Why is Shadab Khan struggling?

He has failed to impress during the ongoing ICC World Cup 2023

October 23, 2023
Shadab Khan during a training session. - AFP

One-day Internationals (ODIs) are a captivating form of cricket, demanding a unique blend of skills from players. Fast bowlers often steal the limelight with their pace and bounce while spinners play an equally vital role in shaping the dynamics of the game.

Spinners showcase a unique ability to adapt to diverse pitch conditions. Whether it’s a turning track in the subcontinent or a seaming wicket in England, spinners can tailor their approach accordingly. Their flexibility makes them invaluable assets for captains, offering a constant threat regardless of the playing conditions.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, fast bowlers dominated the game of cricket. But since the 1990s, spinners have been dominating the world of cricket. Some spinners will always be remembered for their extraordinary performances for a long period in international cricket.

Pakistan has a rich history of producing quality spinners like Mushtaq Muhammad, Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and Saeed Ajmal. But Australian legend Shane Warne and Sri Lankan maestro Muttiah Muralitharan left behind all the other spinners. Most of the spinners’ performance is linked with supporting conditions, but Warne and Muralitharan proved themselves even in unsupportive conditions.

However, Pakistan is currently not producing as many quality spinners as it used to. Occasionally a bowler performs well and becomes a star, but there is no real threat for the opposition on a regular basis. Abrar Ahmed, Noman Ali, Sajid Khan and Zahid Mehmood are the examples.

Pakistan has gone through transition phases where experienced players retire, and new talent takes time to establish themselves at the international level. The absence of experienced spinners in the team can create a temporary gap in producing quality spinners.

In recent times, surprisingly Pakistan’s spinners have neither kept the run rate down nor picked up wickets.

The leading leg-spinner Shadab Khan is the current example. He has failed in doing both - checking the flow of runs and picking crucial wickets in the middle-overs phase. His recent form has been a concern, and the problem seems to be expanding with every game.

The way Shadab has bowled in the ODIs this year makes one wonder whether he deserves to be a lead spinner in this Pakistan team. He has had his fair share of moments, but overall, the numbers have shrunk so much that they can’t be ignored further.

Shadab Khan has 12 wickets at an average of 37.75 and a strike rate of 41.33 in 10 ODI innings with the ball this year. His economy rate of 5.47 doesn’t inspire confidence.

Among all the spinners to have bowled a minimum of 50 overs this year, Shadab Khan has the fifth-worst economy rate (5.47) despite bowling mostly in the sub-continent conditions.

Now, these numbers don’t suit a lead spinner of the team, and definitely not the No. 1 ODI side. The numbers worsen further if his 4-fer against a depleted Nepal side in the first game of the Asia Cup is taken out.

Shadab took only 3 wickets at an average of 56 and a strike rate of 58 against New Zealand home. In the Asia Cup, he took 5 wickets at 39.20 balls apiece — a 5.81 economy rate — 4 of which came against associate team Nepal.

In the first three matches of the ongoing World Cup, Shadab took only 2 wickets at a high average of 65.50 and economy rate of 6.74.

In the first game against the Netherlands he took only one wicket (1-45) in six overs.

In the next game against Sri Lanka again he got only one wicket (1-55). He failed to take a wicket in the most important game against India after conceding 31 runs in only four overs.

So, he is neither snaring wickets nor putting brakes on the scoring rate. In fact, he has released all the pressure built by the pacers from the other end many times.

Most of the time, Shadab has only picked the wickets after conceding too many runs — when the batters have tried to take more runs off his bowling. Now Shadab is far from the best to be a lead spinner in this format. He bowls plenty of loose deliveries that never force the batters to come out of their comfort zone. That’s been the case with him for a long time.

Shadab hasn’t got many variations, and those available have been easy to put away. Quality teams will never have a problem tackling Shadab if he continues the same way.

Shadab’s batting expertise has kept him in the team so far, but it won’t be an exaggeration that Mohammad Nawaz is a better white-ball bowler than him at the moment. Nawaz has shown better control than Shadab in most of the matches.

This year, Shadab has 7 wickets at an average of 47.42 and a strike rate of 48.85, leaking around 5.82 runs per over against the right-handers in the ODIs.

Unfortunately, Pakistan doesn’t have many better options than Shadab Khan, and his batting is a bonus. A wrist spinner is a must in the modern-day ODI format, but if the wrist spinner fails to do his job consistently, it is imperative to try the other options. Pakistan have persisted with Shadab Khan despite the lean patch, and considering the options available, they might continue with him for now. But, the right questions must be asked to the lead spinner of the team.

Shadab in his 67 one-day internationals he played till the ODI against India in this World Cup has taken 85 wickets with a high average of 33.57 and economy rate of 5.22. He never took five wickets in an ODI. His best bowling figure is 4-27.

The domestic cricket structure in Pakistan has faced challenges and changes over the years. These changes can impact the development of spinners at the grassroots level. A well-organised and competitive domestic structure is essential for identifying and nurturing talented spinners from a young age.

Spin bowling requires a thorough understanding of different conditions and the ability to adapt to them. In Pakistan there are limited opportunities for spinners to gain experience of diverse conditions, which can hinder their development. Pakistan has a rich history of spin bowling, and it is likely that with the right focus, investment, and development strategies, the country will once again produce skilled spinners in the future.

The management should hire some former spinners like Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq or Saeed Ajmal who have enough international experience so that they can groom young spinners according to national team requirements.