So Pakistan’s four-man attack has outstripped England’s five. There is one obvious reason for that: Yasir Shah. The wrist spinner from the north-west frontier has been the key component in Pakistan’s victory in north‑west London. No Pakistan bowler had taken more than eight wickets at Lord’s. Here Yasir took six in the first innings, when he was not supposed to be so effective, and four in the second.
However, it was not just the wickets that made him invaluable to Misbah‑ul‑Haq. Yasir has been forever adaptable and reliable as a support for the three pace bowlers.
Pakistan came to the Test with only four bowlers in their team. For that formula to work the spinner has to bowl, come what may. So he has to be of the highest quality. Without question Yasir fulfils that criterion.
The usual suspects spring to mind when contemplating modern spinners who have given succour to captains committed to only four bowlers: Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan, Anil Kumble and, for England, Graeme Swann. Currently Moeen Ali could not be relied on to do this job; nor could Adil Rashid. There would be no guarantee that they could bowl enough overs in a day while maintaining control. Hence England have to function with four pacemen in their side; at Old Trafford later this week they may even contemplate five.
Yasir, though, is good enough to bowl for most of the day if necessary, which was what he did on Sunday, having entered the fray from the 13th over of England’s second innings.
He began at the Pavilion end; then he was switched to the Nursery end, more because of the preferences of his pacemen than his own. He was happy to bowl at either end, at any batsman, at any time. Captains rather like bowlers like that.
Yasir’s greatest virtue is an unspectacular one but absolutely crucial for any spinner; he is patient and accurate. He gives the batsmen very little even though he propels the ball from the back of his hand, a process that is so much more difficult than that undertaken by finger spinners. He makes the batsmen work hard.
Of course they were more wary by Sunday. In England’s first innings, when bowling from the Pavilion end, Yasir barely turned his leg-breaks. Admittedly the delivery that had Gary Ballance lbw deviated off the pitch but that was a rarity. The wickets came from his top-spinner, which rushed on to unsuspecting batsmen. Such deliveries accounted for James Vince trying to flick on the leg side and also Jonny Bairstow, who was attempting to cut, and Steven Finn (blocking). The middle-order batsmen scented illusory run-scoring opportunities and were duped. It was as if they had never seen him before.
They were more careful in the second innings, more wary off the back foot. The cut shots were played only to deliveries wide of the stumps and Yasir yielded nothing in the midwicket region. He did not spin the ball prodigiously but never did he settle for going through the motions. Before every delivery he bustled up to the stumps, driving through the crease with menace and purpose. Not for him the Warne walk. Yasir is travelling when he delivers the ball, relying on phenomenally strong shoulders and wrists. His follow-through takes him halfway down the wicket. In this game his stamina has been as impressive as any aspect of his game, which is just as well since Misbah had nowhere else to turn.
On Sunday his initial success came against left-handers. There was more rough soil to aim at when they were on strike. The dismissal of Gary Ballance had one thinking of Warne. Ballance was minded to cover his stumps and play the ball down the slope and with the spin. There was a certain indisputable logic about that plan. Until then Ballance had batted diligently, more reassuringly than James Vince, who for all his silky timing evokes an impression of an old amateur from Hampshire, who relishes a cover drive. Somehow the ball missed Ballance’s bat and pads before clipping the leg-stump to everyone’s surprise.
Yasir did not have to work so hard for Moeen Ali’s wicket. On Saturday night Moeen had spoken of the virtue of using one’s feet to the leg-spinner. It is helpful to use one’s eyes and brains as well. Then Yasir had to be patient again. He never relented against Chris Woakes and Bairstow, who themselves were battling away.
An hour and more of scintillating cricket followed, during which the scoreboard moved at a snail’s pace. Yasir kept bounding in and eventually Bairstow, seduced by the yawning gap at midwicket, was bowled by another fizzer. Woakes, stranded again, was caught at slip to give Yasir his fourth wicket and victory was assured. After 31 overs he was still fit enough for the obligatory press-ups.
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