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South Africa throw weight behind Shamsi amid trial by fire in India

"We know what he is capable of and it's only a matter of time before he bounces back," says Keshav Maharaj

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Tabraiz Shamsi conceded 89 runs from eight overs in the first ODI  •  BCCI

Tabraiz Shamsi conceded 89 runs from eight overs in the first ODI  •  BCCI

It must be something about India. In a year where Tabraiz Shamsi has taken 20 wickets in 12 white-ball games in South Africa and England at an average of 21.80 and maintained an economy rate of 6.22, he has only managed two in six matches at 109.00 and conceded at 10.54 runs to the over in India.
Is it because the batters are more capable of taking on wrist spin in India than in other parts of the world? Or because there are more right-handers in the Indian line-up than some of the others Shamsi has played against? Is it that he hasn't got his lengths right? Or that his pace is too slow?
Whatever it is, it's not worrying South Africa too much right now. "I don't think he really had a poor outing," Keshav Maharaj, who is now South Africa's first-choice spinner in all formats, said. "I know figures don't always show a true reflection of how someone bowled. The Indian batters had to take someone on and unfortunately it was him. I don't think he is a concern. We know what Shammo is capable of and it's only a matter of time before he bounces back."
This bounce-back line is one South Africa are using a lot. They've repeated it about their captain Temba Bavuma, who has only scored 11 runs and faced 31 balls in the four internationals he has played since coming back from an elbow injury. Bavuma is due to lead them and open the batting at the T20 World Cup in Australia in just over two weeks' time and despite the mounting pressure from outside the camp, everyone from coach Mark Boucher to South Africa's latest T20I centurion Rilee Rossouw has said they are "backing him."
Similarly, players including David Miller posted congratulatory messages to Shamsi after the first ODI, where he conceded 89 runs in eight overs but took his 50th wicket in the format.
Ruturaj Gaikwad was the batter Shamsi dismissed, in his first over, when India's No.3 skipped down the track in an attempt to hit Shamsi over the off-side but was beaten by dip and turn and stumped. Maharaj called the wicket "crucial," because it "opened up an end for us." In the next over, Maharaj had Ishan Kishan caught at leg slip and India were reduced to 51 for 4, a position from which it seemed they would not recover. But Shreyas Iyer, Shardul Thakur and Sanju Samson combined to take India close. They did it by attacking Shamsi.
Iyer hit 20 runs off the 12 deliveries Shamsi bowled to him, including four fours, and Samson plundered 50 runs off 23 balls from the bowler, with six fours and two sixes. With Shamsi bowling slower through the air than Maharaj, for example, he allowed the Indian batters to use their feet against him and conceded heavily. Maharaj dismissed it as one of those things that's going to happen on a day when the target is tall and the opposition are simply going for it. He instead praised Shamsi for keeping it together when it mattered most. "He held his nerve really nicely at the back end," Maharaj said, referring to Shamsi's final over, when he defended 30.
Ultimately, South Africa won but there may be some head-scratching over their tactics. Given the way Shamsi was bowling, it made sense to delay his final over as late as possible in the hope that India would need too many runs, or that Samson would be out. The former happened, but there were still nervy moments where it looked like India could snatch victory. An argument could have been made to use part-time offspinner Aiden Markram to bowl an over earlier in the innings and not use Shamsi again at all, but South Africa's options were limited through Dwaine Pretorius' injury and their decision to play only five specialist bowlers. A bigger question will be why Shamsi appears to lose his control when playing in India and what that means as South Africa build up to the T20 World Cup, where Shamsi should be one of their trump cards.
It was only 16 months ago that Shamsi was ranked No.1 in the format on the ICC charts. He slipped off top spot in June and has since tumbled to fifth, which must be weighing on him. While Maharaj doesn't "think his confidence is dented," Shamsi's self-esteem has obviously taken a knock. In the aftermath of the first ODI he retweeted a message from a Sports Psychology account which read: "Never point fingers after a loss. Remember, you win as a team and you lose as a team. Every player and coach must come together and take ownership for the betterment of the team."
Whether that was a veiled reminder that it was his over that won the first ODI and secured the 10 World Cup Super League points South Africa so desperately needed, or about the bigger picture following South Africa's defeat in the T20 series, we won't know. But we're probably on the right track if we think it has something to do with Shamsi's performances in India.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent