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Shoaib Bashir was shocked when he heard Flintoff, who was right in front of him, using his nickname to address him.


Last December, all eyes were on Rehan Ahmed. At only 18 years old, the talented leg-spinner made his debut against Pakistan in Karachi, and the outcome was instant: he became England’s youngest male Test cricketer to take a five-wicket haul. It was an impressive performance, but not unexpected considering Ahmed’s steady improvement.

Shane Warne recognized him as a talented player at a young age. He led England’s under-19s to a World Cup final, played with the senior team, secured a Hundred contract, and was expected to become a star in the future. It was clear that he would achieve greater success even before his initial selection.

Shoaib Bashir, a 20-year-old off-spinner for Somerset and England’s surprise choice for the Christmas season, has a unique story. He was previously a part of Surrey’s under-18 team, but was released by his home county. He had planned to attend university and study accounting and finance. “I had some plans for my life that didn’t revolve around cricket,” he explains. Last year, he was playing for Berkshire’s under-18 team, as he had been unable to secure a spot with any top counties.

After playing in just six top-tier matches and a small number of limited-overs games, Bashir has been selected for a five-Test series in India. It’s no surprise that he often expresses his shock and amazement when answering questions: “I’m speechless,” he says before eventually finding the right words. “It’s truly extraordinary, almost unbelievable.” He also mentions feeling “blessed” and expresses gratitude multiple times during our 30-minute conversation.

Shoaib Bashir in bowling action.

England has observed some potential in Bashir, despite his current record of 10 first-class wickets at 67. This was evident in footage of his debut match in June where he bowled to Alastair Cook, using his unusual height of 6ft 4in as an off-spinner to vary his pace and flight and deceive England’s top Test opener. As a result, Bashir was selected for the Lions squad and performed well during their training camp in the UAE, ending it with six wickets against Afghanistan A in early September.

After learning of his selection through a phone call from England’s Test head coach Brendon McCullum, Bashir was overcome with emotion and embraced his uncle. He ran into his room and hugged him, crying as he shared the news. His uncle was confused at first but soon realized the significance of the moment. Seeing Bashir cry and express his emotions was a rare occurrence for the family and it left them all feeling emotional.

Bashir, who was raised in Woking, shares that his uncle Saj has been a significant influence since he was very young. Saj used to take Bashir and his brother to watch him play at a club called Guildford City, where he was a wicketkeeper-batsman. Saj expressed to Bashir that playing cricket is his dream, as he did not have much support in pursuing it himself. Saj dedicated his entire life to Bashir and it is a dream come true for him to see Bashir succeed in cricket. Bashir feels incredibly grateful to be living out his uncle’s dream.

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Shoaib Bashir at Somerset County Cricket Club’s Taunton ground.

Bashir’s dream was in danger when he was released by Surrey as a 17-year-old despite progressing through the age groups. The reasons given were that his batting and fielding skills were not up to par, and his bowling could use improvement. However, Bashir did not let this setback discourage him and continued to work hard. His impressive performance of taking five wickets for Berkshire against Somerset in an under-18s game caught the attention of key figures at Taunton. He was soon given the opportunity to play for the county’s second team, and last year he signed his first professional contract. This summer, he received a two-year extension. Bashir admits to feeling nervous about joining a new team at Somerset, but he has been welcomed with open arms by the community and has formed a strong bond with his teammate Jack Leach, who is now a colleague in both county and country teams. Bashir speaks highly of Leach and their friendship, saying they often discuss bowling techniques and even go out for lunch or coffee together.

The author mentions a list of notable off-spinners he has observed throughout the 21st century, including Saqlain Mushtaq, Graeme Swann, Nathan Lyon, Moeen Ali, Saeed Ajmal, and Ravichandran Ashwin. As an off-spinner himself, he never had the desire to bowl fast. However, the idea of potentially playing against Ashwin is still unbelievable to him. During his time with the Lions, he had the opportunity to be coached by Swann, whom he greatly admired, as well as Andrew Flintoff, who was at the height of his career in 2005 when the author was just a child. Reflecting on past YouTube videos, the author recalls the celebratory moments of Flintoff’s run-outs and how his legendary status gave him confidence in his own bowling. He still can’t believe that someone like Flintoff would call him by his nickname and treat him like a friend.

The upcoming series of five Tests in India, where spinners from the visiting team are often overshadowed by Ashwin and Jadeja, is about to commence. He is aware of his strengths and what he can bring to the England team, stating that his ability to get bounce on the subcontinent will be crucial. However, should he get the opportunity, it will be a challenging task with Leach, Ahmed, and Tom Hartley also selected as spinning options for England. Bashir remains calm and philosophical, likely influenced by his own journey to reach this point. He takes things one step at a time and is prepared for whatever may come his way. He hopes to ease into the series and perform well.

Source: theguardian.com