Shamsi: ‘It's been an up-and-down journey but I wouldn't change it for anything’

Tabraiz Shamsi has taken the hard road to international cricket, but he is now South Africa's first-choice white-ball spinner.

Tabraiz Shamsi’s stint at Royal Challengers Bangalore has helped him grow as a cricketer with the likes of Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle providing him useful tips.

Tabraiz Shamsi’s stint at Royal Challengers Bangalore has helped him grow as a cricketer with the likes of Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle providing him useful tips.   -  Getty Images

Tabraiz Shamsi knows the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium well. It was his home ground in the IPL for two seasons, after he was flown in as an unlikely replacement for RCB’s Samuel Badree back in 2016.

Shamsi did not exactly set the IPL alight, playing four matches in all and taking a total of three wickets, but his arrival in India was the start of an uptick in fortunes. He made his South Africa debut a month after that first IPL season, and the left-arm chinaman bowler now returns to this venue as his country’s leading white-ball spinner.

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“It’s great to be back here,” he told Sportstar after South Africa’s training session here on Thursday. “Bangalore is my favourite city in India. I have good friends here inside and outside of cricket.”

Shamsi was in the thick of the action during the second T20I in Mohali earlier this week. He finished with one for 19 from his three overs but what caught the eye was his continued on-field exchange with Virat Kohli, his captain during his time at RCB. The pair embraced afterwards and Shamsi was quick to dismiss their chat as nothing more than unyielding competition.

Fierce cricketer

“Kohli is a fierce cricketer and so am I,” he said. “Off the field, we are good friends, as you saw at the end of the game with that hug. You should not be too friendly on the field. We are fighting for our countries. But we do not take that with us off the field. There are no personal battles. Maybe people from the outside don’t understand our relationship. But no matter how good friends we are, if I bowl a bad ball, he will hit me and if he is not on his game, I will get him out and I will remind him about that.”

Shamsi’s journey has been far from straightforward. He lost his first-class contract in 2012 and contemplated giving up cricket altogether. Shamsi returned to semi-professional cricket and began studying for a marketing degree, convinced his future lay elsewhere.

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“It's been a tough journey getting here and that's just how life goes,” he said. “Certain people will have it where things happen quickly. Others like myself will have to go through every single bus stop. Life is a reality, you know. You've got to make a living. You've got to support your family. So I was planning to go back and finish my studies, but luckily I got a break.”

'Never back down'

That break was a CPL contract with St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots in 2015, a move that took place after he impressed the West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels in a tour game. “I went to the CPL, and things changed for me,” said Shamsi. “Then I got picked up in the IPL and only then I played for the national team. It's been an up-and-down journey but I wouldn't change it for anything. I've gone through the tough road, so anything that's thrown at me, I should be OK.”

With Imran Tahir’s retirement, Shamsi has probably become South Africa's first-choice limited-overs spinner, but life was no easier before, he argued. “Even when Immy was there, it was not that I could bowl bad balls in the match,” he said. “Nothing changes in that sense. It’s just a transition and I do not see it as added pressure. Back then I was fighting for my country, and I am willing to take on the best in the world even now. I will never back down. That is my personality.”