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Shamsi reaping the rewards of waiting for his time

"I am very excited," says spinner about opportunity to play in IPL, in the same venues as the subsequent T20 World Cup

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Tabraiz Shamsi takes off on a celebratory run  •  AFP/Getty Images

Tabraiz Shamsi takes off on a celebratory run  •  AFP/Getty Images

Tabraiz Shamsi is reaping the rewards of regular international game time, with success for South Africa and a string of short-term deals in overseas leagues that he hopes will benefit the national side.
Shamsi went straight from South Africa's tour of the Caribbean and Ireland to the Hundred, from where he joined the national squad for a white-ball series in Sri Lanka. Then, he'll head to the IPL and will likely remain in the UAE for the T20 World Cup, where he hopes to be able to use his franchise experience to help his country.
"I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I'm not excited about (the IPL). I am very excited. Especially because I've never played in Dubai and Abu Dhabi," Shamsi said. "The IPL is a different thing. I have played in the past but I was a lot younger and I didn't get a lot of game time regularly. When you get regular game time, you can showcase what you can do. You can improve. And from a Proteas' perspective, I'm really happy I got picked up in the IPL because I've never been there and played there. It will be nice if I can play on those pitches and get some inside information and gain some experience; just to be able to pick up some knowledge and information that might help us in the World Cup."
Shamsi was contracted to Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2016 and played four matches. At that stage, he had yet to make his debut for South Africa. Five years later, Shamsi has been capped 68 times across all formats and has risen to No.1 in the ICC's T20 bowling rankings. He was not picked up in the IPL auction in February but has been signed as a replacement player by Rajasthan Royals and although the squad is spin heavy, he seems to be fancying his chances of getting game time, given the year he is having. Shamsi is the leading T20I bowler in 2021, so far, and has established himself as South Africa's first-choice short-format spinner, after waiting on the sidelines for the bulk of the early part of his career.
"Just yesterday I was speaking to one of my close friends about the IPL and the year that I've had for South Africa and I realised It's very important to wait for your time," he said. "A lot of people who have followed me from the beginning of my career know it wasn't just a smooth transition. I've had to wait a long, long time to get my opportunity to, firstly, get picked for the Proteas. And then again, for four or five years, to get regular game time. We don't have to look at other people's journeys."
Most of that waiting was because of the presence of Imran Tahir and South Africa daring not to dream of using more than one specialist spinner regularly. Shamsi played only occasionally, but said he never allowed that to get to him because he wanted to be ready when the long-term chance came. "From my own experience, you just have to wait for your opportunity, but while you're waiting you have to keep on working. You can't be sulking and down on yourself, and then your opportunity comes and you don't grab it," he said. "Some people get 20 opportunities, others might only get one or two. You have to make sure you're preparing and working hard, so that when your opportunity does come you grab it with both hands and live your dream."
Although the mood around South African cricket, in the throes of the Social Justice and Nation-Building hearings, is that many players of the past, especially players of colour, found the team environment a nightmare, Shamsi painted a rosier picture of its current climate. "You can go all over the world and play for different teams, but this is the pinnacle. This is where your boys are. You get to play with guys you've grown up playing with and against. These are your people. That's what makes it special for me," he said.
He wasn't part of the team camp when news of Enoch Nkwe's resignation as assistant coach was confirmed but was "sad," to see him go. "It's sad that Enoch's resigned, but I'm sure he has his reasons. As a team we wish him all the best. We fully respect the choice that he's made. Just like he wishes us the best for the future, we definitely wish him the best as well. This is sport and these kinds of things can happen. We've all got to move forward and wish each other well. I'm sure the guys will be in touch with him."
Instead, Shamsi was at The Hundred, where his biggest takeaway was that sometimes it's not the worst thing to try and move the game along. "It's like a much faster version of T20. I picked up a few things, like how you can save a lot more time in the field by rushing through and showing some urgency," he said. "It was nice because I'm someone who enjoys bowling and who doesn't enjoy long breaks between spells."
Before Tahir's retirement after the 2019 World Cup, Shamsi was getting long breaks between matches, nevermind spells. Now that he is playing regularly, the results of his persistence are showing. Shamsi was South Africa's joint-leading bowler in the West Indies series, with seven wickets at 11.42, and had the best average. He was the second highest-wicket-taker in the ODIs against Ireland, behind Andile Phehlukwayo, and the highest in the T20Is and he believes the best, from him and the team, is yet to come as long as they keep playing.
"My confidence levels are up," Shamsi said. "And I believe we have one of the best bowling attacks in the world. All we need is a bit of game time. I'm not saying that because we've won a couple of series back-to-back. The talent in the squad is there. We might be inexperienced at the international level but it doesn't mean that we don't have the skill. We showcased that against a very strong West Indies team, and against Ireland. Nobody here wants to lose and I know the people back home don't want to see us losing. So we're pushing it. We just need a bit more time together. The more we play together the better we're going to get."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent