While the 2019-20 summer was forgettable for South Africa as a whole, it was also the season Tabraiz Shamsi came into his own. It was a time of both personal and professional change: he played in all South Africa's white-ball matches - six ODIs, and eight T20Is - to firmly establish himself as Imran Tahir's successor in the limited-overs formats, and welcomed his first child into the world, days before a countrywide lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. From his home, Shamsi spoke about his early days as a seam bowler and his hopes for the rest of his career.
Were you bowling wristspin when you were selected for the provincial age-group teams?
At that stage, yes. But when I started out playing cricket in high school, I was a fast bowler, or at least I thought I was. I bowled seam up. And when I was doing trials for the under-14 team, the coaches told me I wasn't quick enough to be a fast bowler. I was quite heartbroken because I was watching guys like Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock. The truth was that I was running up and bowling cutters and the coaches suggested I become a spinner. The A team coach told me to become an offspinner and the B team coach a legspinner, so I asked each of them why I should become that kind of bowler. The A team coach said being an offspinner is easier and that annoyed me. Why should I take the easier option? So I decided to become a wristspinner.
Who was your mentor when you decided to change your bowling style?
No one, really. I watched a lot on TV and I did whatever came naturally to me. When I was bowling seam up, I only had a slightly longer run-up, which is why even now, my run-up is quite long and I am not too technical about things. At the time I was watching guys like Brad Hogg, because he was the only other left-arm wristspinner around, and also Saeed Ajmal and how he spun the ball in to the right-hander. And then of course, Shane Warne.
Is there a lot of planning that goes into your bowling now?
Yes, I do a lot of work with our analyst, Prasanna Agoram, who adds a lot of value to our set-up. He gets all the footage and I study it, especially to see how the batsmen bat and where to pitch the ball. That's why I say technically I am not fussed, because if I am worried about how high my arm goes, then I won't land the ball where I want it. Mostly I watch the batsmen to see where they hit the ball, to see how I should bowl to them, and then I like to do those things in practice.
This summer you had the opportunity to put your observations into practice at international level more than in any other season. What was that like?
Since joining the national side, I have been on the backburner, played here and there, and I understood why I didn't play a lot because of the job Imran Tahir was doing. Now, it's nice to be able to play consistently and learn all the time and even to make mistakes. Like I said before, I look forward to going out there and trying things and getting a few things wrong because I have an opportunity in the next game to go out there and fix it. And then when things work, it provides a bit of reassurance that I'm on the right track, so it has been good to see that.
That said, do you consider yourself to be South Africa's front-line spinner in white-ball cricket?
I don't ever think that a spot is mine but I want to make the most of the opportunity. I had to wait for three years on the sidelines and that wasn't nice, so now that I have the chance, I want to take it. We've spoken a lot about role definition and I know that I don't have to bowl variations every ball, for example. I have to be able to do both roles - attacking and containing. And I saw it during the Australia ODI series. Even when I didn't take wickets, I saw that I was able to win games by keeping things tight.
The Australia ODI series was the first trophy South Africa won in a difficult summer. What was the mood like in the change room this season?
What happens in the administration is not our domain. What we found is that even though guys had not played a lot of international cricket, we all knew each other really well. We had been playing provincial and franchise cricket together and most of us started around the same time, so we had known each other for about ten years and we knew each other's games well. It's almost like it worked to our benefit that the opposition didn't know that much about us. It was disappointing not to win more, but the guys really gelled well.
And we are not scared of playing big teams. This season we played India, England and Australia, and even though we didn't do as well as we would have liked, we learnt a lot. I am really excited for the T20 World Cup under Quinton de Kock - I think it's going to be a big one for us.
What is it like being captained by de Kock?
I've known him a long time, because we played provincial cricket when he was 15 and I was about 16 or 17 and then we lost touch. He doesn't speak much, but I know what he wants and he is very clear in his instructions.
How do you see the next few years of your career going - are you focused on South Africa or will you still look to play in various leagues?
The way I started was because of the leagues. I got the opportunity to play in the CPL and the IPL before I played for South Africa. I think it's good to play in leagues because you learn a lot. It's always good to go and pick up a few things from other players and learn how they get players out. If I get the opportunity, I will still go, provided it doesn't interfere with South Africa commitments.
How did it happen that you brought magic tricks into your celebrations?
Magic has been a hobby of mine since I was young, and when I was in high school, around the ages of 14 and 16, I wanted to become a magician. Then I was selected for the provincial under-17 and under-19 sides, so I had to put magic on the backburner, but it's always been something that's intrigued me - like how to make things appear and disappear - and so I've kept working on it a little.
South Africa are not due to play again until a tour to Sri Lanka in May, but that is doubtful with the current pandemic. With so much uncertainty around, what role do you think sport can play at a time like this?
As sportspeople, I think we can spread a positive message. Many people listen to sportsmen and so it's up to us to encourage them to do the right thing. We can also play a role in supporting our healthcare workers. I really feel sorry for them. Everyone is scared but they are the ones that have to go out there and help others.