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‘Warner is scared of you, that’s why he is slogging you’

‘Warner is scared of you, that’s why he is slogging you’

Pakistan are vying for a historic Test victory as the sun sets into the sea. The final day of the Dominica Test has seen it all: wickets overturned due to overstepping, catches put down, and dismissals being reversed on review.

Seven balls remain and Pakistan are a wicket away from registering their first-ever Test series win in the Caribbean. On the bowling mark is Yasir Shah, who has bagged 24 wickets in the series so far. He has been eyeing his 25th throughout the evening session, but an incredible hundred by Roston Chase and Shannon Gabriel’s solid defense have deprived the leggie the wicket.

However, things change. Pakistan’s outgoing captain Misbah-ul-Haq installs all of his fielders in the catching position that derives a wild slog from Gabriel. After taking an inside edge of the bat, the ball dismantles the bails resting on the stumps. Pakistan wins the series 1-2 and gives a perfect send-off to their legendary batsmen, Misbah and Younis Khan.

Yasir, who has been at the forefront of Pakistan’s every major Test victory since his debut in 2014, re-enacted his famous diving celebration after helping script another unforgettable victory. “I was telling myself that 'I have to get him out',” reminisces Yasir in an exclusive chat with Cricingif at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. “There was pressure on me as it was the last ball and [Roston] Chase had to come on strike in the next over.”

Chase had been a matter of concern for the Pakistan camp throughout the Test series. He amassed 403 runs at a staggering average of 100.75 to finish the three-match series as the leading scorer, far ahead of Misbah (271), who had the second-most runs. “He [Chase] did not let Pakistan bowlers get on top of him,” Yasir says. “He played positive cricket throughout the tour, respecting the good balls and punishing the bad ones. He played Test cricket the way it is meant to be played.”

Yasir’s overall tally of Test wickets now stands at 149. In the last three years he has become the spearhead of Pakistan’s attack in Test cricket. But this was no sudden rise to fame - Yasir had to pay his dues before he became to be counted amongst the most lethal bowlers in the longer version of the game.

" I had a decent debut but then Shahid bhai returned for the next series and I had to make way for him. After that I started to work even harder. So, when I get back into the national side, it is when the team will need me rather than me searching for a spot in it. "

After making his first-class debut in 2002, Yasir waited five years for his next unlimited-overs outing as he had been dropped from his department, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited.

Realising the need to improve his bowling to thrive in first-class cricket, Yasir committed himself to Grade-II cricket to prepare himself for the next level. “I had to struggle a lot,” recalls Yasir, “I started Grade-II cricket and played a lot of games in Karachi, which helped me to improve my bowling.”

By 2008, Yasir had leveled up and was playing for Pakistan Customs. Three years later, he broke into the Pakistan’s ODI team and made his debut against Zimbabwe at Harare. But he was soon forgotten. Yasir would eventually thank the selectors for dropping him as it brought a significant change to how Yasir perceived the national side. “I had a decent debut as I gave 50 [51 actually] runs and took two wickets. But then Shahid [Afridi] bhai returned for the next series and I had to make way for him. After that I started to work even harder. So, when I get back into the national side, it is when the team will need me rather than me searching for a spot in it.”

In 2014, the leg-spinner was picked out for a home Test series against Australia in the United Arab Emirates, and Yasir made his mark right away. He accounted for 12 Australian wickets in the two Tests, which Pakistan won. However, his first spell in the Test cricket wasn’t that impressive. “I gave away 18 runs in the first three overs,” the leggie remembers. “I was worried at that point. When I walked out of the field Mushi bhai and Waqar Younis said that they [Australians] are afraid of you that's why they are attacking you. I asked,'[David] Warner is scared of me?' They replied, 'Yes, Warner is afraid of you and that's why he is slogging you.'”

Yasir returned 3 for 66 and 4 for 50 in that Test. A fighter as always, Yasir had been longing to outperform his opponents and win the match for his side. “I was making my debut against Australia and I was tense. But I wanted to perform and win the match for Pakistan.”

Yasir has pocketed countless accolades during his three-year-long Test career. He was the second-fastest to 100 Test wickets and had his name carved on the prestigious honours board of the iconic Lord’s cricket ground. But he is yet to make his name as a limited-overs bowler.

 Photo: Awais Kamran, Cricingif

Photo: Awais Kamran, Cricingif

Yasir has 18 wickets in 17 ODIs at an average of 43. He has featured in just two T20Is in which he remained wicketless. Naturally he has not been a regular in Pakistan’s ODI line-up but Yasir is banking on his PSL experience to make a comeback. Asked if he’s looking to change his fortunes in the white-ball game, he replies “I am trying! The PSL has really helped me in this regard. I bowled at the best economy rate in the tournament and had the most wickets amongst the leg-spinners.” (Yasir actually shared that record with the young prodigy Shadab Khan, picking up nine wickets in eight matches)

His failure in white-ball cricket is often associated with the lack of a googly in his arsenal. But he has been working on it and remains optimistic that he can silence his critics, even if he personally feels that his current variations can be enough. “If you can send down leg-spinners and flippers well, you can still get wickets,” Yasir says, adding, “This is just a reason [that my detractors put forward to undermine me], but this also will be taken away from them.”

The Swabi-born leg-spinner has a count of the wickets he has taken on googlies. His perseverance hints towards the addition of this deadly variation to his stock sometime in his career.

Yasir will venture in county cricket this summer to make the most of the time he is away from the national duty. He will bowl leg-spin for Kent in the four-day contests that’ll help him nourish his bowling, he believes. He continues to seek for the opportunities to improve. After all, it is his persistence that has brought him this far.