October 21, 2010

Mike Holmans

Owais Shah: the limits of talent

Mike Holmans
Owais Shah canes the South African attack, South Africa v England, ICC Champions Trophy, Group B, Centurion, September 27, 2009
Owais Shah still looks like a richly-talented youngster with a bright future – except that he is now 32 and that future is largely behind him  © Getty Images
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It was a surprise when Middlesex announced that they were releasing Owais Shah at the end of the season.

A few days later I went to Lord's for my last sight of him as a Middlesex player, and he obliged with a typical Shah innings. Coming in with the team behind the rate in the chase, he put his foot on the accelerator and knocked some powerful boundaries to bring home a rare victory in the CB40, leading the teams off with 56 not out to his name. It was the sort of innings he has played many times for Middlesex as well as several times for England.

There was naturally much muttering from members to the effect that they couldn't understand why the county were getting rid of the side's best batsman, who had served the club loyally for eighteen years, never let the club down, etc. It turned out that the sticking point had been money, not form or performance – at least, not specifically. But when a club is prepared to offer a contract and the player thinks the money is insufficient there is a difference of opinion about how valuable the player is, which has to be a comment on form, performance or both.

Broadly speaking, I'm with the club on this. My admiration for Shah has been pretty limited for some years now.

I was very enthusiastic about the young Shah: in his late teens and early twenties, he looked to be a richly-talented player with a very bright future, quite likely as the mainstay of England's middle order for several years. But Shah has since become an object lesson in how far talent alone can take you – quite a long way, in fact – but also how much further you have to go to become a top-class player.

The big difference between the talented youngster and the accomplished senior professional is that the senior man makes far fewer mistakes. Over time, he has worked on his game and come up with methods of not getting out by making adjustments to his technique and solidifying his defence as well as developing his attacking strategies along with the actual shots. But in Shah's case, I can see very little evidence that much of that development has happened. He still looks like a richly-talented youngster with a bright future – except that he is now 32 and that future is largely behind him.

He never had much polishing to do on his attacking shots; he emerged from his teens almost fully-formed as a stroke-maker – which was why we were all so excited by him – but his shot selection has always been a little shaky. He has often got out playing the wrong shot from the wrong position, which is the sort of incident one is supposed to learn from so as not to do it again.

One can often get away with losing one's wicket stupidly in one-day cricket because it can just look like getting on with it and playing unselfishly, but in multi-day cricket it is rarely forgivable; because there seemed to be little progress on the eradication of such errors, I became increasingly disenchanted with Shah. I hoped that I was wrong after his sprightly 88 on Test debut against India, but it was not to be.

Relatively few players reach the heights that Shah has, despite constantly working on their games because they do not possess Shah's talent. Shah is by no means a failure, but yet I remain disappointed that he has not made more of his gifts. Which leaves me asking myself what right I have to criticise him for what he isn't rather than gladly appreciating what he is.

I have some inchoate thoughts about it being undesirable to have a player around a dressing room who manages to be a leading player despite setting a poor example to the up-and-coming players who then get the idea that they don't have to work hard on their games, but that is a matter for the captain and team management. Which brings us back to where we began: Middlesex are no longer prepared to pay top money to someone who does not display a whole-hearted commitment to excellence. In today's game, talent alone no longer suffices.

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Posted by AJ4Seven on (October 25, 2010, 12:08 GMT)

I don't think anyone is saying that Shah should play for England, but if you look at Bell's shocking record(not including the mighty Bangledeshis) it is hard to argue that Shah didn't deserve more than 6 tests. No one can say if this is racist or not(unlikely, but unless every Asian player isn't good enough, it seems strange that none has ever had the full backing of the various coaches), but it is fairly clear that the England setup plays favourites & weaker players(Cook & Bell)stay in the team until they score, whilst others are dropped if they don't take their chance. Also it seems to be forgotten that the ODI team has improved since Shah was dropped.

Posted by Anon on (October 24, 2010, 21:11 GMT)

Anonymous, I think AJ is eluding to the Saffers syndrome that manifests itself by the selection of less talented players principally because of the color of their skin leading to the talented players of the wrong color leaving to find a place where talent is valued and color is an advantage.

Unfortunately in the case of the Asian contingent talent is missing so they will be a misfit anywhere they go.....

Posted by Anonymous on (October 24, 2010, 17:48 GMT)

Also what fantasy world does AJ live in......

Bopara, Rashid and Shahzad jump ship?

What is he talking about? They are English, they cant change that!

Posted by GramEdgar on (October 24, 2010, 14:22 GMT)

i enjoyed the article, strange - shah is an underachiever and this is pinned on his lack of work to back his talent, yet he clearly is desperate to succeed if you look at his body language, cramps and general intensity with international performances - the two dont square easily.

ridiculous assertions of racism from AJ, perhaps he should look at who coaches the side and reconsider whether a man of such principle would allow anyone judging on skin colour to select his side. also, i would like to know which player blamed his failure at top level on his skin colour, i bet a quick look at his performances would help him.

sports teams can be infiltraded by racism, sure, but in a success based business with multiple coaches and in a squad of multi-ethnicity i think its a cheap and blind shot.

Posted by Gezza on (October 24, 2010, 12:40 GMT)

Setting aside his origin and his attitude,the main reason why he has left was as originally stated financial. Having lost his regular England ODI place and no longer in contention for a Test place,the deal as I am led to believe offered by Middlesex was for considerably LESS than he had been earning previously,and compared to that and what he was earning in The IPL it was not acceptable. He is aexpected to sign very shortly for Essex where he will receive a saslary very much commensurate with what he was on before.

Posted by Anonymous on (October 24, 2010, 9:06 GMT)

Instead of searching around for pathetic racist conspiracies I suggest people look at the records of Cook and Bell who they slag off despite the fact they average over 40 in Tests. Compare that to the records of Shah, Bopara and Ramps.

I say this despite the fact that Ramps is, bar none, the best player I have ever seen at FC level. Better than Sachin, Lara the lot. He just couldnt do it consistently at Test level: with 50 (FIFTY!) chances to do so.

Posted by barrycrocker on (October 24, 2010, 6:46 GMT)

Scrawling down the comments it seems Owais Shah's treatment has blown up into some sort of race debate. It seems he's just another example though of how England doesn't give inconsistent players as many chances as other teams like the Aussies.

Anyone who starts his innings as nervously as Marcus North shows - particularly in test matches where 'backs to the wall' innings were required (come back AB!) - is obviously blessed with tolerant, patient selectors! He's got a good record of converting starts I guess but it is real heart-in-mouth stuff watching him scratch around for those first few runs!

As for poor old Nathan Hauritz - it must be because he seems like such a nice bloke!

Posted by Occam on (October 23, 2010, 21:45 GMT)

AJ - yes, that must be it. The reason that the British Asians were dropped by England is entirely down to racist selection and nothing at all to do with underperformance.

Nothing at all to do with Vikram Solanki averaging 26 over 50 ODIs, or Kabir Ali consistently haemorrhaging over a run a ball. The fact that Sajid Mahmood bowled a good spell on debut doesnt compensate for the ODI average touching 40, and the only time Amjad Khan reminded me of an Asian fast bowler with any talent was when he over-stepped. Constantly. Without even being paid huge chunks of underworld money for the inconvenience.

Usman Afzaal's test average of 16, Ravi Bopara's failure to make any runs of any significance for the last three years, and Samit Patel's inability to leave the chocolate cake and pies alone are all part of a great conspiracy to keep the side a whites-only preserve. In fact, I'm pretty sure the ECB were instructing Peter Moores to make Monty Panesar worse for the duration of his tenure.

Posted by roomi on (October 23, 2010, 20:42 GMT)

Yes perhaps Shah failed to integrate in the England set up. The talent is obviously there. As somoene who played little club cricket in England one noticed the Cultural gap between English players and Asian players who may not perhaps hang out with the lads for a drink that much. Cricket clubs are more conventional than perhaps football. That was fifteen years ago and hopefully things are more integrated now. Or are they!!? Maybe this sort of thing also happens at the higher levels. One cannot help but notice that most Successful English player of Asian descent was Nasser hussain who is mixed race ( so was Ramprakash- did they get more acceptance by being half english) unlike perhaps Rashid, Mehmood, Panesar, Shah and Bilal Shafayat. Its only conjecture but still think about it. How many tests it took Mike Gatting to score a hundered ?? Answer 54. Shah deserved much better treatment ( and so did Ramprakash perhaps).

Posted by Sunny Singh on (October 23, 2010, 17:52 GMT)

Some place on earth, a local government has banned mentioning Paul Collingood and Sachin Tendulkar in the same sentence if batting is being discussed.

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