Fourteen years. The number of years that have gone by, since a man all of 19 years gave England their first taste of a World cup victory in cricket.
People may think, I must have gone crazy to even imagine England winning a fifty over World Cup tournament. Maybe the victory came in some dreamland, where everything you touch turns into gold? Hmm! the answer is no as in 1998, England indeed did win a fifty over World Cup trophy albeit, it was at the under 19 level. The captain of the side who lifted that trophy Owais Shah, was a talented young batsman and he was tipped by many pundits for a bright future with the England senior team.
So fourteen years on, where is the young prodigy? Alas! our man Shah, in-spite of having the required skills to succeed, he couldn't make a name for himself in the international arena. Instead, these days, he showcases his talents around the world in those zillion t/20 leagues that have sprung up like mushrooms.
When I watch Owais Shah bat, I wonder how on earth does he not play for England in the shorter formats of the game especially, in t/20 cricket? Shah is a player, who always looks for an opportunity to score runs and undoubtedly England's best bet after the retirement of KP in t/20 cricket.
Yes, when Owais is batting at the crease, a cardiac patient my urgently need a defibrillator and a purist may feel like nauseating after watching all those eccentric movements at the crease yet, for me, he is a joy to watch. Eyes wide open, maniacally chewing the gum, upsetting a bowler's length with skilful use of the crease and the adroitness to manoeuvre the best of spinners on both sides of the wicket is something that I just don't want to miss out on. For fun, I sometimes feel that Owais is the Popeye of t/20 cricket. If Popeye's power came from spinach, our man's power comes from chewing gum.
Owais Shah's critics will invariably point to the fact that he played 71 onedayers and he just averaged 30.56. Of course, Owais is also not a good fielder and a few coaches have said that he has an attitude problem. If you scratch the surface though, underneath you will see that there is more to it than just judging Shah on the basis of 70 odd matches.
When Fletch was the coach of England, he never seemed to like Owais's technique as he doesn't play with a forward press. I have heard that Fletch told to Owais to employ the forward press to his technique, but Owais stubbornly refused to do it. Shah though, has said that it wasn't communicated to him regarding what Fletch wanted him to do with his technique. Now, whatever maybe the case, under Fletch, Owais never got a decent run in the side.
It was under Moores that Shah finally started to blossom as a batsman. When Moores was the coach, Owais made 994 runs at 38.23 and was one of England's better batsman at that time. Here, who can forget the likes of KP and Colly struggling on a sluggish wicket at Dambulla in 07/08 yet, Owais making it look easy by using the depth of the crease and his wrists beautifully? It was an innings that helped England to win a crucial match. Shah also played beautifully in India in 08/09.
Just when it looked like Owais was about to blossom in the shorter formats of the game, the infamous KP - Moores fiasco meant that Moores was out and in came Flower. Under the new coach, it again seemed like Owais Shah's attitude and his fitness was questioned. So, in less than 6 months of Flower's appointment as a coach, Owais was shown the exit door from the team.
It is sad but true that in one of his last innings with an England shirt on, he produced one of his best knocks. In the Champions trophy in 09, England were playing a crucial game against the Saffers. The Saffers were expected to win that match, but they were hit by the chewing gum power of Owais Shah.
During that innings, Owais showed zero respect for the Saffer bowlers. He even had the chutzpah to leave all his three stumps to Botha and smash him for a six over the mid-wicket. It felt like Shah was telepathically communicating with Botha and telling him, I don't think you are good enough to get me out even if I leave all my three stumps. With his eyes wide open and those killer shots, he might have frightened the Saffers into thinking that Shah is some psycho thriller's villain.
It doesn't make any sense that after the Champions trophy got over, our man was dropped, but the walking wicket Denly from Kent kept his place. Flower and co. may tell that he has an attitude problem, but isn't it right to say that a coach is there to get the best out of his players? Players aren't robots to behave in a set manner for sure.
In short, without two of England's best t/20 players in KP and Shah, I won't feel confident about the team defending the t/20 crown in the Emerald Isles. On slow tracks of Sri Lanka, you need players, who are able to manoeuvre the spinners by skilfully using the crease and nimble wrists which in turn, helps the batsmen to place the ball into vacant gaps on the field. Owais is one batsman who can do that.
In-fact, England have an inexperienced batting line-up made up of Kieswetter, Hales, Bopara, Morgan, Bairstow, Butler. The likes of Kies and Bairstow seem to play on a swamp and have wrists made up of rubber while playing spin. As far as Bopara is concerned, he has this strange technique of coming forward to even deliveries that are short. It does show, Bopara isn't good at using the depth of the crease against the spinners. Even if you don't consider that factor, it is bizarre to see a player like Bopara playing for England, in-spite of him having a S/R of below 100! Bopara isn't a good fielder either.
I just can hope against hope that finally some sense will prevail and if not KP, Shah can get a chance to play in alien conditions of Srilanka. It would give Owais a chance for one last hurrah at the international stage. Having said that, it is perhaps better for Shah to travel around the world to play in those zillion leagues and entertain the crowd with his eccentric yet enjoyable batsmanship, as England's management just don't seem to want him in the side.
I will end it by saying, Flower should watch a video of Owais with a slight extension of a defensive prod smashing Langveldt of Kent for a six in FL T/20. It may help Flower to realize the worth of having Shah in the t/20 WC squad.