When Pakistan cricket team entered Lord’s cricket ground for the first Test against England, all eyes were set on Muhammad Amir, but it was Yasir Shah who stole the show with his first 10-wicket haul, taking Pakistan to an unexpected 75-run win.
Yasir has become a permanent member of Pakistan’s Test squad and is a threat like Saeed Ajmal for the world’s top batsmen.
In September 2014, Pakistan’s ace off-spinner Ajmal was suspended from bowling after his action was deemed to be illegal.
He got permission to resume bowling after the ICC cleared his remodeled action in February 2015. But Ajmal struggled and managed only one wicket for 123 in two ODIs against Bangladesh in April last year, conceding 6.47 an over, which was over two runs more expensive than his career economy rate.
Yasir got a chance in the absence of Ajmal and made his Test debut against Australia in Dubai in 2014. He didn’t just grab the opportunity, but he made everyone forget they were supposed to miss Ajmal, spinning his way to 12 wickets in his debut series at an average of just over 17, as Pakistan whitewashed Australia 2-0.
Yasir dominated the series against Sri Lanka last year by taking 24 wickets in three Tests, averaging just 19.33.
During his match-winning performance at Lord’s, Yasir became the second leg-spinner to take 10 wickets in a match at Lord’s.
In 132 years of Test cricket at Lord’s, England’s Doug Wright had been the only leg-spinner to take 10 wickets. He grabbed 10-175 against South Africa in 1947.
With these 10 wickets, the number of Yasir’s victims rose to 86 — the highest in 13 matches. He is also the fastest Pakistani bowler to reach 50 scalps. He did it in nine matches, beating Waqar Younis, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Asif who achieved the landmark in their 10th match.
After the match-winning performance at Lord’s, Yasir jumped to the first position in the ICC Test bowlers’ ranking.
Shane Warne was the last wrist spinner to surge to the number-one position in December 2005.
Former leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed played an important role in improving Yasir’s skills.
Yasir acknowledged the help provided by Mushtaq, who played 52 Tests and 144 ODIs for the country. “He worked on my action and I can say he’s the reason why I was so successful,” he said after the match.
The leg spinner from Swabi, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, started his first-class cricket career in 2001 and waited for around a decade to play his first One-day International — against Zimbabwe in 2011 in which he took two wickets.
His impressive performance in 2010-11 first-class season in which he took 16 wickets in Pentangular Cup’s four matches, 13 wickets in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy’s four games and 3-29 for Pakistan A against Afghanistan opened the door for international cricket.
“Shane Warne was my motivation; I started bowling leg breaks after watching him bowl on TV, and then my brother sent me a video of Warne from London. I used to watch it every day and tried to copy his action. Warne was a legend so he was my idol,” Yasir says.
Warne, who was following the 2014 Pakistan-Australia Test series on television, was impressed by Yasir. He tweeted: “I like the look of this leggie Yasir Shah, plenty of energy and nice variations of pace.”
Having the same level of energy as his spiritual forbears Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq, but with the legbreak rather than the googly as his go-to weapon, Yasir quickly won admirers, including Warne, who proclaimed he would finish with more than 200 Test wickets.
Yasir could be more useful for Pakistan in remaining three Tests as English players fail to handle quality spinners.