JOHANNESBURG - Have the South African selectors done Tabraiz Shamsi any favours by shoving him into the spotlight for the last two T20 Internationals against Zimbabwe?
That’ll be answered this weekend when Shamsi, an ebullient personality, will find that his performances are going to be more closely scrutinised now that he is the primary spinner in the Proteas team.
Imran Tahir’s boisterous efforts against Zimbabwe in the last week have meant the spotlight’s been off Shamsi, who has struggled in the last two matches against Hamilton Masakadza’s side, conceding a total of 115 runs in 14 overs without taking a wicket.
In those two matches, Shamsi’s conceded nine fours and five sixes with his inability to find a proper length in East London on Tuesday almost opening the door for the Zimbabweans. The national selectors made an interesting decision to give Tahir some more leave for the remainder of the series.
In the last nine days, Tahir claimed a hat-trick in the second ODI, opened the bowling in the final ODI and then claimed a "five-fer" in the first T20 International to show without any doubt that he’s the country’s best limited overs spinner. He even made time to run a coaching clinic for the opposition team’s spinner Brandon Mavuta in East London as well.
Shamsi, who is close to Tahir off the field, must hope some of his pal’s magic has rubbed off on him as he tries to find some form again. While a different format to what will be played at the World Cup next year, these T20 matches remain "trials" of sorts and Shamsi can ill afford a slip up now as he seeks to secure that second front-line spinner's berth for England.
He actually bowled very well in Sri Lanka, initially in the first Test and then in the three ODI matches he played, picking up six wickets and conceding runs at an average rate of 4.84 an over. He was successful in the T20 match there too, picking up 2/26 in that match. Quite where it’s gone wrong for him is hard to say, other than the struggles he had with his lengths on Tuesday.
The selectors are probably counting on Shamsi’s love of the spotlight to help him rekindle some form. It’s just that any miss-step at this stage for a player who hasn’t yet cemented his spot in the squad for the World Cup - as Tahir almost certainly has - will open the door for someone like Keshav Maharaj, who showed in Sri Lanka that he could be a capable operator in the limited overs formats.
Add in the fact that he is arguably a better batsman and certainly a better fielder than Shamsi, and the concerns grow for the left-arm wrist-spinner to put in some vastly improved performances this weekend.
David Miller said yesterday that the practice pitches at Senwes Park, which hosts the second T20 between the Proteas and Zimbabwe today, were a bit slower than expected, which will only add to the importance (and pressure) for Shamsi’s four overs. Today’s match starts at 6pm.