Shadab Khan in ODIs has made a very strange entry. Just a few matches after his debut, he found himself bowling against giants of cricket in a multi-national tournament. He was only 18 when he charged in to bowl to Yuvraj Singh on the biggest, most cruel stage in the cricket arena. 

Had it not been for his young, beardless face, Shadab Khan’s leg-spin would have made him get mistaken for a bowler nearing his thirties. Yuvraj stood on the striker’s end waiting for the ball to come to him. The first delivery was on the leg stump. The second one came in as a googly. The third was a leg-break that thumped Singh on the pad. A huge appeal echoed through the jam-packed Oval stadium. The umpire remained unmoved.

Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed did not look too convinced either. But the teenager persisted and was caught saying ‘pad hai, pad hai’ on the stump mic with the confidence of an impulsive liar. Thus, forcing his captain to consult the third umpire. The ball actually hit the pad first and Yuvraj Singh had to walk back. Just normally what happens in cricket. Ironically, this does not normally happen in cricket. Teenagers don’t bowl unperturbed by the intense environment and ‘order’ their captain to not take their plea for granted. 

How is an all-rounder Pakistan’s front-line spinner?

His leg spin, ever since, has aided him in deceiving many batters. His Twitter bio reads that he bowls googlies for a living. Lately, his googlies have lost the petrifying charm they once possessed. Especially in the 50-over format. Being Pakistan’s main spinner in the team, Khan has found himself in a spot of bother after his leg-tweaks became devoid of their killer instinct.

So much so that people have gone on to say that the leggie was never an ODI player to begin with. No one dares doubt his T20 magnificence. Shadab Khan in ODIs has not been someone to write home about, they say. How true is that? Has Shadab remained in the team only because Pakistan’s spin factory was mothballed after it spent all its resources producing hoodwinkers like Saeed Ajmal? 

Figures of Shadab Khan in ODIs

For an all-rounder who is expected to save the day with both the willow and the ball, the 24-year-old boasts decent figures. His batting average in ODIs is almost 27 while with the ball he averages 32. Pakistan’s white ball vice captain’s fielding skills are not hammered by fans in drawing-room discussions either. Hence, he has all the ingredients for a reliable all-rounder in the middle. Pakistan team, however, has not inducted him for his all-round duties. In addition to being an all-rounder, Shadab is expected to be the main spinner in the team as well.


When compared with tweakers from other teams (which qualified for the upcoming World Cup), Shadab’s ODI bowling average ranks next to last. This means a wicket taken by Shadab Khan costs twice as many runs as a wicket by Rashid Khan does. With the World Cup set to play in India, where spinners would love to cash the chances the pitch will provide, these figures are far from relaxing for Pakistan. Leaving part-timers out, Shadab along with Muhammad Nawaz and Usama Mir is the only spin option Babar Azam has, given Pakistan does not have plans to call a full-time spinner on their flight to India.


Similarly, the chart above depicts how inefficient Pakistan’s spin attack has been since the last ODI World Cup ended. Pakistan spinners averaged second worst among the top six ICC-ranked teams (as of 14th September 2023). Although thanks to their exceptional pace bowling, the green team gets the job done easily, on occasions where pacers fail to make the cut, the team succumbs altogether. 

Why does Pakistan then persist with Shadab Khan in ODIs?

In Shadab Khan, Babar Azam gets two of his problems solved. One is the need for a spinner while the other is getting the job with a bat done in the middle of the lineup. Moreover, the thing about numbers, to fan’s exasperation, is that they offer more than what meets the eye. Sure, numbers don’t lie but to expect them to convey all the information they have, with utmost honesty, is not what wise folks do. Shadab’s bowling average, especially when seen over the years, suggests that his bowling causes more loss to Pakistan than any relief.


Interestingly, his figures, when seen more closely, tell that with the ball he is not as expensive as he seems. The years 2019 and 2021 of Shadab’s career come out to be the culprit in this case, the disruption in his average during these both years has caused damage to his overall stats. Zooming in further, one can see that the majority of matches the Mianwalli-born played during these years were in South Africa and England. It’s a piece of common knowledge how tight-fisted these grounds become when a spinner rolls his arms over. And so, his ugly figures in these conditions are somewhat understandable

In contrast, when seen in Asian conditions the Pakistani leggie’s runs-to-wicket ratio drops considerably. More so in middle overs.


This can only mean that in Asia, Shadab’s reign is far from over. Similar can be expected from him during the upcoming global event. There is no second opinion about the fact that Pakistan surely needs to sort out how it will use its limited spin resources. But if they find a way around it and get the tweakers to complement their pacers, even to some extent, Pakistan can become a force to reckon with.

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