Like the first three seasons of the relaunched Doctor Who, we often find ourselves coming back to certain key words and phrases. Every discussion about spin bowling inevitably ends at the feet of the Bad Wolves that are Ian Salisbury and Chris Schofield; every mention of Channel Nine ends in the phrase ‘just fuck off’ and every talk of batting collapses goes back to that series in the West Indies that caused us to get so annoyed that we actually started clogging up the internet with our nonsense.
One of the ‘stars’ of that ill-fated tour has somehow managed to avoid ending up in our Unlikely Lads feature for a whopping 46 editions, through a mixture of luck and us forgetting about him quite often. But that run comes to an end today, as we examine the story of…
No-one doubts the talent of Owais Shah. From a young age he was pencilled in as the next big thing, the new Mark Ramprakash (before the old one had quite finished getting out for attractive twenties). And yet, fifteen or so years later, he has just six Test matches to his name. And one of those was abandoned after ten balls.
So what went wrong? We can certainly start with his running between the wickets – Shah has always been an absolute liability in terms of getting to the other end. Of his ten Test innings, three ended in a run out. That’s 30% of his innings, by far the highest percentage of anyone we could be arsed to look up.
Purely to bump us up towards Editor Steve’s minimum word limit, here’s the Cricinfo commentary for those three run outs:
Kumble to Collingwood, edged away towards short third man, Shah calls for the single and sprints across, Tendulkar moves across quickly and fires in a nice throw over the stumps, Dhoni quickly whips off the bails and Shah is out by miles, perfect start for India!
from Taylor, a mix-up here and it’s curtains for Shah! He came forward, dropping it out to cover and set off immediately but there was no communication with Strauss, and despite a dive, he was miles short.
from Baker, Shah’s stitched himself up again! His running between the wickets has been a liability all tour, and this time there’s no saving him. A quick single to midwicket, but the substitute Dwayne Bravo swooped in an instant and pinged down the stumps!
Note the variations on the phrase ‘out by miles’. Add in the fact that he’s long been considered something of a cart-horse in the field, plus his remarkable twitching at the crease, resulting in cramped fingers if he bats for long, and you have something of an enigma.
Despite all that, there were glimpses of his talent over the years: he made 88 on Test debut in Mumbai (retiring hurt with cramp along the way), 107* against India in an ODI at The Oval (in which England comically failed to defend 316) and 55* in a T20 against the West Indies, a game which this author best remembers for his Spanish friend Eduardo throwing an enormous paper plane into a man’s head from point blank range, drawing a decent amount of blood.
Unfortunately for Shah, the England hierarchy never really took to his unique collection of foibles. He never played another Test after that West Indies tour and finished playing ODIs after the 2009 Champions Trophy, following England’s almighty semi-final bumming at the hands of Australia. After being released by Middlesex Shah became a T20 gun for hire, appearing in the IPL (where he was once swapped for Moises Henriques in a deal that must have damaged the self-esteem of all involved) and the Big Bash League, where he’s generally done reasonably well for the Hobart Hurricanes, without exactly setting the world on fire. Indeed, he even lost his place for the final stages of the season just finished, unsurprising after 52 runs in his five innings.
Oddly enough, he is still considered in some quarters to be a big gun, despite being 35 years old and far less of a player than near-contemporaries such as Rob Key, Dimitri Mascarenhas and most of the Essex lower-order. But so long as there’s a place in people’s hearts for a shambolic nomad wandering around the universe for no apparent reason, there will always be a corner of a capillary that looks fondly at the time when the whole country thought Shah was the future.