Another summer, another prime position lurking in the wings for Owais Shah. For three years – many more if you count his first flirtation with the big time as a teenager – he has had a vivid view of centre stage watching others perform, ready to go on if suddenly required.
By now he must be in a somewhat confused state. He wants a chance, he thinks he deserves a chance, but he is not expecting it any time soon. "I look on it as a journey to perhaps getting a go one day," he said. "I do believe my time will come, it's an up-and-down sort of journey but I'll get there. I've just got to keep scoring runs and maybe I'll get an opportunity."
There was not much conviction there that the waiting could soon be over, not with the England batting line-up harder to break into than the Bank of England. Shah, 29, talks himself up but then addresses the reality of his understudy's role.
"In the last four years I would like to have thought I would get a better crack at Test cricket. I have played two Tests and I don't think I have had a fair crack. I want to look back and say, 'They gave me an opportunity'. That's all I want. I do get frustrated that it hasn't worked out yet."
Shah made his Test debut in India in 2006 and made a sterling 88 in a famous victory in Mumbai. But he was not summoned again – and again it was because of a late injury – until Lord's last May, when frankly he looked jittery and fluffed his lines. After touring in the winter he has been named (again) in the England Lions team for next week's encounter with the New Zealanders. He was first picked for an England A team in 1996, when he expected to be the next big thing.
He is one of three batsmen with realistic aspirations of making the Test team should the selectors start selecting, but although he has cemented a one-day place he may no longer be the next in line. In Sri Lanka in the winter, the selectors went for Ravi Bopara – which turned out to be the wrong decision – and, now the English season is here, there is a perception that Robert Key may have gone ahead of him.
"I don't look on it as a big summer," Shah said, perhaps trying to convince himself. "I look at every summer as a big summer for me personally. I have got form, I have been a consistent scorer for quite a few years now."
Shah, like Key, may give thanks that Duncan Fletcher is no longer the England coach. Shah's face and style did not fit into Fletcher's plans for England. This is not a criticism of Fletcher (for once), because all coaches have to make judgements on individual players.
In the case of Shah, it may not have gone down well that here was a player who was ready to seek batting advice from all quarters. "I'd take guidance from anybody and use it if I thought it would work," he said. "I am always looking to improve just that one per cent here and there." Shah may sometimes give the impression of being a touch flash, partly because of the shots that he fashions, partly because he is not afraid to express an opinion. But he is besotted by the craft of batting and does not care how it looks (and he looks ugly sometimes).
It is part of legend that he went to India three years ago to seek out Mohammad Azharuddin,a match-fixer maybe but a batsman of extraordinary flair.
But Shah also went to Australia, on the advice of Justin Langer, to work with a coach called Wayne Andrews, and is as happy to talk to Alan Duncan in the indoor school at Lord's as he is to the England batting coach, Andy Flower.
He began the summer with a century after what he described as a very frustrating winter as part of two Test touring parties. "The coach didn't perhaps like me before but it's a different coach now. No one really communicated with me before. Now they do." The call he wants is to bring him out of the wings for something other than a one-off performance.Reuse content