Pakistan lost the series against New Zealand 2-1, but one man stood out for them taking 29 wickets in the series and shattering many records including an 82-year old one of fastest to 200 wickets in Tests by Australia’s Clarrie Grimmett. Yasir Shah was showered with praises from the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to the world’s greatest leg-spinner Shane Warne for completing 200 wickets in just 33 Tests and taking 14 wickets in a match. Cricingif takes a look at Yasir’s journey to 200 Test wickets.
The Swabi-born Yasir Shah made his first-class debut at the age of only 15 for Rest of North West Frontier Province against Lahore Blues at the LCCA Ground in Lahore, but it is the game that he remembers for his batting rather than bowling. Having gone wicket-less in the match, Yasir (5 not out off 43 balls) had a 16 runs partnership for the last wicket with Ibrahim Afridi to clinch a thrilling one-wicket win for NWFP.
After missing first-class cricket for three years, Yasir returned to action in 2005 and played two games in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy without much success. After missing two more years, he finally established himself as a red-ball bowler in 2007-08, the season in which he took 41 wickets at 33.68 and his maiden five-wicket haul (6-89) while playing for Pakistan Customs against Faisalabad. He has been unstoppable since then.
Although he had played three limited overs international in a low-key series in Zimbabwe in 2011, he first got himself into headlines when he took eight out of 12 England wickets to fall in a tour match against Pakistan XI in Dubai in 2012. Yasir dismissed five England batsmen in the first innings and three in the second. Kevin Pietersen was undone by him twice in the match. However, despite this performance, he failed to get the cut in Pakistan’s Test squad due to the presence of Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal, the duo that scripted a three-nil win in that Test series.
Yasir sprang on selector's radar after his 12-wicket haul against England in a tour match in 2012 ©AFP
Yasir forced his way into Pakistan’s Test squad ahead of the home series against Australia and New Zealand in 2014 after Ajmal was suspended from bowling due to an illegal bowling action. In his very first match, Yasir made his presence felt making Steve Smith and David Warner as his first two victims. He accounted for seven wickets in the match including four in the last innings to hand Pakistan a big win by 221 runs. The leg-spinner finished the series with 12 scalps in two matches and took another 15, including a maiden five-for in Tests in Dubai, against New Zealand in the following series.
Steve Smith was Yasir Shah's first scalp in Test cricket ©AFP
Pakistan’s first Test series win in Sri Lanka in 9 years was down to Yasir’s 24 wickets in the three-match rubber in 2015. During the series, he completed 50 wickets in just 248 days becoming the first spin bowler in Test history to reach a half-century of wickets in less than ten months. By taking 50 in nine matches, he also became the fastest Pakistan bowler to the milestone.
On the back of a match-winning 10-wicket haul against England at Lord’s in 2016, Yasir jumped to the top spot in the ICC Rankings becoming the first bowler from Pakistan to touch the summit in 20 years – the last being Mushtaq Ahmed in 1996. He also took a five-wicket haul in the fourth Test at the Oval helping Pakistan to square the series 2-2. That performance played a big part in taking Pakistan to number one in the Test Rankings.
Yasir was instrumental in Pakistan's successes at Lord's and the Oval in 2016 ©AFP
In the course of grabbing 21 wickets in the home series against Windies in the UAE in 2016, Yasir completed 100 wickets in just 17 matches becoming the fastest Pakistan bowler to the milestone (breaking Saeed Ajmal’s record in 19 Tests) and fastest in the world in 85 years - since Clarrie Grimmett in 1931. His five-wicket hauls in the first two Tests in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were vital to Pakistan’s 2-1 series win against Windies.
After an ordinary tour to Down Under in 2016-17, where has was dropped for the first time in the second Test in Hamilton and could take only 8 wickets in three Tests in Australia, he returned to his best taking 25 wickets in three matches in the Caribbean in 2017 and earned Pakistan their first ever series win in the West Indies. He took a five-for in each Test of the series and followed it with two more five-fors in the home series against Sri Lanka in the UAE in the same year. In doing so, he became the first spin bowler in 140 years of Test history to take a 5-wicket haul in five consecutive Tests.
Just when it started to look his powers were on the wane, Yasir came with a bang in the recently concluded series against New Zealand. His five-for in the first Test in Abu Dhabi could not help Pakistan to win but his 14 wickets in the second match throttled New Zealand. Ten of those wickets came in a single day, a feat no Pakistan bowled had achieved before. The only other Pakistan bowler to take 14 in a Test is Imran Khan, the legendary all-rounder and current Prime Minister. Yasir finished the series with 29 wickets, just one short of equaling Pakistan’s 3-Test series record by Abdul Qadir who took 30 against England in 1987.
Yasir went into the last Test of the series against New Zealand with five wickets short of the world record but was made to earn it until the second innings. He did it with the wicket of the nightwatchman William Somerville and broke Clarrie Grimmett’s record set in 1936. The fact that Yasir could have taken two more Tests to create a world record tells how consistent has he been in his career. Grimmett, a leg-spinner himself, reached the milestone of 200 wickets in 36 Tests. Yasir needed only 33 games to complete the double-century and will need 98 more in the next 20 Tests to become the quickest to 300 wickets – the record currently held by India’s Ravichandran Ashwin (54 Tests).