Tabraiz Shamsi can’t wait to start doing a few things wrong when he bowls for the South African ODI team, because he knows he won’t have to wait too long for the opportunity to fix any errors.
“I am excited to make mistakes along the way because now I have time to implement on them,” Shamsi said, ahead of South Africa’s second ODI against England in Durban. “Previously I was playing the odd game here and there and the mistakes I’ve made, it’s only three months later that I can try and implement (lessons learnt). There wasn’t that consistency. I’m excited and on the way there will be mistakes as well but for me, this feels like the beginning.”
Though Shamsi debuted more than three and a half years ago, he has only played in 18 of South Africa’s 67 ODIs since June 2016, and has never played in every match of a series. His bit-part role was a direct result of Imran Tahir’s excellence and South Africa’s strategy of using only one front-line spinner. Since Tahir’s retirement, after the 2019 World Cup, that baton has passed to Shamsi and he grabbed it with both hands on Tuesday night.
His crucial 3 for 38 ensured England’s total was contained below 260 and Shamsi admitted it felt like a second coming. “I’ve been involved with the team for a number of years but it was always the odd game here or there so I’m excited for this new chapter. It felt like I was starting my career in Cape Town.”
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In fact, Shamsi’s career began in the place South Africa travel to next – the Caribbean – where he played in a triangular series which also included Australia. Four months later, in a home series against the same opposition, Shamsi delivered what he thinks may be his best performance: 3 for 36 in Port Elizabeth. All three wickets were lbw, the first was Steve Smith and Shamsi contributed to bowling Australia out for 167 en route to South Africa’s 5-0 series sweep. He did not play against in the series and he had to wait 19 months before he could make an impact like that again. In Dambulla, in July 2018, Shamsi took 4 for 33, which remain his best figures to date.
Since then, he has to bide his time as eras changed. Included in that was the shift in leadership from Faf du Plessis, to Quinton de Kock, who has been alongside Shamsi throughout his career and understands his game well.
“Quinny and I started together. He doesn’t speak much. He is a simple guy. There are very few words but you understand,” Shamsi said. “With Faf being captain, we had a certain template. With a different captain, you get different information. I don’t think much has changed because he was the keeper so our communication was always there. He is a man of a few words. When he speaks, he is clear on the instructions and off we go.”
De Kock’s willingness to let his slower bowlers shine was evident at Newlands, where South Africa changed tack swiftly on a surface that did not offer much for quicks. Jon-Jon Smuts was introduced in the eighth over and made the first breakthrough. Even though Smuts, who bowls left-arm spin, could prove a competitor to Shamsi in future, Shamsi believes there’s enough to go around and had nothing but praise for his team-mate.
“It’s a collective. It’s nice that the guys up front take wickets. It makes my job easier coming in so it was nice to see a spinner taking a wicket,” Shamsi said. “Smuts is an allrounder. Over the years people have said he is a bits-and-pieces bowler but he is not that. He doesn’t get enough credit. He is a lot better than that.”
Ultimately, Smuts opened England up for Shamsi to take centre stage and he owned the scene. Shamsi was confident in tossing the ball up, consistent with his lengths and found sharp turn, highlighting England’s discomfort against left-arm wristspin. As one of the few bowlers on the circuit who bowls in that style, Shamsi could be thought of as something of a mystery spinner, even if he doesn’t think he has too many secrets. “Now there is so much analysis,” he said. “You bowl five balls and there is video footage. It is a small club and it’s nice to be unique.”
Individualism is a quality Shamsi knows a lot about, not least because of the way he enjoys his success. In leagues such as the IPL, CPL and the MSL, Shamsi has made a habit of eccentric celebrations, including the boot-phone and the magic-stick, but in national colours, he only wants to be pulling rabbits out of the hat with ball in hand for now. “I’ll stay in my box a little bit for now,” he said. “Hopefully a few more wickets and the celebrations will come out.”