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If we try and blast India's spinners, we can get undone'

Owais Shah receives his England cap from Andrew Flintoff Getty Images

On the evening of March 17, 2006, ahead of the Mumbai Test, Owais Shah was fed up. He had enjoyed the summer of his life, scoring seven first-class centuries and 1700 runs, and, after injuries decimated England's Ashes-winning side, was rewarded with a Test call-up for the tour to India. Somehow, though, Shah faced leaving India as he had arrived: without a Test cap.

"I remember clearly going to bed the night before and thinking 'that's the series gone, I'm not going to get an opportunity'," he says. But by the following morning, all had changed. Alastair Cook, who scored a debut hundred two weeks earlier in Nagpur, was violently throwing up and in no state to play. Finally, eight years after starring in England's only Under-19 World Cup victory, here was Shah's chance. "I saw it as a bit of a situation that was meant to be."

Two years earlier, frustrated that his precocity had yet to be converted into consistent excellence, Shah went to India to work with Mohammad Azharuddin.

"He said always look to score off a ball," Shah says. "Defending is your last option so as the ball is coming down you look to score runs off it, and if you can't you block it. But always have that mindset and look to score runs. If your mindset looks to score runs then your body will get into really good positions, and from that position, if you realise it's a good ball, then, defend it."

Walking out at No. 3 in Mumbai, Shah stayed true to Azharuddin's advice. From his third ball, against Harbhajan Singh, he advanced down the pitch. "It wasn't a statement of intent. It was just the way I played my cricket against spin bowling: always looking to dominate, always looking to score runs from the first ball I faced. My game was very set up for using my feet trying to hit straight."

By the end of the game he had made 88 and 38 to underpin England's unlikely "Ring of Fire" victory. "I've always backed my ability to play spin, and just applied the basics - reading the spinners from the hand. I just backed my technique."

Even if Shah's career fizzled out unsatisfactorily - "I just wish I'd got more opportunities after the Mumbai Test"- his tale affirms that it is possible for novice Test batsmen to thrive in India. That should be heartening for Ben Duckett, after two indifferent Tests in Bangladesh, and Haseeb Hameed, who could yet emulate Shah in debuting in India.

"It will be very tough," Shah says, though he believes that England can give India "a good fight" if their batting shows more resolve than in Bangladesh.

"We should make wickets that help spin bowling in England, there should be a bit of deterioration from day three as opposed to green seamers that finish in three days"

"You're not going to blast the spinners out of the attack there. The batting unit need to use their feet and manoeuvre the ball and get more singles and twos - whoever does that best will be the better batting unit. If we try and blast their spinners, we can get undone. But at the same time if we just block, block, block that's not the right way to go about it. If we get stuck and then play the big shot, that's a problem. You need to be busy and not allow them to settle."

He urges Duckett and England's flamboyant middle order to trust their instincts against spin, just as he did a decade ago. "They will play the game that's got them to international cricket, they can't just change. If someone wants to run down and use their feet let them - that's probably what they're comfortable doing. The same if they want to sweep or reverse sweep."

Of greater concern to Shah is England's bowling. They do not just have to battle India, but a system at home that has stunted the development of spin bowling over recent years.

"It's not our spinners' fault, because they haven't bowled that much in the past five-six years in county cricket. They've bowled a lot more this year but prior to that not that much," he says. "That's perhaps where we'll fall down.

"We should make wickets that help spin bowling. There should be a bit of deterioration from day three as opposed to the green seamers that finish in three days. That's not real first-class cricket. Batsmen are forgetting how to play for five or six hours: they're having to play a lot more aggressively because they realise that sooner or later there's a good ball around the corner. In Test cricket you've got to know how to put a five- or six-hour hundred together. If you haven't practised it how are you going to know how to do it in a Test?"

While England are attempting to thrive in India, Shah has a very different challenge on his mind: coaching the UAE. After helping out during their tour of Scotland last summer, Shah has just signed for a three-month stint as head coach, a plum job to land just after turning 38.

"This is an opportunity I didn't think I could turn down," he says. "If everything is right and I feel like I'm making progress after three months, and the Emirates Cricket Board and, most importantly, the players are happy with me, then why not?"

Shah has been impressed with the UAE's talent, but also identified their first-class cricket as a major area to improve. "I'm trying to teach them a little bit more about the longer form of the game, because they play a lot of short form," he says. "I think being able to play the longer form will help their short-form cricket, especially one-day internationals."

A few months after the UAE introduced fully professional contracts, Shah will be charged with ensuring the team are not just professional in name only.

"Now they're required to turn up and train every day, and be consistent in that. It's a new concept and will take some time to understand. Hopefully they can tap into my knowledge of being a professional cricketer: what's required of you, and your life revolving around cricket; your behaviour, having the right amount of rest, what food you eat and things like that. It's about making them understand that all your actions will have a knock-on effect on your cricket."

Shah intends to be "very much hands on" as a coach. "I'm quite happy to dive around, shown them how to catch, show them how to hit sixes or whatever," he says. "These guys are international cricketers. It's more about helping them on a mental level. I'm also trying to teach them about playing at the top level, when the bowlers are that much faster, and the batsmen are that much quicker on their feet - some technical stuff and also some tactical stuff."

And as a player who was not always managed sensitively - in particular, he was shunned by the Duncan Fletcher regime - Shah should be well placed to judge each player's individual needs.

"Every single player is different. Some players need more showing how things are done, and some need less showing and need to work things out themselves. It's more of a man-management thing, coaching. A 22-year-old needs different kind of managing to a 34-year-old. Those two people are at different stages of their lives."

An early test for Shah and his new side will come at the start of December, when the UAE play three 50-over matches against England Lions. "It should be good fun," he says. Until then, he will watch England's current generation trying to make their mark on India with interest.