Shah happy in look and learn mode

The waiting goes on for an outstanding batting talent but Stephen Brenkley finds he is using his time well
Click to follow

Owais Shah has almost made the fraught journey from adolescent prodigy to adult prosperity. It is not yet within touching distance but on clear days he can probably glimpse it round the next corner.

There were not many of those for him in India on England's winter one-day expedition but the squad's arrival in New Zealand may herald a fresher dawn (in more ways than one given the difference in air quality). On the subject of Shah, the court of cricketing opinion seems unanimous. He can bat all right, he has talent and flair.

The phrase often used by Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is that Shah brings something else to the party. Unfortunately, despite his equally oft-expressed admiration, Fletcher has not been able to issue an invitation which will allow the 23-year-old to bring whatever that something else is across the threshold.

England have played six one-day internationals on this trip. Shah is the only player (save for the injured latecomer, Craig White) not to have played in one of them. He has had his moments as a substitute fielder, not least when he caught Sourav Ganguly in the deep at Delhi and flicked the ball in the air behind his back. A showman too.

If Shah is cross at his omission, he is not displaying it. He is relaxed, smiling and professes his happiness to be here. He has told those who have asked – and everybody has – that only 11 men can be in the team, a line which can wear a bit thin when all your 14 mates have played.

"I didn't expect to get picked in the first place," he said, partly to explain his phlegmaticness. "But once that happened, it was as if I knew they were happy with what they had seen in me. My intention then was to get involved with the squad and make the most of any opportunities.

"I want to play now I'm here but it's amazing how much you learn by not playing. I know now how to field in front of 100,000 people and I have watched Tendulkar bat and learned. You learn how important it is to keep a cool head and that it's not over until the last ball is bowled." All of this may be a coded message, meaning that he is totally fed up and wants a proper bat shortly or else, but if so it would need more than Enigma machines to crack it.

Shah's most trying period should be behind him. Born in Karachi, where he played on the streets, he came to England at seven and was outstanding as a teenager. This was not especially because of his weight of runs but because of the singular way he conducted himself at the crease, and he was in the England Under-19 side at 16, the England A side at 17. He was another of this country's great saviours.

On his A tour to Australia he let nobody down. In an up-country match against New South Wales second XI they were confronted with a raging turner. Shah top-scored in both innings.

Dean Headley, the former England bowler who was part of the squad on the tour, said: "We were all wondering about this schoolboy on the tour. We found out in the first net session. I remember bowling him a decent ball at reasonable pace and he just rocked back and hit me like I was a spinner. We were all impressed."

But if Shah's future seemed assured it was pretty quickly all behind him. He started well for Middlesex but the runs dried up, unlike the stories about his approach, which suddenly found a rich seam.

"I'm not alone in this," he said. "A lot of guys who leave Under-19s almost get lost for a couple of years. I don't know what it is. Maybe you think that what works for you at Under-19s will do and you're quite happy with what you're trying to do. Then you play day in, day out. What worked for you before works, then it doesn't work in patches, then the patches get bigger and bigger.

"The season before last I had a shocker. I was going backwards. I read in a few papers about my attitude and what I was supposed to be doing wrong. It didn't bother me, other people had been built up before me. The funny thing is I was in the nets a lot more than ever before. I was desperate to try anything."

Yes, Shah turned to Australia. A coach called Wayne Andrews, recommended by his team-mate at Middlesex, Justin Langer, was waiting there for him. Shah went out with the intention merely of coming back a better cricketer. He did that by making 1,000 first-class runs at 41, scoring four centuries, including a double. By June he made his debut for England. He settled to it quickly, he looked the part.

"Wayne didn't reconstruct my technique, he saw the importance of flair, he certainly didn't make me a technical robot but he looked at footwork, execution, timing. I went back to him for a week before this tour and I'll be going back for three weeks after it."

He has now played six one-dayers with one half-century. There will be more. The uniform features of England's one-day middle-order probably demand it. Fletcher talks of one-day selection being a jigsaw which the pieces must fit. He may soon have to make the jigsaw fit Shah.