August 15, 2001

Shah: Winter in Australia did the trick

Owais Shah, favourite to take the Young Cricketer of the Year Award, which is reserved for England-qualified players, has an Australian to thank for his huge breakthrough this year.

Karachi-born Shah told CricInfo, "I've been working away in Perth with a guy called Wayne Andrews looking at my technique during the winter."

Whatever former Western Australia batsman Andrews did, it has worked for Shah this season. The 22-year-old has scored 996 first-class runs at 52, with three centuries, as well as 479 in one-dayers, with another hundred. A career-high of 203 came against Derbyshire at Southgate, and, most importantly for the former England Under-19 captain, a One-Day International debut brought good reviews and an extended run with England.

"It's up to the people in the ECB office to pick me," the right-hander said. "All I can do is keep doing well for Middlesex and if they pick me - great. Otherwise I'll try again next year."

Shah was phlegmatic regarding the Cricket Writers' Club Young Player of the Year Award too.

The 53 previous winners have won almost 1750 Test caps between them, and Shah's Test debut seems just a matter of time. "If it comes that will be very nice. If it doesn't I'll try again next year. Awards are a bonus," Shah reflected.

Unfortunately he will be too old next season, but Shah's maturity is admirable. He replaced Graham Thorpe in his first international, and, long-term, could fill one of England's middle-order problem positions currently occupied by the aging and injury-prone Thorpe and Nasser Hussain.

Since the six-footer's debut aged 17 in 1996, Middlesex have shown unfailing confidence in the personable Shah, even awarding him his cap during 2000, when he scored a disappointing 489 runs at 24.

Added responsibility from batting at first wicket down, along with the absence of senior batsman Stephen Fleming impressed David Graveney enough to "fast-track" Shah into the England set-up.

But the promising batsman is predictably, and correctly, concentrating on the domestic scene.

"We've got to knuckle down and try and win one of those games," (against promotion rivals Warwickshire and Hampshire), he observed.

And in the NUL, Shah optimistically thinks Middlesex could even "sneak third position" following their last over win against Lancashire that took them off the bottom.

Shah hit an attractive 49, but as ever, if it all goes wrong, he is sensible enough to know, "we can try again next year."