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Interviews

Shoaib Bashir vows to stay humble after breakthrough winter as he bides his time at Somerset

England offspinner recognises chances might be limited in early season despite India success

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
28-Mar-2024
Shoaib Bashir is back at Somerset after his breakthrough England winter  •  Getty Images

Shoaib Bashir is back at Somerset after his breakthrough England winter  •  Getty Images

After two heady months on tour with England in India, Shoaib Bashir's first day back at Somerset quickly brought him back down to earth. He shares a club-owned flat in Taunton with team-mates Alfie Ogborne, Sonny Baker and Andy Umeed - "absolute carnage" - and hardly returned to domestic bliss: "I think they need to take the bins out. That bin is smelly."
Bashir is speaking to ESPNcricinfo at Somerset's annual media day, where he is fielding a fair few more requests than he did last year. Then, he was a 19-year-old on a rookie contract and still dreaming of a first-team debut; now, he is a fully-fledged England international with a regular Test spot in his sights. "It's been really, really special," he says.
A brief recap: Bashir's England call-up owed more to attributes - and algorithms - than averages, after only 10 wickets in the County Championship last season. But after his arrival was delayed due to a visa hold-up - "an interesting start, I must say" - he demonstrated impressive control to take 17 wickets in three Tests, even as England slipped to a 4-1 defeat.
"To be out in India, playing for your country is something in itself," he says. "Looking back now, I've had time to reflect and it's just been so, so memorable - something that I'll cherish for a long time. Getting your Test cap is something you dream of as a kid. That's why I started playing: I wanted to play for my country and now that's happened, it means so much.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity. I learned a lot about my character, and a lot about the way I bowl. I think that's a massive eye-opener for myself, moving into the next few years of my career. Looking back on it, I obviously would've liked to have affected the games a bit more. But yeah - I can't really complain."
Back home, the Somerset hierarchy were watching on with pride. "He was incredibly impressive," Jason Kerr, their head coach, says. "He was nervous, and certainly hadn't experienced that before... it looked like he was incredibly confident by the end of the trip, like he had that sense of belonging. And from a skill point of view, he showed how he can influence games. For someone so young, at the start of his journey, it was incredibly exciting to watch."
Perhaps the most remarkable day of Bashir's tour came in Ranchi, where he bowled a 31-over spell - the longest by an England bowler in more than a decade. "It was quite a spell," he says, laughing. "Weirdly enough, the body was feeling quite good after that, and that's the longest one I've ever bowled. Experiences like that, I think will make you a better cricketer. I'm glad I got exposed to that."
Bashir is a practising Muslim, and the holy month of Ramadan - which began the day after England's heavy defeat in Dharamsala - has been an opportunity to reflect. "The timing has been pretty spot-on… it's been perfect," he says. "I got to have about two weeks at home with family and I think that time is quite important.
"I fast quite a lot. It's something that I'm quite natural to, I think. We've only got the last two weeks left of Ramadan before it finishes, so I just want to make the most out of this special month… We've got the first County Championship game coming up [against Kent next Friday] but I believe when God's with you, it makes things easy for you."
Bashir has not been given any guarantees that he will play and is realistic about the limited role for an offspinner in the early months of the English summer. "I'm not sure, around the country, how many spinners will be playing," he says. "Early season, the ball doesn't rag. So it'll be interesting to see what happens."
Somerset have made clear that they see Jack Leach as their first-choice spinner, though are awaiting clarity on his availability after recent knee surgery. "We haven't got a timeframe for him yet but he's doing really well," Kerr says. "He trained with us yesterday and he's got some meetings coming up with the ECB's medical team. It's good to see him back with a great big smile on his face."
And Kerr is open to the idea that Bashir might leave on loan if he needs game-time once Leach is back fit. "Our first two games are away and it's unlikely that there are going to be wickets that are going to assist the spinners," he says. "If it does spin, it tends to be a very slow spin at this time of year, so it's unlikely that we'll play two… I'll be completely transparent with both of them."
Rob Key, England's director of men's cricket, has revealed plans to bring England's young spinners together for training days throughout the summer, and the team's management are determined that their progress should not stall after their exposure in India. The long-term target, as ever, is the next Ashes series in Australia in 2025-26.
"I have played grade cricket in Australia, and I did get a lot of bounce out of the wickets," Bashir says. "Being a 6ft 4in lad is quite helpful at times. But I don't like to look too far ahead… I'm not an over-thinker. I'll just keep doing what I've been doing really. Whatever happens will happen for the best."
For now, he is still getting accustomed to being recognised on the streets of Taunton. "I have a lot of support behind me at Somerset. It's just business as usual: being humble and down-to-earth is something that I like to live by. There have been a few changes [to my life], but I'll take things with small steps at a time."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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