Is Shadab Khan good enough to be the lead spinner of Pakistan?

Shadab Khan plays as a lead spinner for Pakistan in white-ball cricket and is regarded as one of Pakistan’s best-ever tweakers by many around the globe.
 
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His recent form has been mediocre, as Shadab has failed in doing both - checking the flow of runs and picking crucial wickets in the middle-overs phase.

Shadab Khan plays as a lead spinner for Pakistan in white-ball cricket and is regarded as one of Pakistan’s best-ever tweakers by many around the globe. His superior batting skills make him a complete package for Pakistan in both formats. However, his recent form has been a concern, and the problem seems to be expanding with every game.

His recent form has been mediocre, as Shadab has failed in doing both - checking the flow of runs and picking crucial wickets in the middle-overs phase. The way Shadab has bowled in the ODIs this year makes one wonder whether he deserves to be a lead spinner in this Pakistan team. He has had his fair share of moments, but overall, the numbers have shrunk so much that they can’t be ignored further.

Shadab Khan has 12 wickets at an average of 37.75 and a strike rate of 41.33 in 10 ODI innings with the ball this year. His economy rate of 5.47 doesn’t inspire confidence, either. While Shadab is still the leading wicket-taker among the Pakistani spinners, it’s the case due to bowling more than his counterparts.

Among all the spinners to have bowled a minimum of 50 overs this year, Shadab Khan has the fifth-worst economy rate (5.47) despite bowling mostly in the sub-continent conditions. Now, these numbers don’t suit a lead spinner of the team, and definitely not the No. 1 ODI side. The numbers worsen further if his 4-fer against a depleted Nepal side in the first game of the Asia Cup is taken out.

A look at the numbers by each series gives a clear picture.

Shadab could snare only 3 wickets at an average of 56 and a strike rate of 58 against New Zealand at his home. Then, he dismissed only 4 batters at 31.50 balls apiece while conceding 4.52 runs per over. Now, in the ongoing Asia Cup, the 24-year-old has 5 wickets at 39.20 balls apiece and a 5.81 economy rate, 4 of which came against Nepal.

So, he is neither snaring wickets nor putting breaks on the scoring rate. In fact, he has released all the pressure built by the pacers from the other end many times. Most of the time, Shadab has only picked the wickets after conceding too many, and the batters have tried to take more runs off his bowling.

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Whenever Shadab Khan has been hit early in his spell, his bowling has looked toothless and out of options. India followed a similar template in Colombo, and Shadab crumbled. In his first over, Rohit Sharma amassed two maximums and a boundary to take 19 runs off the over.

In the next over, the leg-spinner was again hit for a boundary and a maximum each to end another expensive over. However, Shadab made a strong comeback to dismiss a dangerous Rohit Sharma, and one would expect him to get better from now on. But, what followed next showed that Shadab is far from the best to be a lead spinner in this format.

His next ball to the new Virat Kohli was very short, letting the batter play out comfortably. From there on, Shadab bowled plenty of loose deliveries that never forced the batters to come out of their comfort zone. That’s been the case with him for a long time.

Shadab Khan bowls at least a couple of loose deliveries every over, even on his best days, and this figure only rises if he isn’t having a good day. It’s been easy for the batters to put him under the pump this year. Shadab hasn’t got many variations, and those available have been easy to put away. Quality teams will never have a problem tackling Shadab if he continues the same way.

Shadab ended with the figures reading: 10-1-71-1 against India - his second game with a 6+ economy rate in four games this tournament. His lengths were either too short or too full at times, and the Indian batters didn’t miss out.

Shadab’s batting expertise has kept him safe in the team so far, but it won’t be an exaggeration that Mohammad Nawaz is a better white-ball bowler than him at the moment. Nawaz has shown better control than Shadab in most of the matches.

Shadab Khan is expected to be attacking against the RHBs and fetch wickets. Forget about dismissals; Shadab hasn’t been able to contain runs, either. This year, Shadab has 7 wickets at an average of 47.42 and a strike rate of 48.85, leaking around 5.82 runs per over against the right-handers in the ODIs.

Shadab has the luxury of bowling in a team where the pacers do the heavy lifting in most matches, and all they expect is quality support to stifle the opponents. Unfortunately, he has only made the job arduous for the pace battery. Shadab is slowly turning out to be the weakest link in the bowling department, and he is the leader in the spin department. In both games, this Asia Cup, India have shown how to counter Shadab and put the pressure back on the team without trying too many things.

Pakistan don’t have many better options than Shadab Khan, and his batting is a bonus. A wrist spinner is a must in the modern-day ODI format, but if the wrist spinner fails to do his job consistently, it is imperative to try the other options. Pakistan have persisted with Shadab Khan despite the lean patch, and considering the options available, they might continue with him for now. But, the right questions must be asked to the lead spinner of the team.

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