Six months to do the day after his County Championship debut, Shoaib Bashir capped a remarkable rise by becoming surely England’s most left-field Test selection this century.
This is a 20-year-old who was turning out for Berkshire Under-18s as recently as September last year, who took one wicket in two games for Taunton Deane Cricket Club in the West of England Premier League when trying to earn first-team selection for Somerset this summer, and who only pitched up in that part of the world because his talents were not recognised closer to where he grew up in Surrey. It was not just Berkshire he had represented at Under 18 level, but Surrey and Middlesex too.
When Bashir was selected for England Lions’ training camp in the UAE last month, it looked an exploratory punt on a player with potential. He had never been selected for an England age-group squad, or any other national cricket. Mo Bobat, England’s performance director, described him as a late developer. With just 10 first-class wickets at an average of 67 and no great skill with the bat, he seemed perhaps the least likely of the seven spinners selected for the Lions to make the Test squad. He has now joined two of the others, Rehan Ahmed and Tom Hartley, in the squad, though.
It was with Berkshire U18s in August 2022 that Bashir’s journey to the England squad began. Playing against Somerset in a 50-over semi-final, he took five for 26 as Somerset were bowled out for 94 in an eight-wicket win for Berkshire. Somerset’s head of talent pathway Matt Drakeley fed back that “his flight on the ball was closer to first-class cricket than any other player he’d seen at that level, and he had an ability to deceive batters”, according to Andy Hurry, the director of cricket, who offered him a two-match trial in the second team.
A little introduction to Shoaib Bashir, England's surprise pick for the India test series pic.twitter.com/9GFMll4rCi
— Aatif Nawaz (@AatifNawaz) December 11, 2023
In the second of those games, he took five for 44 against Warwickshire. “The feedback from those games, through Steven Davies [who was keeping wicket] and Jack Leach [who was watching] was that we need to find a way to get this guy in our system,” says Hurry. “So we offered him a contract, and things have happened quickly!”
It was beating Sir Alastair Cook all ends up twice in his first first-class over that alerted England to his talents. “You [could] see that there’s something different there, or that looks special,” said Rob Key, England’s managing director. Key makes no bones that Bashir is “very raw”, but pointed to a few attributes: a high release point, a bit of real guile, an ability to vary his pace without adjusting the speed his arm comes over.
Those attributes earned him Lions selection for the training camp, where he impressed Brendon McCullum. The Lions prepared spinning surfaces, and played a game against Afghanistan A, where Bashir took figures of six for 42 across two innings. That booked him a place on the plane to India, where England expect spinning pitches. They hope that Bashir’s height could bring variable bounce into the equation.
Hurry believes Bashir’s story is a great show of resilience. He did not make it with Surrey because of the presence of Amar Virdi and Dan Moriarty in the first-team squad, and spin-bowling peers Tommy Ealham and Yusuf Majid, who have graduated to the first team.
Gareth Townsend, the former Surrey academy director, remembers a “very impressive, resilient individual”. Townsend remembers regularly passing a public net facility in Woking and seeing the teenage Bashir toiling away on his own.
“When I couldn’t get him into the side, because of the options we had, he would always turn up, train hard and prep,” he says. “He was never someone who sulked, and always tried harder to improve. There’s a lot to him.”