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'I play every match like it's my last'

Pakistan legspinner Yasir Shah relives his success at Lord's and talks about what it's like to be acclaimed as the world's best spinner

Yasir Shah celebrates a wicket, England v Pakistan, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day, July 17, 2016

"I'm very happy my name is on the honours board at Lord's"  •  Getty Images

What was the secret of your success at Lord's?
I thank Allah for what I achieved. It was a dream come true. My aim was to contain the batsmen and support our fast bowlers. I bowled my first three or four overs tightly, without conceding many runs, and bowling the ball in the same area. But when I realised I was getting help from the wicket - some balls were going straight on and others were turning - I decided to attack. Luckily I was successful.
Your first experience of bowling in a Test in England - what was it like?
I'm used to bowling in Asia, and you have to be patient there and bowl with great heart. The wickets are slow. You need to push the ball through. I've played here for a few years in league cricket, and I learnt that the wickets are a little quicker and the ball naturally bounces more. That means you need to bowl a little slower here. So I prepared for these wickets, and I think that brought me success.
In UAE, the wickets are slow. Batsmen have time to play even a fullish ball on the back foot. You need to bowl with a little more power and speed so that the batsman doesn't have time to go back, or so that the ball can skid on. If a batsman does go back to a full ball, you've got a chance of the ball skidding on and you can get him bowled or lbw. You need to bowl with a little more zip. It's different here - the wickets are faster and greener. Legspin bowling is different on these wickets because you need to bowl with more flight and with loop. You're more successful that way.
Practice is very important for a legspinner. You need to practise every day and that's how you get control. Also, you need a repeatable action. If your action doesn't fall away, you bowl in the same area, contain the batsman and make life more difficult for him.
You seemed to be more dangerous from the Pavilion end at Lord's.
When I saw the wicket, and the slope from the Pavilion end, I tried to bowl in the same area. I thought if I bowl ten overs in the same place, I'll pick up at least a couple of wickets. That's what I tried, and thankfully I ended up with many more wickets.
"When I went to the press conference, the first question was: 'Shane Warne has tweeted about you, what do you think?' I was surprised. 'What? Shane Warne is talking about me?' It was like a dream come true to be praised by your favourite bowler"
Did the slope help you?
The effect of the slope was that when the ball lands on the shiny side it goes down the hill, and when it lands on the seam it turns. It puts the batsman in two minds - he doesn't know if it's going to land on the shiny side or on the seam. That's why the batsman ends up confused as to whether to play for a legbreak or a ball that goes down the hill.
Shane Warne said he'd sent you some advice before Lord's.
Yes, we do stay in touch on Twitter, Messenger and Whatsapp. We were in touch before the Lord's match, and he said he wouldn't be there for most of it, but he arrived the day after I took five wickets. He'd been asking me how my bowling is going, how I was coping with the Dukes ball. I said it's harder with the Dukes ball but our camp in Southampton helped me a lot.
The camp helped with my fitness, but I also got accustomed to the pitches. I worked first on my grip, since the Dukes ball is a little more slippery than a Kookaburra. It's the first time I've played a Test match with a Dukes.
Did Warne give you any specific advice about bowling at Lord's?
No, there was nothing specific but when we met in Sharjah during the England series he did give me advice, including about how to use the crease. I tried to do as he said and it's been very helpful to me, especially in English conditions.
He's always been my favourite bowler ever since I was a little boy. When I played my first Test match I took four wickets against Australia, and he tweeted about me. When I went to the press conference, the first question was: "Shane Warne has tweeted about you, what do you think?" I was quite surprised. "What? He's tweeted about me? Shane Warne is talking about me?" I couldn't imagine that would happen. It was like a dream come true to be praised by your favourite bowler. We stayed in touch after that.
You also played your part with the bat at Lord's. How did you come to be promoted up the order?
I was No. 10 in the first innings but we sent in Rahat Ali as a nightwatchman. That moved me down to No. 11. In the second innings Misbah just told me I was going in earlier, and I said fine. But my whole effort was to allow my partner to play on. I wanted to fight until the final ball. If the captain needs me to bat in any position, I'm ready.
You've arrived on the international scene quite late.
I made my first class debut in 2003. I played a couple of first-class matches and then I didn't play for three years. I played Grade 2 club cricket instead. The reason was that when I played first-class cricket, my bowling wasn't what I thought it should be for a first-class bowler. It wasn't properly first-class standard. That's why I played Grade 2. I was 16 years old and I wanted to improve my bowling and my performance.
After that I played first-class cricket for Customs, and I think I took 34 wickets in five matches. In 2011 I played against Zimbabwe when Waqar Younis was the coach. I took two wickets in a one-day match, and I also played T20s.
I saw the standard of international cricket and I started working harder. I was out of the team and my plan was that when I returned, I'd be a regular player and a major player. That was my ambition and it made me put in more effort.
How did you start out in cricket?
When I started to go to games in the sixth grade at school, I was very small and I was only allowed to field. I loved watching Jonty Rhodes at the time, and I'd dive everywhere. That's why they got me to field. Then I started to bowl in the nets. When I bowled my first ball it don't reach the other end of the net, so I started bowling from halfway down. From there, I worked and gradually improved.
I was supported a great deal by my cousin in every way, including financially. When he moved to Bradford in 2002, he started to send me videos of Shane Warne bowling.
What was your experience of playing league cricket in England like?
From 2009 to 2012 I played league cricket in Middlesborough. It was quite an experience. In my first game, a crowd gathered to watch the new club professional. It was very cold. I'd just arrived from Pakistan two days earlier. The first ball bounced twice. I thought, okay, my hands are cold, it happens. The next ball did the same thing. The third ball did that too. The next one was a wide. My hands were cold, the ball was different, and they'd asked me to bowl the first over in the match. All the English people watching were laughing. But thankfully, after that I bowled a couple of decent overs and then took five wickets. Once my balls started landing, that was it.
Would you say your career was helped by Saeed Ajmal's ban?
Yes, but I was very sorry we lost Saeed Ajmal. He was our leading spin bowler and he was a big player for us. Whenever a player of that calibre is ruled out, the team is weakened. We really felt his loss, even though I was playing. Also, if we'd played together he could have helped me. But I still got lots of support from the other seniors like Hafeez, Misbah, Younis and Waqar. Waqar motivated me a great deal.
"You need a repeatable action. If your action doesn't fall away, you bowl in the same area, contain the batsman and make life more difficult for him"
You took 50 Test wickets fairly quickly. Was there anything in particular that you did?
There was a camp before my debut series against Australia, and we worked hard on my action. Mushtaq Ahmed worked with me and told me I needed a repeatable action. He said, "If you keep bowling in the same area in a Test match you'll pick up a lot of wickets." He motivated me and worked very hard on my action in the nets.
I also have a great desire to perform well for Pakistan in every match. I make a separate plan for each game, and I play every match like it's my last one. You can't take it easy. Cricket is such a game that you can be knocked down at any point. It's a game you have to respect.
How successful are your variations?
My legbreak is working fine but I try to learn something new every day. I'm working on my topspinner but my googly is improving and I'm starting to land it more consistently. I used to avoid bowling a googly in a match and it was hard with my action, but I've worked on it and it's improved. All the variations are important for a legspinner, so you can bowl a ball when you want and a batsman will then find you hard to hit.
This is your first Test back after a ban. Was it hard being out of the team?
I felt miserable. You blame yourself for what happened, and for when things go wrong with the team. I watched the World T20 match against India and it was a spinner's wicket. R Ashwin bowled the first ball and it turned alarmingly. I felt so bad that I couldn't sleep all night. I was blaming myself, but you learn from these mistakes.
Can you believe what has happened to you? A couple of years ago you were almost unknown and suddenly you're being acclaimed as the best spin bowler in the world.
I've worked hard, and I've been blessed. I'll keep working hard, and do my best to perform for Pakistan. It might seem sudden but behind this is the result of 12 or more years of effort. If I'd lost heart whenever I lost my place, I wouldn't have got anywhere. Whenever there was a disappointment I decided to work harder and perform better. I hope the performances continue to improve and help Pakistan.
If I think there's something wrong with my performance, I try to work on my mistakes and weaknesses. Even in my home, in Swabi, I make a video of my practice sessions to watch my action, my arm and wrist positions. Our local coach, Maqsood Ali, has done his Level 2 coaching and he's a great help to me.
I've been helped by Mushy. Shane Warne, too. I've been to Abdul Qadir's academy in Lahore several times. Whenever there's a problem, he lets me know what it is and offers his advice.
Waqar Younis helped me while he was coach. Mickey Arthur is excellent and I have a good understanding with him because we worked together in the PSL. He gives me advice on how to plan for different situations and helps me understand my role in the team. Before a match, all the bowlers sit together and watch videos of the batsmen we will face and assess their strong and weak points. We try to develop a plan for each batsman. England have plenty of good players, especially Cook and Root, and we try not to bowl to their strengths and focus on their weak areas.
What are your ambitions?
To keep playing and to remain fit. To keep performing as well as I can. However long I play, I want to play for Pakistan's pride and help Pakistan win. I'm very happy my name is on the honours board at Lord's, and I'm confident we can keep performing well and keep winning in England.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. @KamranAbbasi