Shoaib Bashir's rock-solid marathon stint shows he's here to stay

Manjrekar: Bashir has been the most accurate of all England spinners (1:17)

The 20-year-old bowled 31 overs unchanged picking up his maiden four-wicket haul in Tests (1:17)

There is a story from Shoaib Bashir's stint in Australian grade cricket over the 2022-23 winter that his Somerset team-mates love bringing up to embarrass him.

Bashir was playing in Sydney, for Linfield District Cricket Club, sharing accommodation with team-mates around the same age. One day, he felt generous and offered to cook for the group, which, as you can imagine, was gratefully received by a mix of late teens and young 20-somethings.

It did not take long for Bashir to regret the offer. When it came to dinner time, his housemates were instead greeted by an exasperated Bashir, fuming that the pasta he had on the hob for close to half an hour was nowhere near done. The rest shared his bemusement until they quickly spotted the problem. He had not added any water.

We've all been there; 19, first time away from home, trying to do grown-up things, failing miserably, mocked by your mates, never to live it down. It's only been a year, to be fair, so there will be more juice to squeeze from that anecdote.

But Bashir need not worry. For starters, he has the team chef out here in India to sort him all the al dente rigatoni and fusilli he could ever want. And regardless of a lack of nous in the kitchen, he was cooking in Ranchi.

On just his second appearance in Test cricket, the rookie off-spinner built on Joe Root's unbeaten 122 to tilt this fourth Test further England's way. With four wickets - for now, at 84 - Bashir has new career-best figures in first-class cricket. It was a spell that has the tourists a step closer to squaring the series 2-2, with India ending Saturday seven down, still trailing by 134 on first-innings runs.

And it really was a spell, by the way. A mammoth 31 overs were delivered unbroken from the Amitabh Choudhary Pavilion End. The most on the bounce since Graeme Swann's 32 overs at Headingley against New Zealand in May 2013.

A maiden before lunch got him a taste, before going right through to tea, then out the other side and deep into the third session. He was eventually taken off with three overs to go, only to re-emerge at the Media Box End to bowl the penultimate set of six. In a career now just eight red-ball appearances old, he has, in one day, bowled more overs than he had in three previous matches.

The 53 overs on debut in Visakhapatnam slots in at number two on that growing list, which included 28 overs on day one. He grafted for 4 for 196 in the match, and has already doubled that tally. How about that for exponential brilliance?

England learned plenty from that outing about his consistency and durability, which is why Ben Stokes had no qualms pushing him through today's marathon stint. For the most part, there were no offside fielders between first slip and extra cover to right-handers, with the leg side dotted around in the odd catching and single-saving position.

It relied on Bashir maintaining a straight attacking line. He did that like someone who had taken 67 County Championship wickets at an average of 10, not the other way around. A burst of cramp in his 24th over, chasing to stop the ball after James Anderson's throw ricocheted off the stumps, and the occasional dropping of his right arm in delivery were the only signs of tiredness. The spirit, throughout, was rock solid.

Naturally when sticking so diligently to an off-stump channel, the dismissals came. Shubman Gill was trapped in front (just) with drift getting the No.3's front foot set before enough turn to strike the pads. It ended a stand of 82 between Gill and wunderkind Yashasvi Jaiswal that had England worrying their 353 might not be enough.

It was just the second lbw dismissal of Bashir's professional career, after snaring Nottinghamshire's Joe Clarke that way last summer. Leg before number three soon arrived, as Rajat Patidar misjudged length, perhaps because of the dip, going back to a ball he should have gone forward to, and subsequently wearing a low-bouncing delivery halfway up his shin.

Ravindra Jadeja, having sent Tom Hartley for back-to-back sixes, was soon on his way, pressing forward to a delivery from around the wicket that bounced more than anticipated and found some bat. Ollie Pope took the catch at short leg. At this point, Bashir was in a groove; those three dismissals coming in a 41-ball period for the concession of just five runs.

Sarfaraz Khan joining Jaiswal was as good a time as any for India's counter-attack. A brace of fours from Jaiswal in Bashir's 18th over - the first slashed wildly beyond first slip - doubled the number of boundaries conceded in his previous 17. Jaiswal carved one more boundary off him before that six-foot-four action found a spot with not enough bounce to force the left-hander to bunt the ball into the ground and back onto his middle stump. It was Jaiswal's first false shot played against Bashir off the back foot.

Bashir's evolution in the last month alone has been something to savour for a group who, all told, did not know all that much about him. That is, beyond the clip of him doing Alastair Cook a couple of times on his first class debut, that Stokes shared with Rob Key and Brendon McCullum.

He impressed with the Lions, earning a full call-up on attributes rather than statistics. The respect of his peers came on the pre-tour training camp in Abu Dhabi. Beyond the undoubted skill and purchase he could get on the ball with his long fingers, there has been a growing admiration for his toughness and disposition.

"The way he bowls is a good indication of his character and personality," Root said on Saturday evening. "He's cheeky, he's funny - a great lad to have around the dressing-room and I really enjoy his company."

Perhaps the best example of all those traits is contained within the visa issues England have encountered on this tour.

Bashir, who is of Pakistani origin, was unable to travel out with the squad on the Sunday before the first Test in Hyderabad because of a delay in receiving his paperwork. After staying in the UAE for a few days, he returned to London, where his British passport was issued, to get the final, necessary stamp. He eventually joined his team-mates a week later, receiving a hero's welcome as he entered the away dressing-room at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on the morning of day four and stuck around to see them go 1-0 up in the series.

Bashir took the rigmarole in his stride - "It was a bit of a hassle, but I'm here now" he beamed after his first day as a Test cricketer - training hard and back mixing with the squad like it was nothing. When Rehan Ahmed first discovered he would not be allowed to re-enter India at Rajkot airport after the mid-series break in Abu Dhabi because he only held a single-entry Visa, Bashir cut the tension with a quick-witted response: "Ah well, enjoy your trip back to London mate!" A few hours later, Rehan rejoined his tour buddy at the team hotel.

It speaks of the environment within the team that someone so young can feel so at ease in such a high-profile, high-pressure tour. Likewise for Rehan, who played the first three Tests before having to return home for an urgent family matter, and Hartley, who, with two dismissals on day two, is now the leading wicket-taker of the series with 18, one ahead of Jasprit Bumrah who was rested for this match. Considering Stokes' go-to spinner Jack Leach had to return home after playing just the opening Test because of a left knee injury that has now required surgery, the trio have stepped up and shown maturity and nous beyond their years.

"I think it's the environment that's been created by Ben," Root said. "Shane Warne used to say 'so what' if you get hit for six - you've got another chance, you've got another opportunity and if you take a wicket, the game looks very different. And that's something Ben's brought into the way we approach things out there in the field.

"It's great to see those young lads responding so positively to it and putting in big performances in foreign conditions against some of the best players of spin in the world."

Beyond Stokes' feel for people is his tactical acumen, which was on show again today. Root cites Hartley's dismissal of Sarfaraz Khan as a perfect example of this.

"Randomly after two balls (in the 52nd over) he chucks deep cover out - then he (Sarfaraz) tries to knock it there for one, gets a nick, caught first slip," Root, who completed the dismissal diving to his left, said. "Great catch as well."

From being released by Surrey at age-group level and hustling back into the 18-county system via national county cricket with Berkshire and club cricket in Guildford, Bashir's story is as inspiring as it is rare.

Of course, there has been some luck. What if Stokes had not been idly scrolling social media on the afternoon of June 11, 2023?

"Imagine being 15 or 16 years old, a young spinner, and hearing Bashir's story?" Root said. "It just shows how close you can actually be, how you should keep dreaming and chasing it, keep giving yourself the best chance to work at your game. Because you never know where you could end up."

Right now, a new chapter is being written in a story of perseverance and belonging. Of a 20-year-old offspinner setting England on a course for a much-needed Test victory to keep this series against India alive.