was hardly impressive, he was dropped from the team after merely playing one ODI and one T20. He was destined to join a list of countless Pakistan players who are selected in the wrong format and disappear into the abyss, never to be heard of again.
However, just like this Pakistan Test team which rose from the spot fixing debacle of 2010, and like Misbah-ul-Haq who was only made captain because there were no other options available, Yasir got his breakthrough in the Test team by default.
Pakistan’s premier spinner Saeed Ajmal, was banned from bowling by the ICC because a suspect action ahead of the Australia series in 2014 and Yasir finally became a Test player.
This was his opportunity, and he took it with both hands, it seemed as if he always belonged at this level. Australia, Pakistan’s biggest nightmare was in town, and Yasir Shah became their biggest nightmare in a matter of days.
Australia has produced the greatest and some of the best leg spinners the game has ever seen and Yasir, with a smile on his face, made them look like amateurs. It seemed as if these Australians had never seen leg spin bowling, let alone played against this art form. Yasir Shah ended up taking 12 wickets at an average of less than 17 to help Pakistan register their first ever Test whitewash over Australia.
Eleven matches later, Yasir Shah has more wickets after 13 Tests than anyone in the history of the game. He still has that smile on his face, if anything that smile has broadened with every match. He has developed the swag of a 90s Pakistani cricketer or maybe he was born with it. He is about to jump into bowl, the crowd is cheering for the batsman and he mocks the entire Lord's crowd by raising his arms as if to tell them no amount of support or cheers is going to save your batsman. He is enjoying his moment, he doesn’t wonder if he belongs here, he knows he was born for this.
There is a partnership building, a very frustrating one, Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow are keeping Pakistan at bay and edges have stopped carrying to slips. Veterans like Misbah and Younis Khan, who have been in this situation many a times before start to drop their shoulders a little, Wahab Riaz is on his knees after Bairstow survives another cracker of a delivery, and what does Yasir do? He keeps smiling, he keeps bowling. All he wants from the other end is control, he doesn’t need Wahab, Rahat or Amir to be heroes; he just needs them to play a supporting role.
Ball after ball he keeps dragging Bairstow wider, who is trying his best to play with as straight a bat as possible. Yasir has been slowly plugging away like a methodical boxer waiting for the right time to knock out his opponent. The first four balls of his 29th over have all landed outside off stump and turned further away. Yasir even throws a wide half volley at Bairstow which he leaves alone, this is it, Yasir is ready to deliver his final blow, and he knows exactly what he is doing. After drawing Bairstow on the front foot and dragging him out wider and wider of the off stump, it is time to drag his length back a little, aim for the stumps and bowl it a little faster. Yasir does exactly that, Bairstow who scores most of his runs on the back-foot can’t resist the temptation and yet again Yasir finds a gap between Bairstow’s bat and pads to clean him up. By now Yasir knows this gap like the back of his hand; he has dismissed him five times out of six.
Yasir Shah is that Bairstow wicket – he doesn’t spin the ball as much as Shane Warne or Stuart Macgill, neither does he have Mushtaq Ahmed or Abdul Qadir’s bag of tricks. What he does have though, is a huge amount of patience and an even better understanding of his strengths. Wrist spinners generally struggle to find their line and length and understandably so, but Yasir Shah rarely bowls a full toss or a long hop. He is Misbah’s dream and Misbah his, they both believe in applying the runs-choke and planning a batsman out rather than blasting him out. He he has the heart of a fast bowler, discipline of a finger spinner and the crazy energy and chirpiness of a wicketkeeper, but he is a leg spinner and that is what makes him so different. Shane Warne and co might wax lyrical about him and see themselves in Yasir, but just like the great Shane Warne, Yasir is unique and very much his own man and cricketer. It took him years to get here, he isn’t letting go anytime soon.