There was a time on day three of the second Test between Pakistan and New Zealand when all three results were possible.
The visitors were faring quite well under a cloudy Dubai sky and were 62-1 in reply to Pakistan’s 418. It had been hard work for the bowlers. Only six wickets had fallen in 194 overs and there was little to suggest that things were about to change.
But about to change they were.
Yasir Shah produced what coach Mickey Arthur thinks was leg-spin’s finest hour. There are few, if any, who would argue with that; any of his 10 victims on day three certainly won’t.
Doubt crept in when the first ball of the 28th over bounced and turned more than it should have. It caught the top half of the bat after Tom Latham’s uncertain prod and went straight into the gleeful hands of Imam-ul-Haq.
There is no room for doubt or uncertainty when facing a bowler like Yasir. He feeds on it. In moments like this, he can produce a relentless barrage of good deliveries; a python slowly but surely tightening its grip around its hapless victims.
But in Dubai it wasn’t a python choking his prey, it was a piranha freezing frenzy. Before they knew it, the New Zealand batsmen were skinned to the bone, picked perfectly clean — the match well and truly over for all intents and purposes thanks to the ruthless genius of one smiling assassin.
His record 14-wicket haul means he is now odds-on to become the fastest bowler in Test history to 200 wickets. The simple task of claiming five wickets in three matches is all that separates him from a place in history. If he does so, he will break New Zealand leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett’s 82-year-old record.
Under the right conditions, Yasir is arguably the most dangerous bowler in world cricket. Like most spinners, Yasir needs help from conditions, but few bowlers have ever exploited them so effectively to their advantage.
Even a hint of turn or bounce is enough for him to work his magic. Yet he remains a sitting duck when conditions aren’t conducive to spin. In Australia and New Zealand, he averages 91.62. In England, he averages 40.73. In Asia, he averages 24.11. In the West Indies, where the ball also starts spinning quite early, he averages 21.96.
His record in terms of innings also shows how dependent he is on the conditions. His average is 45.45 when bowling in the first innings, 28.15 in the second, 24.64 in the third. By the fourth innings, he becomes almost unplayable, averaging a mere 20.96. His strike rate also goes down from 65 in the first innings to 45.3 in the second.
Luckily for Pakistan, the decider takes place on familiar stomping grounds for Yasir.
Injury to Muhammad Abbas means there is added pressure and responsibility on Yasir’s shoulders and the fate of the series may well lie within the magical fingers of this 32-year-old’s right hand. All they need, all they ever need, is that little hint of doubt to creep in; just that little bit of extra bounce, just that little bit of extra turn.