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The Lowdown

Spreading his wings at last

The Lowdown on Owais Shah, the England batsman

Jenny Roesler
Jenny Thompson
With so much cricket played these days it is often difficult to keep track of who is who and what they are doing. In this weekly feature Cricinfo will take a look at one player who is making the news, whether at the highest level or an aspiring talent, and tell you what they are all about. This week, it's the turn of England batsman Owais Shah

As Shah likes it - he has finally been called into England's Test team © AFP
Anyone who watched Owais Shah caress 88 on his Test debut at Mumbai may wonder where he has been hiding all these years. At 27, he's not the oldest of England's recent debutants - Shaun Udal's entry, aged 36, is hard to beat - but neither is he a spring chicken of the Alastair Cook/Liam Plunkett/Monty Panesar mould.
And it's not that he's a late bloomer either: his batting, a thing of beauty, has been a joy forever for Middlesex - well, since his debut aged 16. He's graced the one-day stage on 15 occasions as well, but has been kept from the Test arena amid rumours of being difficult to handle. His brief tenure in charge of Middlesex - they sacked him after four matches in 2004 - appears to back this up. He has also been criticised for his fielding; it's not that he is incompetent but, perhaps more criminally, he can be lazy.
But after years of angrily scratching the cocoon, why has he suddenly been allowed to burst out? Well, a prolific 2005 where he mauled 1728 county runs at 66.46, left the selectors unable to ignore him and a call-up to England A's tour of the Caribbean followed. Then a bit of luck - injuries in India left a gaping hole in England's top order. Shah took to the bright lights like a moth and emerged a butterfly.
It could have been so different. His county career nearly went down the pan in 2000 when Middlesex dropped him for averaging in the mid-20s two seasons running. There were fears he wouldn't fulfill his aching promise; was this the same batsman who had plundered attacks throughout the England youth groups and led them to success at the Under-19 World Cup?
Worries of him being Ramprakash Mark II, the County Edition, emerged. Comparisons are certainly apt: both were prodigious youths at Middlesex with flair in batting and flare in temper. Both were tipped for the top. They even called Shah 'Son of Ramps' in the Lord's dressing room. But where Ramprakash's self-belief could be found wanting, Shah was full of himself - and in Mumbai it has proved a boon.
Others might have crumbled; Shah just became stronger. One year after his county nadir in 2000, he was not only back in the side, but playing for his country at one-day level as well. He has flitted in and out of international contention ever since, but on his showing at Mumbai, he at last seems ready for the top. And, some would say, not before time.

Shah clips off his legs on debut at Mumbai © AFP
1994 Man of the series in England Under-17 Test series against India
1996-97Struck two half-centuries for England A against New South Wales
1997-98 Led England Under-19 to World Cup success in South Africa
2001 England one-day call-up - makes an unbeaten 28 on debut against Australia and follows that with 62 against Pakistan at Lord's
2002 Middlesex's Player of the Year
2004-05 Spends winter at the ECB Academy
2005 Butchers 1768 runs for Middlesex
2005-06 Call up to England A, swiftly followed by seniors - makes 88 on Test debut
What he says about himself
I knew that I would get an opportunity to play for England one day and that I should try and get as many runs as I can [in English county cricket].
What they say about him
John Emburey, Middlesex coach "He's one of the better players of spin in the country. Not being involved in international cricket over the last three years has worked in his favour: he's matured as an individual and his game has improved."
Did you know...
...he was the youngest player to represent England A. Just 17, he was picked on the strength of five Championship games for Middlesex.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo